Pulling up next to the gallery in Bear River, the village on stilts which straddles the river of the same name, it’s appeal is instant, and easy to understand why early settlers to Nova Scotia made this home. The river snakes through the glacial valley, flanked by mature woodland on both sides, providing direct access to the ocean.
I’d earlier collected Louise, my guide around the community at the Heritage Museum. She’d given me a brief insight into the history of the local Mi’kmaq people that had originally settled here, and we were now going to meet some of those that still live in, and around the village.
We chatted some more over an excellent seafood chowder in the café. This building had already caught my eye, propped up on stilts high above the low tide, it was an attractive spot to enjoy a coffee, with great views over the river. Louise remembers it as the pharmacy, in common with almost every other store it has long since closed.
She is a mine of information, explaining about the rise, and fall of ship building in the village, favourite swimming holes, and the decline of cherry trees in the glacial valley. The reason for this being attributed to one of the villages colourful businessmen predicting a plague on all fruit bearing trees if they failed to build a monument to him. They didn’t, but apparently even today it is under discussion.
Ship building had been popular due to abundant wood, and easy access into the sea via the Bay of Fundy. One of the largest vessels built here had required the dismantling of the swing bridge to launch, as it was too large to pass through. Once the full laden ship returned some time later, the builder, and owner had made sufficient profit to pay off this and all debts in full.
Louise is passionate about the history of her community, and is obviously keen to see it return to it’s prime. She speaks enthusiastically of the days when many artists, and craftsmen called it home, a thriving community where something always seemed to be happening. She remembers vividly being enthralled as a child by the fine art, photography, pottery, jewellery being produced by local artisans, and sold in shops, and stalls.
Judging by the many lovely pieces on offer in the Flight of Fancy Gallery there are still a number of artists still working in the region, but probably just a fraction of yesteryear. It would be criminal not to at least browse the wide variety of arts on display, these include paintings, carvings, jewellery, and basket making. Most are traditional skills, many with a First Nations influence. It’s small wonder it’s Lonely Planet recommended, and worth taking a detour to visit.
There are a few other attractions, including a nearby vineyard, though just watching the tide smother each rock in turn, and slowly creep up the stilts of the buildings is a calming pleasure to enjoy.
It is a genuine First Nation community, one of 13 in Nova Scotia, it has a chief and council. It maintains a healthy social calendar during the year, and it seems likely that anybody in town would be welcome to join in, and make new friends.
The tidal village has few stores however, and the 800 residents must travel to Digby for almost all of their grocery, clothing, and hardware shopping. Great for souvenir shopping it seems, but few essentials.
It was a pleasure to spend several hours in the community, meeting several local characters, such as Dusty, who makes intricate, colourful, and beautiful flowers from wood shavings. I’d recommend anybody in the region making a detour to visit Bear River, the coffee shop, and gallery are the main attractions, but the beauty of this photogenic village is likely to capture many a heart.