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peggyscove450x270Visiting Peggy's Cove
Who is Peggy and what's the big allure of this special spot on the south shore of Nova Scotia?

Visiting Peggy's Cove, South Shore, Nova Scotia

From the upper balcony of the Peggy's Cove Bed & Breakfast, the harbour and buildings of this scenic fishing village spread out before me. Raucous gulls ride the ever present wind, following a Cape Islander fishing boat as she eases through the channel. From the granite rocks on the opposite side of Peggy's Cove, the world's most-photographed lighthouse rises to spike the sky.

Audrey O'Leary has just been giving us a tour of her charming home, which doubles as an art gallery, complete with resident artist. Many of the excellent paintings displayed employ a watercolour technique that Allison prefers, and I am soon abandoned for artistic shoptalk. Left to my own devices, I've set up my photographic tripod on this high vantage point, and I'm happily burning film, while enjoying the tang of salt and seaweed.

Peggy's Cove is located on Nova Scotia's south shore, only fifty kilometres from Halifax, the provincial capital. Facing the ocean, the Cove is actually on the eastern side of St. Margaret's Bay, a large expanse of water fringed by a number of towns and fishing villages, very popular with summer visitors. This community is built on the rocky hills that surround the small cove. The channel entrance, extremely narrow, has a reputation for intimidating the faint of heart, but affords good protection from the wild storms of the North Atlantic.

The origins of the village name seem lost in antiquity, the mundane explanation being that it's an abbreviation of "Margaret", and this is the first cove off the Bay. A more romantic version describes the rescue of a sole survivor of a shipwreck, a damsel named "Peggy", who washed up on the rocks during a hurricane, and stayed to marry a local bachelor.

Most of the population of Peggy's Cove, about fifty souls, make their living from fishing or tourism, and the Cove has been a fishing village since it's founding in 1811. The mackerel catch and lobstering provide most of the income. The traps, anchors, and nets, stored on fish stages and the government wharf, are not tourism props, but essential fishing gear used by locals to earn a livelihood.

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Peggy's Cove, well known to artists and photographers, has been famous for its unspoiled beauty for years. Sherman Hines, well-known Canadian photographer, still tells the story of how he was almost washed into the sea here by a rogue wave, while making images on the rocks near the lighthouse.

Early efforts at tourism tended to the tasteless; I remember driving into the Cove many years ago, to see lobster traps painted in a variety of garish colours, and American Cadillacs strewn along the narrow, winding road. In 1962, the provincial government established the Peggy's Cove Commission, to "...preserve the character of the village, and to restrict development and commercialization".

Today, Peggy's Cove represents a tasteful compromise between tourism and fishing. Motor vehicles and buses may be parked in two huge lots, and do not clog the roads. A large, family-owned restaurant and gift shop, "The Sou'Wester", can handle a surprisingly large percentage of the crowds that gather here. There are whale- and puffin-watching tours (growing up in Halifax, I don't recall ever hearing of offshore whales!), and several art studios and galleries. The locals remain cheerful and patient, despite the annual inundation of their little world, by hordes of visitors.

The primary attraction of Peggy's Cove, however, is its natural beauty. In the village itself, the white lighthouse, set upon huge granite rocks that line the shore, stands as a sentinel above the blue seas. Built in 1916 to replace and older structure, it now houses the only Canadian post office to be located in a lighthouse. Peggy's Cove has been given its own stamp cancellation, a replica of the lighthouse.

The harbour itself is a scenic place, with colourful boats at the wharves, grey wooden fish houses and sheds surrounded by brightly-painted markers and floats, and ever-present clouds of herring gulls. The small wooden village church glows in the westering sun, while the dark blue sea offsets the white houses that perch on the hills.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Cove is the local geology. A large number of huge boulders, scattered at random, cover the hills in the immediate vicinity of the village, making this area unique. The boulders are 415 million years old Devonian granite, deposited by the last of the retreating glaciers.

To be able to photograph the lighthouse and surrounding rocks without including hordes of people, Allison and I are up at dawn. This is a memorable experience, to be out on these rocks alone.

The low light of the rising sun is fluorescent on the lighthouse, making it a striking sight against the blue sky. The rocks reveal a variety of subdued colours, while the variety of shapes and shadows invite studies of the abstract. we spend several delightful hours exploring the area with camera and sketchpad, before retreating from the cold wind to enjoy Audrey's hot breakfast.

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