“There are few places left on earth like the District of Guysborough. Better come now.” – that’s the motto of the area – and it’s true – there aren’t many places left like Guysborough. The District covers more than 2,100 square kilometres, with a healthy dose of coastline and forest – and approximately 5,400 permanent residents. And at the heart of it all is the little seacoast town of Guysborough Nova Scotia where my mother and I stayed for 2 days meeting locals, and enjoying a slower pace of small town life.
My mother felt right at home here in this small community as it’s had many similarities to the community where she grew up in Nebraska – yet instead of farming, Guysborough was about fishing. However, the eastern shore of Nova Scotia along Marine Drive was a mix of emotions for me. The cause of my confusion was because I was actually digging into a destination deeper and sometimes when you dig in deep, you strip off the tourist veneer and end up in local reality – in small towns you tend to get to local reality quicker. Generally this is what I love to do when I travel, try to dig in and see beyond the tourism and actually get to know the people and understand how they live, work, and play. My time in Guysborough was wonderful, but it also brought up many conversations about progress and the state of our small towns in general. And quite honestly – when you start talking about the state of small towns in North America, it’s normally a bit of a depressing outlook.
Many of these little fishing communities around Nova Scotia are slowly diminishing as business, industry, and the younger generations move to the larger cities. However Guysborough was different. It wasn’t necessarily growing, but what I loved about it was that is was trying. It didn’t sit back and wait for things to diminish, but instead thanks to a few forward thinking investors and business people, it was trying to buck the disappearing small town story that I so often run into. However it didn’t come without controversy – locals seemed to be split on the topic of Guysborough’s progress. Some loved the initiatives to try to bring jobs to the area, and some just weren’t accepting of outsiders and their motives. That’s always the hard part about small towns – sometimes it’s hard to ‘break into them’ and the tight-knit community. Locals generally trust their own rather than outsiders – even if the outsiders have good intentions. I heard plenty on both sides of the ‘progress’ fence, but generally – I respect people who are trying to make change. I believe pretty firmly that you’ll never get anywhere without trying things. So overall, I was pretty excited to see that there were people who were trying, trying to make improvements and progress. It’s better than doing nothing.
Thanks to this progress, Guysborough surprisingly had an abundance of things to do for the visitor. My mother and I were able to experience many of them thanks to the helpful, welcoming people at DesBarres Manor Inn who guided us to many of these activities.
There’s no better way to photograph a region than going with a local who actually knows the region. Derek picked me up at our B&B after breakfast. Derek was not just a local who had grown up in the area, but he also was a photography enthusiast and was privy to some of the best views of the area. Here’s one of my most important rules of travel – any time you have a chance to go out with a local and see sights – do it. As the old truck lumbered down the highway we talked about the type of photography I normally like to do and he was able to narrow down some key stops for our morning where I’d be able to get some great shots that fit my style. It really is rare to get this kind of personalized treatment; this is where small town hospitality comes in. Derek drove me all over the region – to the high points, the abandoned buildings and bridges, and some gorgeous wetlands that I never would have known existed. During the whole time he and I chatted about the progress of state of Guysborough, and the region in general. It was not only a great way to get photos that most visitors would never find, but it provided a super local insight into the region.
While I was driving around with Derek my mother did the Guysborough Historic Walking Tour – a self-guided walk that takes only about an hour and leads you through town viewing the shops, churches, and homes that make up this shrinking village. The oldest of which was from 1820. You can get a simple map at the Museum and it’s easy to follow along!
We walked into Full Steam Coffee roasting building – it was a mix of fabulous smells that hit you like a smack in the face. Coffee and baking bread – oh lord – I was awake now. The Full Steam Coffee Company shares space with a bakery – a nice combination for the senses. Christian met us and excitedly walked us through the whole bean, fair trade, organic roasting process. For my mom, this was like making the pilgrimage to Meca – a spiritual experience for an fanatical coffee drinker. Christian walked us through the entire process showing how technology plays a big role in the roasting process. Next we went on to taste all of the different roasts side by side. The most surprising thing I learned that rocked my world was the fact that the darker and bolder the roast, the less caffeine. What?! I asked Christian a number of times if he was positive about this fact – and he stood firm. Ok – that certainly changes how I order coffee from now on – why did I have to wait until I was 43 to learn this extremely useful fact? Full Steam Coffee is distributed throughout Nova Scotia – so be sure to look for it and have a taste of the authentic seacoast. My favorite part of the tour was when I asked Christian what his favorite Full Steam Coffee was and he answered, “I don’t drink coffee!”
Hand crafted, small batches, and no preservatives – that’s small town brewing. After our coffee extravaganza we were also able to see and taste the brewing process of Rare Bird Craft beer which is sold throughout Nova Scotia. The big red building in town belongs to Rare Bird – the pub’s deck is open in the summer where you can taste the various craft brews and eat fish ‘n chips while enjoying the harbor view. One of my favorite tastings I did was a coffee based brew, Full Steam Stout. Yes – my two addictions were colliding into a beautiful perfect world.
Two days wasn’t even enough to do everything we could do in the area. You could also do kayaking (weather permitting), cycling, fishing, golf, lighthouse drives, and DesBarres Inn will gladly make you a picnic lunch to take with you on your outings; a nice small town touch.
Before I left Guysborough I made sure to do my favorite thing – go on a morning run through town. I think it’s the best way to get a feel for the place. On the advice of a local avid runner, Lori – who works at Skipping Stone Café and Store, she guided me to a little trail to run on along the water. It was absolutely pristine with views of the water and secluded houses surrounded by pine trees.
If you are looking for a unique stop off the normal Nova Scotia tourist trail – then head towards the eastern coast to Guysborough – you’ll be surprised by this authentic seacoast town and everything it has going for it. Be sure to talk to the locals for the best advice on what to do and where to go around the region. The town may be small, but it has an immense amount of attractions and local flavor.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Authentic Seacoast during our time in Guysborough. However all of the opinions expressed here are my own.