From the category archives:

Ottawa to Nova Scotia 2010

We’ve finally arrived at the last post in the Nova Scotia road trip series, a mere two weeks after the road trip itself concluded. (!)

A few days before we left for Nova Scotia, I mentioned Oak Island to Beloved. I remember learning about the Oak Island Money Pit in school when I was a kid — it’s a mysterious site just up the coast from Lunenburg where they have been trying more or less since the late 1700s to get to the bottom of a mysterious pit loaded with contraptions and booby traps that have thus far managed to foil any potential treasure-hunters. The treasure itself is unknown, but rumoured to be everything from spoils from Blackbeard and Captain Kidd to Marie Antoinette’s jewels to the Arc of the Covenant. (Not much hyperbole there, eh?)

We were intrigued. The site is currently closed to the public, and though we corresponded briefly with a lovely woman from the Oak Island Treasure site, what would have been a very cool private charter of a small boat that would take us around the island with someone who used to be a tour guide at Oak Island didn’t work out. Would have made a great blog post, eh?

But, on our first night in Lunenburg we discovered an entirely different kind of treasure from the sea, and we were instantly addicted to collecting it: sea glass.

Searching for sea glass

Sea glass, also known as beach glass, are small pieces of bottles and other glass items that have been buffed by the sea, sand and salt water until the edges are smooth and the surface is frosted. It takes a decade or more for the sea to wear the sharp edges down. The most common colours of sea glass are the green of wine bottles, the amber of beer bottles, and clear glass. Less common and more valuable are blues, yellows and reds.

When we went to Bar Harbor in 2007, I’d found a few tiny pieces of sea glass and was delighted with them. They’re each about half the size of a pea — just wee grains, really. When I saw in the description of the cottage we’d rented that “our” beach was renowned for sea glass, I figured we’d find something similar and come home with half a dozen or so shiny little bits.

Instead, we found the motherlode of sea glass. It was *everywhere*. The first night, we walked the beach in the briny fog just to explore and found mounds of the stuff. I was wearing cargo shorts and had to hold them up with one hand by the time we walked back to the house, so laden were my pockets with gorgeous chunks of sea glass. The next day, we filled a ziploc baggie. By the time we left, we were filling a small bucket AND baggies with each excursion. (Yes, we are the obsessive family.) And the wonder of it was that each high tide, one at 6 am and the other at 6 pm, replenished the supply.

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Lucas showed his first differentiation of colour when he expressed a preference for the “green ones” and would walk up and down the beach with me picking up only green bits of sea glass and then dropping them ceremoniously into my bucket as he declared “another one green one” with pride.

In short order, we became sea glass experts. The amber and green ones are the most common (beer and wine bottles, mostly) with clear also common. Blues and pastels are more prized, and reds and oranges and blacks the most rare. We also found bits of pottery worn smooth and crackled.

Sea glass 1

I read online that it takes decades for the sand and surf to smooth and buff the sharp edges and to give the glass the characteristic frosted look. I’m fascinated by the idea that for some reason, the tides pull glass to this particular beach and not one just a few kilometers down the shore. So cool to inspect the pieces where you can still see some of the decoration and speculate from where it came.

Sea glass 2

We collected so much sea glass thatfrankly I’m not sure what to do with it all. I’ve put some in a glass vase in the living room to remind us of our trip, and given some to my mom. I put some in another glass container and put it in my window at work, and I have yet more still tucked away into a ziploc baggie upstairs. I could sell it — it fetches a pretty price on etsy for crafters. Or I could keep it and make sea glass jewellery myself. In, um, all my spare time.

Beloved and the boys and I were so enthralled with our daily beach combing in search of sea glass that we debated the merits of quitting our day jobs and simply living in the summer house, collecting and selling sea glass online. There’s that much of it!

Our trip to Nova Scotia was amazing in so many ways, but the sea glass was the most unexpected and the most delightful of all. And we’re already making plans to go back. I’m just not sure if we can wait until next year.

Edited to add: So many of you have e-mailed me asking about the location of our secret stash of sea glass that I thought I’d be nice and share the location here. Happy hunting!!


