“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.
Photography with Locals
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!
Coffee Brewing – Full Steam Coffee Co
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!”
Beer Tasting – Rare Bird Craft Beer tasting at the Authentic Seacoast Brewing Co
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.
By James Shannon August 27, 2013 - 1:23 pm
I was born and raised in that neck of the woods (well, almost … I grew up in Antigonish County to the north). My Dad used to golf at the 9 hole course in town, and I played my first rounds there also. Great job on capturing this place so close to my heart!
By Anne Karen August 27, 2013 - 6:27 pm
Wonderful article, I didn’t have Nova Scotia on my list before, but it might move in there now. Love, love, love the pictures – fantastic.
By OCDemon August 27, 2013 - 9:07 pm
It’s interesting to see what gets famous and what doesn’t, and sometimes the not-so-famous but still interesting treasures are even better.
By Colleen Brynn August 27, 2013 - 10:21 pm
These are some wonderful photos… and I love that you were able to get underneath the tourist veneer. It can be hard sometimes, but I think it is worth it in the end. Some people don’t like to do this, but I don’t really see the point in traveling if not to even try.
By Jamieson August 27, 2013 - 10:55 pm
Posted on FB by my cousin. My father grew up there and I spent time during summer vacations. Rich in history from the American Revolution, most residents are descendants from the black and white loyalists deported from South Carolina.
By Kara August 28, 2013 - 9:32 am
The abandoned home featured in your photos was owned by my grandfather!!! Stunning photo. Would love to see what other photos you got of it.
By Diane Voripaieff September 3, 2013 - 4:03 pm
I would love to know whose house this was. I lived on Guysborough much of my earlier years, at a time when this town really was an historic place. All the older families and houses were in good repair and there were people living in them . So do please let me know the family name of the people who lived here.
By Patti February 24, 2016 - 6:05 pm
I believe it might be the old Marshall place. Glen keen near Boylston.
By Diane Voripaieff February 24, 2016 - 9:21 pm
I think you are right. It looks like the Marshall home now that I look more closely. Nice to see people traveling the quieter places.However Guysborough was not always like this and many newer people have made changes to the old town that would have upset the original settlers. Too bad you were not in the hands of experienced Old Town people. The new owners of businesses have completely changed the town and destroyed much of what the place was all about. There were many lovely old homes, businesses,places of access to water, Greenways that were part of the original town layout that was in 1786. Most of these have been destroyed, torn down, and people have built over the pathways,changed the access to water even though these places are government controlled. Too bad you were not able to hear the true story of Guysborough;you would have enjoyed it very much.
By Susan August 28, 2013 - 9:52 am
I have lived in the district since 1975, and raised my sons here. It is such a beautiful and safe place to live. I see the Queensport light house out my patio door every morning- it is quite a site! Come visit the area and maybe you will love it too and want to stay a while (38 yes)!!!!
By Noreen August 28, 2013 - 7:40 pm
You, like several others, came to our town to give more publicity to the Rare Bird and its associated venues.
Yes, your pictures were nice, but when you look through the lens think about what you are going to use for a caption. The abandoned house was actually my grandparents homestead. And its not abandoned – its vacant, but it has a story to tell.
By Sherry August 29, 2013 - 2:24 am
I’m sorry that I misspoke. I had no real way of telling what the story was behind the house – we just stopped quickly for a photo as I like to take pictures of old places. I’d love to hear the story. That’s the unfortunate thing about my work sometimes – I move quickly and don’t always have the time to get every story.
By Gbro native August 29, 2013 - 2:45 pm
I was born and raised in guysbrough and have explored every little nook and cranny of the region from lakes, landscape,and the historic downtown. I loved it. Keep up the good work
By Diane September 1, 2013 - 10:42 am
What a beautiful place! We were in Nova Scotia a couple weeks ago – sorry we missed it as we love small villages.
By Sherry September 3, 2013 - 10:17 am
Put it on your list for next time Diane! Totally worth it! Or at least stop for some coffee or beer!
By Joan Sinden September 1, 2013 - 10:49 am
Nobody should spend anytime in the district of the municipality of Guysborough – they have breed specific legislation there – there are so many other beautiful places in Nova Scotia that actually love dogs where you can spend your hard dollars – Guysborough is even broken up into 2 municipalities – and the other one – the district of the municipality of St Mary’s – loves dogs – they have the fabulous historic Sherbrooke Village which is even dog friendly. So don’t spend any money in the district of the municipality of Guysbotough until they remove their heinous bsl.
By Sherry September 3, 2013 - 10:16 am
Joan – sorry you feel that way about the town. I really enjoyed it there.
By Diane Voripaieff September 3, 2013 - 4:15 pm
Hello, I liked this presentation very much. It gives one a new look at a town which has seen much better days. I lived here as a young and older teen and at the time members of some of the original families were still there as well as the homes were in good repair. It was a blast form the 19th C for me coming from the eastern US seaboard city life.It was fun and people weer friendly, kids made their own fun and outdoors in all weather was the place to be.Please elt me know whose house it is that you photographed so well and so bleakly. Such a shame as many houses have gone and more have been torn down. The old Hotel being a notable one as well as the MP, the Honourable Mr Havelock Torrey’s beautiful home on Main Street. My grandmother’s house is now part of another landmark and the foundation and house itself was built by Mr Sandy Tory in 1805 which makes it one of the oldest if not the oldest in the village. Glad you enjoyed your trip. And we were great dog lovers! Just no Pit Bull Dogs allowed now as is the case in other places in NS. Come again and enjoy some of the other placees to stay;you will love them just as much.
By Arianwen September 9, 2013 - 5:28 am
Lovely photos. Abandoned homes are very picturesque!
