Photo Credit: Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota – Halifax Harbour Sunset Skyline, CC
Mother Nature surely puts on a show in these parts. Local Nova Scotians are accustomed to a life alongside rugged coastlines, colorful fishing towns, rolling green hills and sparkling waters. Its beautiful capital, Halifax, not only encompasses this beautiful scenery, but also her Haligonians (Halifax locals) are quick to show her off to you.
“Peggy’s Point. You have to go there first.” Those were the opening lines of and email from Steve, a friend from Halifax, replying to my request for his recommendations. There was more to his email, of course, but I took the urgency of his tone very seriously. Visiting Peggy’s Point Lighthouse was in fact the very first thing on my agenda and I’m so glad it was.
Under a blueish-grey sky, I headed out on the Lighthouse Route. A forty-minute car ride that was anything but boring. It was as if every colorful building, lobster trap, net, fishing rod, boat, and buoy I saw along the way was perfectly staged for a photo shoot. As we drove along the South Shore there were several lighthouses we could’ve stopped at, like Fort Point and Cape Forchu, but following Steve’s strict orders, we were determined to make Peggy’s my first.
Along the way, my guide peppered me with incredible facts about this icon. Like it’s one of the most photographed sites in the country, and that the gleaming whitewashed lighthouse sits on impressive rock formations left by eroding glaciers millions of years ago. I learned that the village that surrounds the lighthouse is home to a mere 40 people (back then) and that it was likely named Peggy’s as a nickname for Saint Margaret’s Bay, but there was a popular local legend that pegged Peggy as the sole survivor of a shipwreck.
But even armed with all of that information, there was nothing to prepare me for the awe of standing before the stately lighthouse that has been an inspiration for artists and writers for generations.
I stood on those rocks for quite some time, overlooking the crashing surf that was glistening under a sky that had miraculously cleared up to turn pure blue. I watched an artist attempt to capture the spectacle of the place on his canvas. And then I too, like so many before me, snapped a photo of the lighthouse.
History vs. Folklore
It’s hard to believe that the first lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove was nothing more than a small wooden house with a beacon on the roof. It was not for another 50 years, in 1914, when the current 49-foot lighthouse was built on the hamlet. The original wooden lighthouse then became the keeper’s home until it was damaged by Hurricane Edna in 1954 and was removed. The gleaming red and white tower even played a crucial role during World War II, as it was used by the Royal Canadian Navy as a radio station.
Adding a bit of local lore to the history of this iconic lighthouse is the Peggy of the Cove Museum.
Ivan Fraser, local artist and storyteller created this tribute to the local legend of how Peggy’s Cove got its name. Based on the story written by William deGarthe, the folktale says that a schooner was shipwrecked on Halibut Rock, just off the point on which the famous lighthouse sits, and its only survivor was a young woman named Margaret. She stayed in the area, eventually falling in love and marrying one of the locals. Inside this museum-inside-a-home, you’ll find tributes to “Peggy” all over the museum. Ivan masterfully mixes his own stories of growing up in Peggy’s Cove with the stories of Peggy and how she came to be in the area after her shipwreck.
Whether fiction or fact, one thing that is certain is that the fish and chips from the Sou’Wester Restaurant across the street are the real thing. Outside of London, these were the best I’ve had and the perfect place for a quick rest and to reflect on everything I had just seen. The restaurant itself is also offers a bit of history, as it opened its doors in the late 60’s as a small five table tearoom at the side of a house at its present location. Over the years, it expanded to add more seats and a gift shop to accommodate the increasing number of visitors to the area, yet the Sou’Wester retains its charm, largely because it’s still run by the family of its founder, Jack Campbell.
Every corner of this village has a story to tell, whether of a mysterious survivor or a beacon that guides hard-working fishermen…or even a decades-old recipe for fish covered in thick batter. All you have to do is follow the light.