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I still have a couple of last posts to write about our Nova Scotia road trip a few weeks ago. It must be a good vacation when I can’t quite leave it behind, eh?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my first impressions of New Brunswick in general and Fredericton in particular were not favourable. The day we spent driving through New Brunswick was miserable with rain pouring down so hard that the car hydroplaned regularly — an intimidating experience on the best of days, augmented considerably by the rolling hills and 110 km/h speed limit. And then, this happened:

Near Fredericton, we accidentally took an off ramp we weren’t supposed to take, and then took the same off ramp back into Fredericton again when trying to get back on the Trans Canada. Then we needed to turn off anyway when the low-fuel light came on and I was about to burst my own tank for need of a bathroom. We turned down a country road in search of a promised gas station that was no-where to be found. That’s when Simon gacked all over himself. It was the lowlight of an otherwise spectacular trip.

It would take some serious rehabilitation to redeem my (albeit brief) impression of Fredericton after that. Lucky for Fredericton, Sue was on the job. Sue, the blogger formerly known as MadHatterMommy, is one of my oldest and bestest bloggy friends. She’s witty, smart and kind; one of those people whose writing makes you a better writer and better thinker, too. I’ve admired her for years, and one of the first things I did when planning out our road trip to the east coast was to touch base with her and see if we could arrange a meet-up.

She hosted us for a delightful Sunday brunch on her picturesque back porch, where Lucas ate his body weight in the fresh berries she put out.

Brunch with Mad and Miss M

Doesn’t that look like an advertisement for a perfect Sunday morning? The boys were instantly charmed by Miss M, and as soon as we were done eating Miss M brought the big boys inside to show them around and share her toys. They held an impromptu costume party, where my boys came dressed as dufuses.

The kids had a little costume party.  My boys dressed up as dufuses.

Meanwhile, Lucas engaged himself watering Sue’s flowers. Isn’t the light gorgeous here? I swear, if I lived in that house I would never leave. It’s like a little island of serenity!

499:1000 Watering Mad's flowers

We popped over to the park across the street for a bit to shake out a few of the sillies before we piled back into the car for the long afternoon’s drive to Rivière-du-Loup. Simon and Miss M discussed the mysteries of the universe with deep contemplation.

Simon and Miss M

And, far too soon, we loaded ourselves rather resignedly back into the car. Not before one last photo op, though.

Mad and me

I have to admit, even though Sue and I long ago passed that threshold from Internet acquaintance to friend, I was shy about invading her place early on a tranquil Sunday morning. When you admire someone as much as I admire Sue, it’s nerve wracking to actually meet face to face. By the time we left, though, it felt like we’d been friends for years (well, I suppose in fact we have!) and we all agreed we wished Ottawa and Fredericton were a little closer together, to facilitate a few more playdates.

Mad and Miss M

Thanks again Sue, for a wonderful morning and for redeeming the entire province of New Brunswick for us. Any time you’re near Ottawa… :)

There’s one last post pending in the blog series that lasted three times as long as the vacation… our adventures in treasure hunting. I’ll put that one up soon!


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I‘ve told you about the drive to and from Nova Scotia, and the ferry ride, and our visit to Halifax. I still haven’t had a chance yet to tell you much about our breathtaking little cottage on the ocean, or the amazing little town of Lunenburg just across the harbour.

We chose Lunenburg by sheer flukey luck. I spoke to a couple of people who had visited or lived in Nova Scotia and collected potential places, then trolled the cottage listings until something with the right combination of affordable, available and interesting caught my fancy. The house we stayed in was beyond amazing — three out of four sides of the house managed to have windows that looked out over the ocean. One bedroom upstairs had a king-size bed and the other a double, both (to the massive delight of the boys) with TVs in them and a huge bathroom with a jacuzzi tub that also had an ocean view. It was probably close to the same size as our town house, but decorated with taste and money instead of random impulse buys from Ikea and Pier One.

