Paddle No. 3 came in Nova Scotia and provided a whole different experience. The swift passage down the shallow Margaree River in Cape Breton demanded you remain mentally alert, a challenge after the overnight ferry from Newfoundland.
The trip aboard Marine Atlantic’s Highlander was comfortable in the cabin that came free just before sailing, but the seven-hour voyage across The Cabot Strait didn’t provide enough time for the sleep we craved.
Nova Scotia was the second province in our Canada 150 project, a mission to celebrate the nation’s waterways in a 30-day trip from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island.
We had driven alongside the Margaree previous years during visits to Cape Breton’s wonderful fall music festival, Celtic Colours, and wished we could paddle the pristine waters. But we needed some expert help navigating and Jeremy Smith of CB West Paddle Boards offered to lead us down the river he routinely runs tours on.
Jeremy grew up in the area and recently started the adventure company to share his love of the river and coastal areas in western parts of the island.
He met us at the Margaree library, where we carried the boards back to a launch point where water pooled just before a short but swift run would “have you away to the races” in Jeremy’s words.
The location was a short drive from our accommodation, the Margaree Riverview Inn, a clean and basic motel with sweeping lawns and outdoor pool.
For most of the five kilometre run, it felt kaleidoscopic as we were flying over a marbled river bed of stones. The depth was mostly about 18 inches but our fins crunched on gravel a few times and we got up and walked the boards on a few occasions, twice out of respect for anglers.
And as if on cue, a large salmon performed an arcing leap about 20 metres in front of us minutes into the paddle, while a bald eagle swooped by later.
There was also a couple of exciting moments running rapid water in gaps near rocks and banking sharply to avoid hitting them. The paddle finished with a sedate meander through a marshy area and a channel that led to a local road.
Paddling through Old Master’s Painting
Soaring Eagles, Leaping Salmon & Cinnamon Buns
Jeremy’s CB West Paddle Boards also runs tours at Margaree Harbour and Cheticamp and offers rentals at the Cheticamp beach.
Afterward, we repaired to The Lakes Restaurant in North East Margaree for a nice family-style meal with local friend Hilda Murphy and wine afterward around Hilda’s roaring fire pit.
A local eating gem is The Dancing Goat in Margaree, which was crowded Sunday morning with devotees noshing on menu items like blueberry pancakes and sausage or the Goat’s special oatmeal (Goatmeal?) in a sunny setting.
Meantime in nearby Baddeck, you might want to be enticed by the meals and baked goods at the Highwheeler Cafe & Bakery, which makes killer oatcakes and cinnamon buns. A must-visit is the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, which features a museum showcasing the inventor’s breadth of work. Bell also developed new thinking with airplanes, education for the deaf and artificial respiration.
It was tough to break away from Cape Breton’s rugged charm, but the pace we had set was unrelenting — 17 more paddles to go!