Cycling Nova Scotia’s Butter Trail
As I pedalled the Butter Trail, a cycling path located on Nova Scotia‘s Northumberland shore, I couldn’t help thinking about the rewards at the end of the journey. Originally part of a train rail bed, this 25-kilometre section of the Trans Canada Trail meanders along the shoreline to Creamery Square in the east. The buildings once housed the production facilities for the famous Tatamagouche butter but are now home to a seasonal farmers’ market, a boat-building shop and a quirky museum.
But first I had to get there. I’d already made a stop at Sunrise Mercantile, a cottage-style tea room at the head of the trail. It had been impossible to skip a bowl of hearty Northumberland seafood chowder, so I’d tucked into the creamy soup—brimming with shrimp, scallops and haddock—while taking in the peaceful waterfront view. Formed by mouth of the French and Waugh Rivers, the protected waters of Tatamagouche Bay (a First Nations Mi’kmaq word meaning “meeting of waters”) is part river, part lake. Its shores have been a popular meeting place since ancient times.
On the trail, under the shade of graceful willow trees, I cycled alone with my thoughts, imagining generations of others who had walked, hiked and paddled along the water’s edge. Ancient rose bushes filled the air with their sweet fragrance, the only remains of abandoned pioneer farmhouses.
It hadn’t always been this peaceful. On August 15, 1755, Tatamagouche was the site of the first expulsion of the French Acadians. British forces seized the assets of 12 families, burned their homes to the ground and shipped the men into exile, leaving women and children behind. By the time it was over, 6, 000 Acadians had been sent into exile.
Tatamagouche Centre, a spiritual retreat focused on peace, tolerance and understanding. A labyrinth, a sacred design symbolizing one’s walk with God, is carved into the grassy lawn. I parked my bike and walked the circle, letting my thoughts drift freely. The wind in the oak trees and cool grass at my feet made for a soothing break.
Back on the cycling trail, I crossed a wooden train bridge leading to Patterson Wharf Park overlooking Northumberland Strait. From the wooden platform, it was easy to imagine children from centuries past jumping Huck Finn-style into the cool waters at high tide. A canoeist drifted past, the only nautical reminder of Tatamagouche’s once-thriving shipbuilding industry. In the 19th century more than 17 sawmills dotted this shoreline.
My reward at the end of the journey was Creamery Square. There, I peeked into the Anna Swan Museum and was soon transfixed by the inspiring but sad tribute to the Nova Scotia giantess who was born in Tatamagouche in 1846 and rose to worldwide circus fame. In the farmers’ market, I bought a dozen Wallace oysters and ate them raw, the salty seawater running between my fingers.
Steps away, craftsmen demonstrated their boat-building skills as they constructed a chaloupe, an 18th-century French harbor wooden boat. It was slow work, such craftsmanship—much like my cycling tour. Although I could have sped along the Northumberland shore in a few hours by car, there was no better way to appreciate the region’s unique vibe than to take it slow.