The view from here

There was a huge deck with a BBQ in the back, and you only had to walk off the porch and cross the lawn and a very un-busy road that dead-ended a few hundred meters later to be at the ocean, looking out across the bay toward Lunenburg. Amazing! And once the fog lifted, every morning the sunrise looked like this:

Sunrise over the ocean, Lunenburg Harbour

(It’s 6:15 in the morning and I’m in my pajamas, standing in the middle of the road as I take this picture!)

Because we had to drive the long way around, it took us about 15 minutes to drive into Lunenburg, and every day we were in Nova Scotia we drove through or stopped by at least once. It’s big enough to have two small grocery stores and a Tim Hortons and a hardware store and a small commercial area downtown, but not much else. It’s so gorgeous that in 1995 it was designated a UNESCO world heritage site:

Lunenburg is the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. Established in 1753, it has retained its original layout and overall appearance, based on a rectangular grid pattern drawn up in the home country. The inhabitants have managed to safeguard the city’s identity throughout the centuries by preserving the wooden architecture of the houses, some of which date from the 18th century.

Boats + harbour + houses = Riot of colour

Aside from the shops and the simple joy of the colourful houses, though, I was afraid there wouldn’t be a whole lot for a family to *do* in Lunenburg. Luckily, we stumbled upon Captain Fred and his Lunenburg boat charters for a fun morning of fishing in the harbour. But the most fun we had in Lunenburg was definitely at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic.

Happy Canada Day from the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, Lunenburg!

It seemed from reading their website that it was a pretty small museum, but we spent half the day there and saw only about half of the exhibits. They have aquarium tanks filled with the kinds of fish and other sea life that are native to the area, like lobsters and scallops, halibut and of course, cod. We spent quite a bit of time playing with this board with the international signal flag alphabet, where each boy spelled out his name:

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The Bluenose II, the successor to the schooner you see on the Canadian dime, is supposed to be in dry dock for a two-year retrofit and upgrade, but she’s currently moored outside the museum, so we spent a while wandering around on her. The big boys in particular were enamoured with her.

On top of the world -- well, at least, on top of the Bluenose II.

Okay, I admit it, I was tickled by the idea of being on the schooner that’s on the dime, too. And she’s truly gorgeous, with mahogany fixtures on the deck.

Bluenose II wheel and mast.

The Bluenose II isn’t always in port, but they have another schooner, the Theresa E. Connor, and trawler named Cape Sable that you can also board and explore above and below decks. This would have been the captain’s quarters.

Shipboard crew's quarters

They also had a “touch tank” where the boys could stick their hands in a tank and touch or hold sea stars, anemone and scallops. And the big boys were lucky enough to be two of the four kids chosen from the crowd to help launch a scale model schooner into a pool — a wonderfully engaging and educational display.

The boys launched a schooner!

Each day we passed through Lunenburg, Simon asked if we could go back to the Fisheries museum. It was that good! And it cost us all of $22 for a family of five.

Did I mention how much I loved Lunenburg? I’m spoiled for any other destination now — no other place could be as perfect as this for us.

I’m not quite done with the travel blogging — still have to tell you about our most excellent bloggy playdate on the way home, and our absolute favourite part of our Nova Scotia oceanside holiday.


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We didn’t intend to go to Halifax our first full day in Nova Scotia. We figured maybe Canada Day might be a good choice, or one of the other days a little later in the week. It turned out, though, that we needed to make the hour-and-a-quarter trek back up to Halifax right away so we could pick up the keys that my mother had so kindly Fed-Exed to us so we could get the majority of our luggage out of the roof rack!

We also had no idea until two days before we left that the Queen would be visiting Halifax at the same time we were in Nova Scotia. In fact, as we made the white-knuckled, hydroplaning drive from New Brunswick across the breadth of Nova Scotia and past Halifax down to Lunenburg through an endless torrential downpour, it was a pleasant distraction to listen to the CBC Radio coverage of Her Majesty’s arrival just a few kilometres away.

When we left Lunenburg to make the hour-and-a-half drive up to Halifax on that first day, the fog had yet to lift, but by the time we arrived in Halifax the clouds were sporadic and we were getting peeks of blue sky. We got lost once looking for the MacKay bridge, but made it safely into and out of Dartmouth without any of the feared bridge closings due to the Queen’s visit. It was stunning seeing some of the international naval vessels on hand for HRM’s visit in Bedford Basin.

