Here’s a travel tip, when someone recommends you visit a tidal village on stilts, you go! Bear River Nova Scotia isn’t on the tourist trail, but it should be! The tiny artisan community is peppered with galleries, wineries and too many photo opps to count. Here’s a look at how to best explore this eclectic village.
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Bear River Nova Scotia
First up, you’re probably wondering as I was, why Bear River Nova Scotia is on stilts. Anchored along its namesake river, the village is situated 6 km east from the Bay of Fundy and is west of the Atlantic Ocean.
The highest tides in the world flow in and out of the Bay of Fundy. With each tide cycle, occurring precisely every six hours and 13 minutes, over 100-billion tonnes of seawater surge through the claw-shaped bay. For perspective, that’s more than the combined flow of all the world’s freshwater rivers!
Which means that when those tides come in – rising approximately 25 ft twice a day – any structures in its path need to be well above the water line to survive.
A big part of Bear River’s charm is that it straddles the tidal river. Many of the historic buildings on stilts were erected along Main Street, which sits perpendicular to the river. Those remarkable buildings on stilts are now home to galleries and cafes. It’s easy to take a self directed tour of the town to suss them out.
Tip: Because its rare scenery changes so quickly before your eyes, you’ll probably want to time your visit with the tides so you can witness the extraordinary increase in water level – approximately 4 to 6 ft per hour. A minimum of 3 hours should do it.
Best Things To Do In And Around Bear River
The utterly charming village is a haven for artists as evidenced by the number of galleries present. Approximately 20 local artists have made this community their home, and you’ll be able to suss out their work at 4 galleries within the village.
There’s also a fair number of murals to admire, and if you pop into a gallery, you’re sure to notice some similarities between what’s on display and the village’s public art.
What’s interesting about the traditional gallery space at Bear River Artworks Gallery is that artists each work here 1 day a week so they can share their methods and inspiration to interested people. On display are paintings, photography and jewelry.
Flight of Fancy has a large selection of fine arts and handcrafts. There’s stained glass, hats, pottery, jewelry, glassworks, handmade leather wallets, finely crafted toys and fabulous hand woven door mats from sailing rope. Don’t miss their 2nd floor!
Similarly, Blue Mind Gallery features mainly Nova Scotia artisans, delicate jewelry, pottery, paintings, stained glass and children’s books.
If the aroma of freshly roasted, Fair Trade coffee doesn’t lure you into Sissiboo Coffee Roasters and Gallery its artwork surely will. It’s a small gallery space within this popular local cafe, but it’s ever so nice to peer at works of art while sipping something warm and comforting.
There’s a full barista menu with tea lattes and freshly baked goods. When I visited there were scones, blue cheese shortbread and plump oat cakes. (If you’re a first time visitor to Nova Scotia, definitely stock up on homemade oat cakes when you can. You won’t regret it.)
If you’d like to meet Bear River artists and makers in their own studio, you can find that information here.
Wine and Cider Touring
Nova Scotia has over 20 wineries dotted throughout the province and 2 are located so close to the village of Bear River, you’ll regret not popping in – if only to say you sampled L’Acadie Blanc, Nova Scotia’s signature grape.
Bear River Vineyards
Unbeknownst to many, the first grapes grown in Canada were planted here, along the banks of the Bear River back in 1611. The flushing of the air twice a day thanks to those tides makes quite a nice microclimate for a winery and Bear River Vineyards takes full advantage of their riverfront location.
You’ll find 3 white, 3 rosés and 5 reds available for tastings and glasses. Be sure to sample their white blend which has twice medalled at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in New York. It’s got a nice sharpness and acidity to it, so pick up a bottle if seafood is in your future.
Also of note is Lightly Lucy made from the Lucie Kuhlmann grape, a red French-American hybrid that presents as a beautiful raspberry cordial colour in your glass.
In keeping with the artistic nature of the area, the vineyard hires local artists to design their bottle labels. The labels are all quite diverse, but all so interesting. If you can’t afford to take a piece of art home, a bottle from this vineyard definitely counts towards your art collection.