By Amit September 11, 2013 - 6:58 am
i can still smell the aroma of cofee…
By sue October 15, 2013 - 11:14 pm
I love discovering small town. These are beautiful photos.
By ColleenB April 8, 2014 - 7:52 pm
Reading this and seeing the pictures makes me want to visit here even more now. We are planning a trip to Nova Scotia and it is in Guysborough and we are staying for a week. We are looking for things to do while we are there and this has given us a few things we can check out. We are also hoping to try other things. But having a hard time finding things online. Thanks for posting this so I have a few things we can check out.
By Torrey Welch November 15, 2014 - 3:43 am
My ancestors James Tory/Christine Kirk, James McKenzie/Hannah Larrabee, and others sailed to Guysborough with the Associated Departments of the Navy and Army.
We visited Guysborough several years ago, and drove out to the old Tory farm in the Intervale. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit. We also went to the Library, which was jacked up off its foundation for repairs; so our visit there was rather short. Nevertheless, we were given considerable help by the librarian, who was extremely pleasant to us.
BTW: I’ve recently taken posession of 1) a TORY Family Bible, and 2) a GILLIE/ WESTCOTT Family Bible (from G’boro in the 1800s); and I am willing to give them to anyone willing to pay the postage.
By Byron Tory May 5, 2015 - 12:55 am
Definitely interested in the Bibles if you still have them. Evidently we share the ancestors you mentioned above. How do we make contact?
By Torrey A. Welch August 3, 2015 - 12:41 pm
Byron, I would be more than happy to send you the family Bibles.
I live in Rocklin, California, and I’m listed in the phone book there.
I would gladly send them for the cost of postage.
By C MacDonald May 7, 2015 - 7:18 pm
Did you see the message from Byron? VERY interested in the Bible.
By Kaye June 28, 2015 - 10:05 am
Interesting article…just want to make a correction…Guysborough is not a TOWN. Further along the coast is the historic former Town of Canso which recently joined the Municipality of Guysborough due to financial woes…but it will always remain a town to me…beautiful scenic drive to get there and the most friendly people you would ever want to meet, at the end of your journey…home of the STAN ROGERS FOLK FESTIVAL !! ..
By Marion Jones Mayfield June 29, 2015 - 7:15 am
My house, and childhood home, was built in the summer of 1800, It is located across the street from the Skipping Stone and Rare Bird and is next door to the coffee- roasting building. We have restored the kitchen hearth and enjoy cooking on it, especially in the fall.
By Sherry June 30, 2015 - 9:59 am
Do you still live there now Marion? Such a beautiful little town!
By michele long June 29, 2015 - 10:10 am
my favorite place in the world…retiring there in 3 years cant wait for the peace n quiet. n the simple life to begin. Im only 50 so lots of enjoyable years ahead.
By Patti February 24, 2016 - 6:15 pm
Very well put together presentation and very true. I also believe progress is desperately needed for this area to survive. It appears to some that they are trying but I fear it isn’t enough. It will take a very long time for the area to become even slightly prosperous. Sad but true.
By Darcy Jordan February 26, 2016 - 5:26 pm
Guysborough will always be home to me.
By Ann O'Connor Morrow February 26, 2016 - 7:41 pm
I grew up in the lovely little village of Guysborough and have many wonderful childhood memories. I married and moved just five miles away to Boylston, another quaint and beautiful little village. I feel so very fortunate to live where there is such beauty in our surroundings and kindness in our people. I enjoyed your presentation as well. There is so much history here to be enjoyed by old timers and new comers. Please come and see for yourself. You will not be disappointed!
By Tamara February 28, 2016 - 7:10 pm
We purchased a home in Philips Harbour ( smack in the middle of Gysborough and Canso ) looking forward to a slower pace and simple living. I recognized that it might be difficult to break into the town moulds… But we have already met so many people who are welcoming us with open arms and gleefully awaiting our move in June. I can’t wait to be part of this history. The home we purchased faces Chedabucto Bay and was built in 1905.
By Vince Cohoon / Town of Canso resident February 29, 2016 - 2:15 am
I’am just very curious Sherry as to why it seems that the Old Town of Canso was left out of this total article, even though it for many years was the job provider for the majority of the community’s in Guysborough County
By Sherry March 5, 2016 - 5:53 pm
Vince – I really only write about the places I stay personally and sadly I didn’t have any extra nights available to stay in Canso. However on my way back to Halifax we did go drive through it and look at the port. It looked like a really great town. And if I get back to the area again I will surely spend more time there.
By Jean MacLeod Kelley March 12, 2016 - 2:46 am
I see a reply from Vincent Cohoon of Canso. I was just “browing” around on my computer. My grandfather was John Edmund Cohoon who married Annie Laura Lawlor. My mother was Evelyn Cohoon. My mother died from Alzheimer but a year before her passing my sister and I took mother back to Canso for a visit to the Hortons, Whitmans, Hazel Hill Cable Office, Star Of The Sea church. etc. The aroma of salt air followed us on our walk around town – and people could not have been more friendly. Loved it. I bought a large painting of a sailboat in Canso harbour and it hangs in my livingroom.(J. MacLeod/Kelley from Sandwich, MA., USA). When I was young I remember hearing the name “Uncle Vinc” so maybe you are a branch of the same Cohoons eh!!! ([email protected]).
By M March 26, 2019 - 11:33 am
I agree with Mr. Cohoon, and I understand that you write about the places you visit…but, Guysborough has beautiful scenic areas other than Guysborough. One is Canso, very scenic, historic, and OFTEN ignored by visitors who stop in Guysborough, and are led to believe there is nothing down there… Like the many other coastal communities, Canso and surrounding communities are beautiful and the people warm and welcoming! Guysborough is not a town, but a village, and maybe in the future you will extend your travel and discover the many other treasures Guysborough County holds!!