Bedford Basin, as seen from the MacKay bridge. I wanted to stop because an international naval fleet was in town for the Queen, but stopping on the bridge seemed imprudent. Thus the flyby and really not very good shot.

(Why do they put up those annoying guard rails that mess with my pictures?! Safety-schmafety!)

I’d intended to do a bit more online research about Halifax before we visited the city, but we hadn’t had the time, so I really only had the barest idea of what it might offer. Pier 21, Barrington Street, Keith’s Brewery, the Citidel, Theodore the Tugboat… and the Barenaked Ladies’ uncharitable “Hello City” were about all I knew. So we simply pointed the car toward the harbourfront and made things up as we went along.

We found a parkade right outside of Brewery Market, and had lunch in a nice little place with excellent fish and chips called the City Deli. Conveniently, it was in the same building as the Alexander Keith’s Brewery – Beloved’s own personal malted mothership.

Almost did the Alexander Keith's brewery tour, but the kids were squirrelly and it was an hour-long tour so we hiked the hell up the hill to the Citadel instead. That wore 'em out!

We were going to go on the Brewery tour, but it was an hour long and we were afraid the kids would be somewhere between distracting and disruptive (although the Brewery did say the tour was for all ages) and so we decided to wear them out with a hike up to the Citadel instead.

On our way out, we noticed that most of the harbourfront streets were at least partially barricaded for the Queen’s visit. We followed the crowds and the media trucks to the back of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and found out that they were milling about awaiting the Queen’s visit — two hours hence.

A bunch of people looking at the spot where the Queen will be two hours hence. So not waiting for that with all three kids.

Needless to say, we did not stand around on the pier with the kids waiting for HRH.

We did, however, exhaust the kids with a quick walk up from the harbour to the Citadel. (What is it about hot humid days on vacation that make me want to run my children up a hill to visit a military fortification anyway?)

Town Clock (or something like that), at the top of a very large hill in Halifax

We enjoyed watching the changing of the sentries (did you know they’re not actually military personnel, but summer students?) and the pipe and drum band. We wandered around on the ramparts for a while, and watched three helicopters escorting a fourth helicopter through the afternoon sky — I’m willing to bet there was some royalty flying by over our heads! The boys had fun completing the historical scavenger hunt put together by the Citidel staff, and felt very rewarded when they earned a cookie for their efforts.

Halifax Citadel

By the time we hit mid-afternoon, more than one of us needed a nap, so we trekked back down the hill and checked out a few of the shops on Barrington Street (which reminded me a lot of Dundas Street in my home town of London, Ont.) before heading back down the coast to Lunenburg.

We’d taken the NS103 highway both into Nova Scotia the day before and up the coast from Lunenburg earlier in the day. While it was an efficient ride, it wasn’t very charming. In fact, you can barely see any signs of habitation — just kilometre after kilometre of highway that looks more or less like this:

This is what NS103 looks like, all the way across the province.

We took a long look at the map and figured the scenic “Lighthouse Route” might take a little longer than the 75 or so minutes we’d spend on the main highway, but that it would be worth it to see some of the gorgeous little towns along the seaside. Ha! More than two hours later and we still hadn’t even made it to Lunenburg — granted, we had seen some gorgeous glimpses of the sea! — and we decided to stop for dinner in the charming little town of Mahone Bay. We found a little place called the Innlet Cafe, and they treated us so well and we enjoyed our dinner so much that we went back for dinner there a second time. If you’re looking for a nice place that’s receptive to families without looking like a ChuckECheese, this is the place for you!

Although the afternoon had been mostly bright if not overcast, by the time we rolled back down the rural road to our little home by the sea the fog was once again as thick as the proverbial pea soup. It would take another half day to lift and reveal the splendor all around us.


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Even though we’re home now, I still have a whole bunch of things I want to tell you about our trip to Nova Scotia. Finola hit on one subject I wanted to address with her questions in the comment box yesterday: “Do you recommend all the driving with young kids? Did they enjoy?”

