Thursday, 11 July 2013

Are oranges the only fruit? And is that Germolene I can smell? Adventures in Nova Scotia

Question:  How could you logically travel from Halifax to Truro in a north-easterly direction?

Answer:  When you are in Nova Scotia.

The multi-coloured houses of Lunenburg
and cars without front registration plates
I have just had the pleasure of visiting Nova Scotia, having been invited to help provide family therapy training to mental health professionals in the province.  After an overnight stay in Halifax, we travelled to the town of Truro, stopping off for a brief touristic interlude at Mahone Bay and Lunenburg.

Truro is perhaps not the most exciting place in Canada but, as a centre for training people from all over the province, it made geographical sense.  It’s described as a ‘hub’ and was once the point of convergence of major railway lines but I was surprised to learn much of the railway network has closed, simply because, so I was told, ‘Everyone has a car and the highway network is so good’.  Nova Scotia is now left with a legacy of disused railway-lines-turned-cycle-tracks which, sadly, I had neither the time nor the bike to enjoy.

The Nova Scotians seem to be generally an unassuming, rather conservative people who made us feel very welcome with their enthusiasm for learning and their commitment to improving the lives of families dealing with mental health problems.  So what does a British visitor notice that’s different from the UK?  
Cars display no registration plate at the front which, for some reason, creates a slightly sinister atmosphere when you first become aware of it, as if you have stepped into a sci-fi movie. That said, the road etiquette is characteristically well-mannered:  pedestrians don’t cross roads at crossings until the ‘red hand’ turns white. Visually-impaired pedestrians are prompted to know when it’s safe to cross by birdsong sounds – one that sounds like a cuckoo and another more monotone one which, I think, help you to determine when it’s safe to cross either in a forward or a sideways direction.  Traffic stops as soon as a driver notices a pedestrian wanting to cross.  For a while I found myself looking the wrong way when crossing roads (the traffic being on the right) and gratefully acknowledging the person in the passenger seat rather than the driver! 
 Most of the buildings are made of wood rather than brick (there are endless forests all around so timber is plentiful and brick is reserved for the more prestigious buildings.) Homeowners favour steel roofs – they last forever.
 I had expected to have lots of good strong coffee but Nova Scotians seem not to prioritise this. I was also surprised at how alien vegetarianism seems to be to them.  Restaurants seemed satisfied with themselves so long as they offered a single veggie option (usually mushroom risotto or salad). Salad sometimes had meat in it, however, and even baked beans in the hotel’s hot buffet had to contain bacon – real cowboy food. Frankie and Gino’s (nothing like our Frankie and Benny’s) was an unexpected treasure.  Friendly staff served pints of Rickards Red beer for those of us who were missing our real ale, and they were able to be more flexible about the menu. The complimentary mints that came with the bill caused a minor transatlantic stir. 
magical ointment
Our Canadian hosts explained that, in North America, the over-sized Polo mints are called Life Savers (they are lifebuoy-shaped, if you think about it for a moment!) But what was that pungent aroma that could be smelled through the sweet wrapper?  ‘Wintergreen,’ said the Canadians.  ‘Germolene,’ said the English. We were transported instantly back to the playground, grazed knees and the comforting smell of that magical, skin-coloured ointment applied lovingly by our mothers from a little tin.  The Canadians looked bemused but I politely declined to pop a Germolene-impregnated mint into my mouth.  Germolene was, as far as I was concerned, not to be taken internally.

The Nova Scotians seemed more Scottish than they realised. Some of them pronounced ‘Out and about’ as ‘Oot and aboot’. They seemed to prefer meat and fish to fruit and vegetables; trees and lakes (lochs?) abound.  The traditional music they enjoy, which they think of as Nova Scotian, sounded pretty Irish and Scots to my ears. If a young man decides to take up the bagpipes rather than the guitar it is not considered strange.Fresh fruit, like strong coffee, seemed unimportant in Nova Scotia. 

A few precious bananas appeared in the hotel one day but, within 24 hours, they had converted themselves into a banana dessert. Curiously, slices of oranges were de rigueur, whether on the edge of a pint of Rickards White beer or as an accompaniment to poached eggs. Apart from these ubiquitous slithers of orange, fruit was, if not forbidden, rare.

After a week in Truro, the enthusiastic politeness of the hotel staff was wearing a bit thin. Call it grumpiness, but an English person is satisfied with a grunt when he thanks a waitress for pouring his coffee whereas it is the Canadian reflex to declare: ‘You’re welcome!’ at every turn. I had the privilege to meet some great characters and kind souls in Nova Scotia and so - perhaps despite rather because of the urgent, insistent ‘You’re welcomes’ - I genuinely did feel very welcome in this big, beautiful, peaceable province.


  1. Just enjoyed reading, firstly, tom's blog about Pittsburgh and Wisconsin, then yours about Nova Scotia. What a well- travelled lot.

  2. WOW! This is really an amazing and attractive post about travel to Truro. I appreciate your posted wonderful photos. Thanks for sharing such an interesting post. Beer Baseball Cap

  3. Hi Matthew,
    Thanks for your positive comments about my blog post on Nova Scotia. I am intrigued by your Redneck Beer Hats made out of recycled beverage boxes. Shame they're not available in England. I'm sure I'd cause quite a stir wearing one of those!


About me

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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).