Cliffs, Currents and the Highest Tides on Earth
Aricle and Photographs by Scott Cunningham
|Later on, in the l800s, there was a flurry of
lumbering activity but by the early part of this century
the coastline of Cape Chignecto had again settled into
obscurity and, until recently, it has remained forgotten
Cape Chignecto is truly a spectacular place. Howard Donohoe should know. As a geologist with Nova Scotias Dept. of Natural Resources, he has probably explored the cracks and crevices of this shore more than anyone else. His geological map of the Cobequid Highlands, a patchwork of colours and symbols, tells a complex tale of transformation.
According to Howard, the 30 kilometres from West Advocate to Apple River has a geological diversity unmatched anywhere else in the province. It is perhaps the best place to interpret Nova Scotias earth history.
|Eventually, conditions within the earths core
changed and the supercontinent began to break apart. At
the collision boundary, faults opened, huge sections
dropped and were filled with sediment, and lava again
spewed forth. Both sides of the Cape area are remnants of
this tortured period. However, the final split occurred
much farther to the east, at the edge of the continental
shelf, and a huge chunk of ancient Africa was left
attached to North America. Erosion has since worn down
the mountains and exposed the underlying bedrock. Huge
river formed channels leading to the sea which the
glacier enlarged to form a bay with the highest tides on
THE SOUTHERN SHORE
The majesty of Cape Chignecto is the shoreline. The southern coast parallels the Cobequid fault, extending across the province and out under the Atlantic. This is the ancient collision boundary. More than a dozen rock types form the side of the raised plateau beginning with the relaltively young red Triassic sandstone of West Advocate. Ancient grey slate and siltstone follow, melting into bright reddish-tan granite, infused with undulating ribbons of black diabase. The evolution of these features is complex but, even without understanding their origins, the contrasting colours, textures and forms are striking. Sea caves, shoals and beaches come and go with the tides under the intimidating shadows of sheer cliffs, up to 700 feet, the highest on mainland Nova Scotia. Dark-green wrecked dangles overhead, under scraggy trees which cling precariously to the cliffs.
Refugee Cove is the only significant break in the southern escarpment. The high cobblestone beach is littered with errant logs and bleached trees, evidence of the severity of the winter storms that lash these shores. Behind this barrier, at the far edge of the sheltered flood plain, the remains of a brick oven suggest a sawmill, but little else describes the past and nothing at all form the time of the Acadians. As recently as the l930s, logs and lumber produced here were towed on scows of rafts to markets far away.
In the distance to the west, Isle Haute emerges as an impenetrable fortress, its sheer basalt walls vestiges of ancient basalt lava flows, that now line the bottom of the Bay. It is best viewed from French Lookout, a grassy promontory at the edge of the sharp from where those early refugees scanned the waters for any sign of the British. To the east, the golden cliffs of Cape door glisten in a late afternoon sun, no different from the days when Champlain visited them in search of copper while en route to found the first European settlement in Canada. At the very tip of the Cape, the igneous rock of the Cobequid Mountains gradually slides under the waters of the Bay.
THE WESTERN SHORE
The western shoreline is also a legacy of continental rifting, a breaking apart that didn't quite succeed. The cliffs are largely unassailable although lower than on the south shore and with numerous pocket coves that provide passage to a gently sloping plateau. Streams often arrive at the beach in a waterfall, a tempting cool shower during hot summer days.
|EATONVILLE When the Europeans arrived in the Bay of
Fundy, settlement spread rapidly and, by the end of the
last century, every cove, inlet and river mouth that
could be adapted for anchorage became the site of a mill
or a shipyard. Eatonville was one such place. Here in an
obscure river valley between the Cape and Apple River,
the Eaton brothers established a thriving lumbering and
shipbuilding operation in the 1870s.
This was Nova Scotias golden age when our sailing ships could be found throughout the globe. But by the turn of this century, with iron and steam replacing wood and wind, the decline had begun and by 1920 there was little left. Another bustling Maritime community had been abandoned.
A tidal river, hugging the sculpted walls, leads into the former settlement along a bank of old wharf pilings. Fragmented bricks and rotted beams are strewn above high tide among goose berry bushes. The cribs which carried the wooden tramway up to the plateau still rest on the river bed but there is no sigh of the mill.
In his book, Sails of Fundy, Stanley Spicer lists 21 vessels which were constructed in Eatonville. Although that may not seem like a lot, considering that over 600 (including the famous mystery ship, the Mary Celeste) were launched from the Parrsboro shore alone, what they lacked in numbers they made up for in size. Seven of the largest were built in this cove and the leading one, appropriately christened the D.R. Eaton, weighed over l,550 tons. This was enormous in an era when the world record barely exceeded 2,600 tons. By comparison, Nova Scotias current sailing ambassador, the Bluenose II (at 99 tons) would be dwarfed alongside. Outside the harbour entrance lies a bizarre moonscape of arches, caves, tunnels and sheer pinnacles, fashioned by the constant erosion of the sea, and highlighted by the Three Sisters. At low tide you can explore among these towering spires on foot, but when the water returns there is no escape except by boat. The geological diversity doesnt stop with Eatonville and at Squally Point we find the highest raised beach in the province, l00 feet above sea level. This is a legacy from the Ice Age, a result of the land rebounding with the melting of the glaciers faster than the rise in sea level. Further along, in Spicers Cove, younger cliffs of conglomerate crumbling to the touch, litter the shoreline with their resistant constituent stones. There are even small coal seams exposed near the beach. At Apple River the sandstone, a gently sloping shoreline, and the renowned Bay of Fundy mud have returned. My fascination with Cape Chignecto has brought me back again and again during the past several years, and I sometimes bring along friends who think they have seen the best that the east coast has to offer. While tourists may round the Cabot Trail, sun on P.E.I.s beaches or marvel at the Hopewell flowerpots, no sighs point the way here - to the most spectacular region of all. However, that is about to change. Through the tenacious efforts of several individuals and groups, the province has been moved to acquire the Cape. The ultimate goal is to develop it as a wilderness park, protecting a precious natural resource for future generations, while at the same time assisting in the long-term development of an economically disadvantaged area.
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