Would I recommend it? Absolutely! In a heartbeat! Did they enjoy it? Mostly I think they endured the driving part. In fact, Tristan suggested on the ferry from Digby to Saint John that “maybe our next vacation could have a little less driving?” But would they tell you that it was worth it? I’m sure they would.

Passenger side clouds

The driving was long. L-O-N-G. The first day we drove just over 800 kms from Ottawa to Grand Falls (aka Grand Sault) in New Brunswick. It was clear and warm, and the driving was so easy that we were filled with optimism and excitement for the rest of the trip. The Best Western in Grand Sault was comfortable and had a great pool for the kids.

I’d intentionally chosen Grand Sault over Edmunston as it was about an hour further down the road, leaving us with a slightly shorter day of driving on the second day. By sheer luck, that turned out to be a great choice because day two of driving? Was horrible. Awful. Really, really bad. It started to rain about 20 minutes into the trip. It poured torrentially for the entire day, 700 + kms of hydroplaning, soaking, white-knuckle driving. Near Fredericton, we accidentally took an off ramp we weren’t supposed to take, and then took the same off ramp back into Fredericton again when trying to get back on the Trans Canada. Then we needed to turn off anyway when the low-fuel light came on and I was about to burst my own tank for need of a bathroom. We turned down a country road in search of a promised gas station that was no-where to be found. That’s when Simon gacked all over himself. It was the lowlight of an otherwise spectacular trip.

We broke the return trip up into three legs, but the next time we go to Nova Scotia (and even before we left, we were already planning for next time, we loved it that much) we will stick with a two-day return trip. The ferry from Digby to Saint John left us unimpressed, and although we had a lovely visit with a friend who completely redeemed Fredericton (more about that in another post) it made the return trip longer than it had to be. And the accommodations the last night in Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec, were another lowlight of the trip. In fact, next time we will probably take the American route home, taking the ferry from Yarmouth to our other favourite vacation destination, Bar Harbor, and making our way home from there.

Peeking in the mirror

I’d been most worried about how Lucas would handle the driving. The big boys are already well-experienced with road trips, as our relatives all seem to live about five hours away and we do the trek a couple of times a year. Eight or nine hours in the car is a lot to ask of a two-and-a-half year old, though. We put a DVD player on the headrest of the seat in front of him and fed him a steady diet of Muppet Show, Max and Ruby and Bob the Builder, but to my surprise and delight it was the books that really kept him engaged. He carefully paged through all the books I had for him, plus his brother’s colouring books and word search books and puzzle books, over and over again. He fussed on and off, but never with much conviction. Unfortunately, he now demands a movie and his soother on even the shortest of car trips to the grocery store, but we can wean him of that one over the summer. In the end, he was a trooper!

Lucas napping

We sedated the big boys with a DS and a game boy, and a separate DVD player that they only used on the very last day of the trip. Simon found that playing the handheld games upset his stomach, so he spent a lot of time either looking out the window or watching Lucas’s DVD player from the seat behind him. Tristan would play the video games for stretches, but then put them away of his own volition.

All electroniced up and no place to go

We did go through almost two full packages of gravol. I cringe at the idea of them consuming that much medication, but both Simon and Lucas seem to have inherited Beloved’s childhood susceptibility to motion sickness, so we gave them each a dose each morning, and any day we’d be spending more than an hour in the car. And Tristan took advantage of a dose on the ferry, during some choppy seas in the Bay of Fundy.

The other part of the actual driving that had worried me was cramming everything into our little Mazda 5. With one back seat folded down, though, and the roof rack, we had more than enough room for everything we needed. We packed two large suitcases and one overnight bag, a booster seat, an air bed and pump, a big bag of extra shoes and hats, and a backpack for each boy, plus two bags full of toys and activities, my camera bag and the lap top easily into the car with room to spare.

The Mazda and me reflected in a milk truck

I’m so proud of how well the boys behaved in the car, and how well they traveled. Lucas only asked a few times, “What are we doing?” and told us he wanted to go home not too many more times than that. I don’t think Tristan uttered a single, “Are we there yet?” and Simon finally learned that asking doesn’t make the trip go any faster. My “magic bag of tricks” full of snacks and books and playdough and crayons and a handful of other small diversions definitely made the trip easier, but I have to give credit to the boys and their inherent good natures. That’s what made the trip easy.

