Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 15, 2017

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Something fishy

Cast around for tasty family adventures in Atlantic Canada

You don’t have to be in Atlantic Canada long to realize that seafood here is more than just a mealtime staple. It is an economic mainstay and, in the case of some communities, a raison d'être. Locals repay the favour by staging festivals to honour the sea’s bounty. They also organize memorable hands-on activities to showcase it. So if you’re heading east this summer, remember to bring your appetite and a sense of adventure.

Claws célèbre

The Acadian town of Shediac (tel: 506-532-7000; shediac.org), 20 minutes northeast of Moncton, New Brunswick is hailed by connoisseurs as the Lobster Capital of the World. A lobster is prominently displayed on Shediac's coat of arms and the world’s largest lobster (a 90-tonne whopper fashioned out of metal) is its chief landmark. To understand what all the fuss is about, sign on for a Lobster Tales Cruise (tel: 506-532-2175; lobstertales.ca; adults $58.50, children $38.50). On a two-and-a-half hour tour, you’ll learn firsthand how lobsters are trapped, how to distinguish males from females, and how they're measured and banded to keep those bone-crushing claws from inflicting damage.

Then it’s time to get cracking on cooked lobsters served the down-home way with potato salad and a scoop of coleslaw. Even after a detailed show-and-tell, the whole process is challenging, decidedly messy, and thankfully delicious. Visitors who happen to be in town July 7 to 11 may practice their skills at the Shediac Lobster Festival: a favourite since 1949. Along with themed suppers, midway rides and musical performances, the festival features a nightly competition during which recruits from the crowd attempt to crack and consume three lobsters in as many minutes.

Shediac is the gateway to Parlee Beach (tel: 800-561-0123; gnb.ca/0354) a one-and-a-half kilometre stretch of sand that is washed by some of the warmest water north of Virginia. On average, 15,000 beach bums arrive daily in summer to soak in tidal pools and swim over sandbars. If you prefer a different kind of sand-and-sea experience, head to Bouctouche (30 minutes north) where you can explore a rare, ecologically-sensitive dune system.

Aww shucks

From Shediac, it's an hour drive east to the Confederation Bridge and Prince Edward Island (tel: 800-463-4734; tourismpei.com). Some people make the scenic trek in search of Anne. Yet for others, oysters — specifically the legendary Malpeques — are a bigger draw.

Malpeques have had an international cachet since earning the “best in show” title at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair. They're harvested using traditional methods despite the fact that PEI now sells about 300,000 metric tonnes of oysters annually. You can see for yourself during the two-and-a-half hour Tong & Shuck program, one of the innovative culinary excursions from Experience PEI (tel: 866-887-3238; experiencepei.ca; $85). The tutorial includes time at the Future Seafoods plant near Bedeque where you’ll get the lowdown on grading and packing oysters before learning the optimal way to shuck and eat “naked” ones — the condensed version being stab, twist, slurp, repeat.

The most memorable part, though, is going out onto Salutation Bay’s oyster beds in a classic flat-bottomed dory. (Any PEI oyster may be called a “Malpeque;” hence it doesn’t necessarily need to come from the eponymous bay on the north shore). You extract oysters from the shallow bottom using wooden tongs that look like a cross between hinged rakes and giant salad servers.

Bedeque belongs to the Red Sands Shore (tel: 902-887-3400; redsandsshore.com), a region blessed with beaches and some PEI’s most dramatic scenery. It is a quiet counterpoint to more heavily touristed spots such as Cavendish. However, if you want more action, Summerside (the province’s second largest city) lies 10 kilometres north.

Digby delights

Nova Scotia is shaped like a lobster claw and a scan of the map reveals a plethora of places named for the catch of the day. Mussel Cove, Herring Cove, Grosses Coques (“Big Clams”): the list goes on. But none is more closely associated with seafood than Digby (tel: 902-245-4769; digby.ca), a community on the Annapolis Basin that has become synonymous with scallops.

The world’s largest inshore scallop fleet is based in its harbour. And the best way to sense what life on board is like is to drop by the Lady Vanessa: a 30-metre scallop boat, permanently moored on the waterfront, which today houses related exhibits.

You can proceed directly to the main attraction — eating — if she is closed when you arrive (restoration work is tentatively scheduled). While battered and bacon-wrapped varieties of the bivalve are ubiquitous, the scallop is actually very versatile. There are scallop kebobs, scallop chowders, scallop omelettes, scallop sandwiches: all of which are dished up at local eateries.

For a full-on feeding frenzy, time your visit to coincide with Digby Scallop Days (tel: 902-245-4769; digbyscallopdays.com), August 4 to 8. Between meals you can take in old-school events (like the crowning of the "Scallop Queen") plus contests focussed on scallop shucking, net knitting and shell skipping (harder than it looks, because shells are scalloped rather than smooth like a stone, the latter is harder than it looks!

One of Nova Scotia’s premiere resorts, the Digby Pines (tel: 800-667-4637; digbypines.ca; double rooms with buffet breakfast starting at $165) is set here. In addition to a pool and tennis courts, the 121-hectare property boasts a roster of children’s activities as well as an 18-hole Stanley Thompson golf course, an Aveda spa and Digby’s best formal restaurant.

Reel life

Cod once reigned supreme in Newfoundland and Labrador: the province’s history, economy and culture being inextricably bound to it from the late 15th century until the late 20th when a federally-imposed moratorium shut the commercial cod industry down. The consolation for visitors is that in this part of Canada there are lots of other fish in the sea… and in the lakes, rivers and streams.

Take salmon. The province is home to two-thirds of all North American Atlantic salmon rivers, the bulk of them concentrated in Western Newfoundland (tel:709-639-4787; gowesternnewfoundland.com). The Humber, which sees tens of thousands of fish swimming through during the yearly salmon run, is particularly hot.

Whatever your skill level, a local operator can hook you up. Eureka Outdoors (tel: 709-638-8098; eurekaoutdoors.nf.ca; $4135) hosts all-inclusive week-long excursions. My Newfoundland Adventures (tel: 709-638-0110; mynewfoundland.ca; $99), has quick casting sessions for novices. They also offer Swimming with Salmon (adults $129, children $99) where you trade hip waders for a wetsuit and snorkel gear.

Of course, if you remain committed to cod the re-introduction of recreational licenses in 2006 means some ol’ fashioned jigging can be arranged. Guide Darren Park (tel: 709-688-2125; crazyaboutnewfoundland.ca; $350 for a family of four) is the go-to guy. On top of Humber salmon trips, he leads excursions on the nearby Bay of Islands where the catch can include cod, flounder and squid. (He’ll even fillet them for you.) Since whales frequent the bay too, you might get to see some really big marine life en route.

Centred near the city of Corner Brook (tel: 709-637-1500; cornerbrook.com), the Humber Valley resort area is a magnet for active travellers. For instance, Marble Mountain (a popular ski destination) offers golfing this time of year, plus high-octane activities like zip lining, rafting, rappelling and spelunking. As an added incentive, gorgeous Gros Morne National Park is only a 90-minute drive away.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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