Casa Nova Fine Beverage
A short distance from the village lies Casa Nova Fine Beverages. Wine Maker Brendan Enright explained to me that this region of Nova Scotia has a growing region not unlike northern Germany. “And the German’s figured out long ago this type of climate best suited to white.”
Casa Nova typically offers around half a dozen wines and ciders you can taste and purchase on-site. Their Riesling is quite popular, but also of interest is the rosé which is made in the traditional method, using red grapes. Casa Blanca is a white blend that’s fruit forward yet not sweet. It’s relatively high acidity, pairs perfectly with all that seafood and creamy chowder Nova Scotia is famous for.
Their ciders are all natural, made only using Nova Scotia apples and berries. There’s cello’s, as in limoncello, also made out of Nova Scotia fruit. For non-drinkers try their maple syrup tapped from their own maple trees, apple cider vinegar, wine jellies and bbq sauce – all available to sample.
After you find your favourites from the tasting menu, set yourself up on their pretty patio with a glass. Casa Nova’s Tasting Room is open from spring until fall, but feel free to come by chance, as they say out here.
Where To Eat in Bear River
If you need more sustenance than the baked goods at Sissiboo, continue down the street to Myrtle and Rosie’s Cafe. If you’re lucky, blueberry lemonade will be on the menu. If not, their award winning burger will be. You can also score sandwiches, poutine and salads.
Those with kitchen facilities can stock up on local produce and baked goods from Grandma’s Place, which looks just like an old fashioned country store.
Bear River and Area Accommodations
Whether you want to hole up in a cozy cottage or experience the thrill of staying in a geo-dome, there’s plenty of options a short distance away from the village.
Sissiboo River Retreat
The perfect retreat for those who love the outdoors but not the grittiness of camping, Sissiboo River Retreat offers geo-domes that, no joke, are like a Pinterest board come to life. Instead of a sleeping bag on an inflatable mattress, you’ve got a proper bed with a thick duvet, full washroom facilities, a fridge and coffee maker.
Some domes come with an indoor electric fireplace, others have an outdoor hot tub for your own private use. All sport decks and balconies overlooking the Sissiboo River, an outdoor fire pit and barbecue. Pets are welcome.
Sissiboo River Retreat is about a 30-minute drive away from Bear River in a community called Weymouth.
Still Point Lodge and Cottages
Even closer, Still Point Lodge and Cottages is but a 10-minute drive from Bear River in the community of Deep Brook. As a bonus, Still Point is within easy striking distance of Annapolis Royal and Digby, the scallop capital of the world.
Overlooking the mirror-like Annapolis Basin, a stay here is all about the water, meadows, gardens and forests. With 46 acres of waterfront property, there’s plenty of opportunities for easy rambles, and there’s a path right down to the beach.
Still Point offers five cottages with private bedrooms and four rooms in the main lodge. Each cottage has a full kitchen, so take advantage of Annapolis Royal’s famous Saturday Market, plus the seafood markets in Digby where you can score freshly caught fish and seafood.
The cottages have enormous decks overlooking the basin and because there’s hardly any light pollution, it’s a pretty perfect spot for dark sky viewing with thousands of stars twinkling above you.
Though Bear River isn’t on the tourist trail (yet), you’d be hard pressed to find a more interesting and welcoming community in Atlantic Canada. Just do me a favour and don’t tell too many people about this delightful spot. At least not until I’m able to make a return visit.
Bay of Fundy Fun Facts
The Bay of Fundy’s diverse ecosystem has been compared to the Amazon Rainforest. Within its nutrient-rich waters are colossal amounts of krill and fish which attract over 12 species of whales, not to mention dolphins, porpoises and seals.
It’s not just aquatic animals that are attracted to the bay. Each August, two million migratory birds (mainly sandpipers) make a pitstop along the Bay to rest and refuel during their epic journey from South America to the Arctic.
The largest whirlpool in the western hemisphere swirls in the Bay of Fundy. Tidal currents in the bay combine with counter-currents from the St. Croix River, producing the Old Sow Whirlpool. See it in action 3 hours before high tide.
The Bay’s powerful tides have exposed fossils from the past. At Joggins, Nova Scotia you’ll find rich deposit of Carboniferous fossils (from about 359 to 299 million years ago), where traces of the earth’s first reptiles can be found.
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