Finding history on board Holland America’s historic New England/Canada sail
by Ilona Kauremszky
Chasing Canada’s pig-tailed red headed darling wasn’t what I had in mind on a shore excursion through Anne of Green Gables country but I did.
That was only one of the many surprises as we sailed the northeastern fringe of North America retracing the early days of Acadia and New England on board the MS Maasdam.
The midsized 1,258 person capacity vessel from Holland America cruises the Atlantic Ocean in this popular sail that showcases quaint seafaring towns of which some have population figures that never seemed to exceed 10,000. Our 7-day cruise started in Boston and ended in Montreal with shore excursions to Bar Harbor, Maine; Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown and Quebec City.
The cruise is an ideal way to see the historic sites and local attractions from early North America as we salute Canada’s 150th anniversary.
Here’s a cruise sampler:
In the city that’s home to the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Bruins what better way to get the sports enthusiast revved up than a visit to one of the alma maters. The stadium lights were ablaze at Fenway Park, home turf of the U.S.’s oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, the night we were there.
For pub grub, the acclaimed Cheers bar that inspired the hit TV sitcom is a great pit stop. Visit the original location on Beacon Hill, an easy 30 minute walk from Fenway Park, and order the Boston Clam Chowder.
For me, libraries represent great cities: the more elaborate and accessible the better. Boston’s Public Library is a hallmark onto its own. Created in 1852 this “palace for the people” which is a moniker used to describe this landmark boasts a permanent collection of 23 million items and ranks as the third largest library in the United States. In addition temporary exhibitions are scheduled from Shakespeare to Edgar Allen Poe.
On the day of our visit we were ready and psyched as we stood by the main entrance reading the relief above the main entrance: Free to All. We lingered for some time, marvelling at the interiors carved in marble, and the exquisite art like the murals of artist John Singer Sargent whose work the Boston Globe described as the “American Sistine Chapel.”
On the edge of Mount Desert Island overlooking the sea Bar Harbor is lobster, whales and more lobster.
But the quaint town which was a huge summer vacay spot for industrialists of the day like the Rockefellers, Sir Harry Oakes, and America’s Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart also lures in cruise day trippers like us.
We took a delightful bus tour through the city’s main drag and made our way through Acadia National Park, a small park culled from private donations of land to the scenic lookout of Cadillac Mountain for picture-perfect views. Fabulous!!
Prince Edward Island
Underneath the world’s longest oceanic bridge that crosses icy water it hit me. We were sailing beneath the Confederation Bridge, the engineering feat completed in 1997 which officially brought Canada’s mainland finally to the birthplace of Confederation. For cruisers it meant an opportunity for selfies and smiles as we plied the mighty Atlantic ready to disembark in Charlottetown.
For our shore excursions the go-to island trip was called, “The Island’s finest: Anne, Lobster and a Scenic Drive.” We managed to see all three including spare time for sightseeing in Charlottetown.
Anne’s homestead is make-believe but the nostalgic lifestyle of a green gabled house surrounded by a white picket fence in a sweet countryside setting held true. The rooms were styled as if Anne were to return to her bedroom at any minute with a frock atop the frilly bed and the dining room table set for dinner.
Outside the trails sprawled into forests named after her legendary trails dubbed Haunted Wood and Balsam Hollow with clever interpretive signs to reflect Anne’s creator, L.M. Montgomery’s inspirational sources.
Sadly there was no Anne to be found on the day of our visit. It turns out she’s a volunteer. Canada’s favourite freckle faced redhead ran off sick upon seeing the buses of eager fans from Japan (she’s idolized there), America and Canada pull into the parking lot. We were left to explore an Anne-less homestead.
After the ship docked at the Sydney pier on Cape Breton Island the busy day trippers disembarked passing the terminal’s signature statue, the world’s largest fiddle.
We set our sights onto the Fortress of Louisbourg. Looming on the edge of Cape Breton Island this National Historic Site captivates the imagination.
Peel back the curtains and turn back the clock to 1713. Now get set for a visit like no other at this former French colonial capital of Louisbourg.
Back in the day an incoming flotilla of mighty frigates plied these waters. The ships were laden with everything from flour and gun powder to the enormously expensive chocolate only given to the lucky few engineers and high-ranking officers. Meanwhile, the taverns were packed with ale-drinkers quaffing a new elixir called rum, fresh from the French West Indies.
If you’ve seen those old Hollywood flicks, the ones with diners holding a chicken leg in one hand, while guzzling an ale in the other with some live entertainment thrown in for good measure that’s the kind of scene you will have walked into at the Grandchamps House.
Don’t be surprised by the fun-filled waterfront cabaret unfolding as a costumed musician strums his guitar singing a love song to this room full of diners. There’s lots of pea soup, meat pie and fish of the day mixed in with plenty of laughter, song and local gossip.
Come night time tuckered out after a full day we’d roll back to our Oceanview stateroom sometimes to prepare for dinner which was its own grand affair or to enjoy the in-cabin experience. Replete in blonde teak woods and golden curtains the spacious cabin was perfect one night for in-room dining and watching the flat screen TV from the cozy mariners dream bed.
But most evenings it was dining with new friends at one of the a la carte restaurants whether it was in the main dining room for unforgettable 5-course dinners or in the more subdued Pinnacle Grill for a more romantic dining.
For l’apres dinner entertainment it was off to the Main Stage Show Lounge for a scintillating performance or we’d enjoy a nightcap at one of the bar lounges like the Piano Bar.
But the excitement of sailing never seemed to wear off. As the MS Maasdam quietly plied the waters with the ship now sailing the ancient St. Lawrence River, my other half and I gave each other a nod. We knew before the night was over there would be one final promenade on the Lido deck.
The stars shone dancing off the river in that magical moment. Alone, away from the others, time seemed to stand still. We could only imagine what the early explorers must have felt sailing the mighty St. Lawrence River. For us, this iconic cruise helped bring history to life.
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