It’s only been a little over a day since we got home, and I’m already looking forward to the next road trip. If we can do 3,420 km in nine days, we can go *anywhere*!!


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Taking the ferry across from Digby, Nova Scotia to Saint John, New Brunswick seemed like a good idea in theory. It’s more or less the same amount of the day eaten up, but instead of driving up and around the land portion where Nova Scotia meets New Brunswick, you take what is as the crow flies a much shorter route, 72 kms across the Bay of Fundy.

498:1000 Traversing the Bay of Fundy

With a three hour crossing, though, the time spent in the car seems to be more or less the same, except letting the boys out for three hours in the middle of the trip seemed like a much better alternative than having them strapped in the car for all that time.

Or not.

They were, um, a little squirrelly on the ferry. Out on the deck, up on the upper deck, down again. Into the “arcade” (three ancient video games) and out again. Sit, flip through a book, up again. Over and over again. I had a brilliant flash of insight based on desperation about two-thirds of the way across, and asked the purser if there was any way to arrange a visit to the wheelhouse. (Is that the right word? The cockpit of a ferry is a wheelhouse, right? Ugh, I am such a city girl.) And to my surprise and delight, he brought us right up!

Driving the ferry

Driving the ferry

There was another dad up there entertaining his kids, and they each got a turn to steer the boat, too. The crew was great — they were explaining all the levers and dials to us, and they told Simon that the old (but still functioning) telegraph system from the old days was actually the torpedo and they used it to torpedo the whales. I think the kids still believe him!

Then the purser introduced the crew by name — the captain’s name was Mark and the first mate’s name was Danny. I laughed out loud and said, “Wow, my name is Dani and my husband’s name is Mark, and it’s our anniversary today!” The crew chuckled, and the other dad there with his kids said, “Hey, it’s our anniversary, too!” Turns out we were married on the same day AND we’re all from Ottawa. And that’s when the crew laughed rather nervously and started talking about looking for some salt to throw over our left shoulder!!

In all, the ferry was a long trip that smelled like fried fish on the inside and worse on the outside and that seemed to take about six hours instead of three. Next time, we’ll bank the $200 and drive the long way around! But, props and thanks to the Holiday Inn in Saint John (the *only* nice thing I can say about Saint John) who left us a bottle of wine, two wine glasses, and three bottles of water and a bag of BBQ “Crispers” for the boys when I called up in advance and told them we’d be arriving on our anniversary. That’s a lot better than last year at Great Wolf Lodge, when all we got was a chipper, “Well! Happy Anniversary to you!”

We’re home now, but I have more stories to tell, including five ideas that saved the trip, our new favourite obsession, and the story of a bloggy playdate. But for now, I have a whole lot of crap to put away!


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True colours

2 July 2010 Ottawa to Nova Scotia 2010

After spending most of the last week driving in and out of and through Lunenburg, I’m pretty sure that either the whole town is colour blind, or the housepainters are on some trippy drugs. I mean, really! And the view from the harbour is even more riotous with colour: Even their old abandoned boats are [...]

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Our fishing adventure

2 July 2010 Ottawa to Nova Scotia 2010

Sometimes when you’re on vacation, you have to let go of the plan and go with the flow. Today, our last full day in Nova Scotia, we’d planned for a morning fishing trip and an afternoon drive up the coast to see the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove. But when we arrived in Lunenburg at the [...]

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This one is for you, Mom!

1 July 2010 Ottawa to Nova Scotia 2010

My mom wrote me an e-mail telling me she was loving the pictures, but maybe I could hand the camera off to Beloved every now and then, she’s quite sure he wouldn’t break it, as she’d love to see a couple of pictures of me with the boys. Here ya go, Mom! Me and the [...]

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Happy Canada Day from Lunenburg!

1 July 2010 Ottawa to Nova Scotia 2010

(There are a few more pictures here!)

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