Island Bound Traveller Writer, Storyteller
Gary Grieco is a freelance writer, avid reader, sailor, and motorcycle enthusiast based on Texada Island, British Columbia, Canada.
Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia is an ideal base for exploring that stretch of coastline between Halifax and Lunenburg known as the south shore, which boasts over 365 islands. Harrowsmith Magazine rates it as one of the top ten best small towns in Canada to live in. A fifteen minute drive south lands you in the historic port town of Lunenburg. Head 45 minutes in the other direction, and you will reach the desolate headland of Peggy’s Cove, home to Canada’s much photographed light house.
Texada Island, BC – to – Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
“BE AWARE THAT HERE BE MONSTERS’
Gary Grieco -email@example.com
If you plan to make the Maritime Provinces of Canada your holiday destination this summer, be aware that dragons lurk. Cartographers in the middle ages illustrated their colourful maps with fearful diagrams and cryptic references such as, “Here be Monsters”. No such warning appeared on the chart of Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia where I became acquainted with a monster named ‘Juan.’ My wife and I arrived in this east coast mariners’ paradise in early June of 2006 after a cross-country journey of some 4,500 miles from our Texada Island home, which lies between Powell River on the mainland, and Vancouver Island in BC’s Strait of Georgia. We had traveled cross-country in our 20 foot, self-contained travel van over mountains, flat prairies, and through historic Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec in order to experience the east coast’s rich maritime history. Our second goal was to find the factory birthplace of our sailboat, ‘Island Bound’ in Mahone Bay.
Betty and Raymond Eisnor were our hosts, and the owners of the Rayport Campground at Martin’s River, just one of many campgrounds and B&B’s that abound in this area. For more information check the Nova Scotia Web Site: www.checkinnovascotia.com . The Rayport is approximately five miles from Mahone Bay. To get there from Hwy 103 use Exit 9 or 10 to Rte. 3, then head south to towards Mahone Bay. On the way you pass small seaside fishing villages like Harding and Gold River that exude charm and history combined with the pull of the sea. The Rayport is private, reasonably priced, and beautifully situated on the banks of Martin’s River. Our site cost was $23 for a full hook-up. Their advertised rates are $21 -$30, open May 15 to October 10. The park offers all the usual amenities plus easy access pull thru sites for the large rigs.
After spending an evening listening to the rushing water beneath our vans windows, we headed south next morning under a warm vault of blue, and were greeted to a buffet of seaside delights and sounds in Mahone Bay.
Mahone Bay is a postcard perfect town embraced by the bay that carries its name. A handful of pleasure craft rode at anchor in the bay where once working, wooden-hulled schooners lay. An anchored sloop’s tattered, partially unfurled jib flapped lazily in the breeze; a gentle reminder of the ferocious winter winds that periodically lash this coast. This benign harbour scene changes dramatically in August during the Wooden Boat Festival when this bay is alive and crowded with small colourful boats
all vying for attention.
Three churches in the harbour area are landmarks that beg to be photographed, and are the setting for concert series throughout the summer season. Trinity United Church was built in1861, St. John’s Lutheran Church in its present version dates back to 1903, and the St. James Anglican Church was constructed in 1887.
Mahone Bay is one of Canada’s most beautiful seaside towns, but it has experienced two monsters, both named Juan. The first was a hurricane that ripped through Nova Scotia on September 29th, 2003, spawning destruction and heartache. The second Juan, the one of my acquaintance, resides on Gilbert van Ryckevorsel’s front lawn in the summer months. This benign, magical creature, created from the fertile imagination of van Ryckevorsel, has become one of Mahone Bay’s tourist attractions. Van Ryckevorsel describes his creature as, “a unique remembrance of Hurricane Juan and other ocean-born violence visitations such as cyclones and tsunamis and their flooding wherever they occur.” Two more driftwood ‘monsters’ have since been added to this awe-inspiring display. I first met this well known professional nature photographer and his monster friends by being a nosy tourist in his town. We were sampling fresh cod amidst the salty atmosphere of nets and stuffed fish that adorn the walls in the Salt Spray Coffee House & Café on the shores of the Bay. Our attention was drawn to a handsome one and a half-storey Cape Cod cottage across Main Street from the Cafe. The fancy wooden filigree, salmon pink ship-lap siding, and blue trim were reminiscent of earlier times, and we imagined it as once belonging to a wealthy shipbuilder or retired sea captain. We found out later the house had indeed been built by a sea captain, and had been in Gilbert van Ryckevorsel’s wife’s family for generations. Ninety-nine ships had been built and launched on the spot where we were sitting in the Salt Spray Café. Three ladies stood in front of this period home, gesturing and talking. A tall man looking remarkably like Abe Lincoln strode across the lawn to greet them. “Curiosity nearly killed the cat” as I jumped up, leaving my wife to pay the bill, and hurried across the road, narrowly avoiding a speeding car. ‘Abe’ turned out to be Warren Ervine, a local actor. Ervine calls himself, “the working engineer” to van Ryckevorsel’s artistry behind Juan and his friends. Warren is a unique personality in his own right, and has played the assassinated President Lincoln many times in his career. The women were tourists from Dartmouth, searching for ‘Juan the Hurricane Monster’.
According to Gilbert van Ryckevorsel, who joined us, Juan and his friends were locked up in the barn behind the period home, due to emerge within the next few days to once again grace his front lawn and delight the tourists. We were treated to the story of how Juan the Hurricane Monster came into being after his destructive namesake had rampaged through Mahone Bay during the night of September 28/29th, 2003. In his article written for the Green Museum Organization, Gilbert explains; “At daylight the next day, a scene of destruction showed a chaos of fallen trees in my yard. I could see a monster shape in a fallen tree, and my mind became obsessed with developing the idea: Let’s build a monster from these storm-felled trees.” That winter, using driftwood and the trunk of a fallen tree, Gilbert built a statue measuring 18 x 10 x 7 feet in his barn along the lines of that most “awesome prehistoric dragon, Tyrannosaurus Rex,” and “Juan the Hurricane Monster” was born.
Why would Gilbert van Ryckevorsel build these mythical monsters? “Because they make us think,” explained van Ryckevorsel. He believes that his peaceful driftwood monsters remind us of nature’s dominion, which when treated respectfully has a protective function, and that “The mythos of monsters was fashioned in our collective souls and we would do well to heed the environmental message portrayed by Juan and his friends; that the powers in nature are contained when we treat our environment with respect, or these monsters become alive, and may threaten our very existence.” When we returned a few days later, their twisted shapes on the lawn glowed eerily in the early evening light, while a pterodactyl-shaped vision flew high in a tree. Juan’ and his new friends have become one of Mahone Bay's favourite summer tourist sites. As for my quest to find my boat’s birthplace - I found that fiberglass pipe is now being manufactured in the boatsheds instead of the sleek sail-craft for which they were once famous. The history and memories of a few old-timers is all that is left of the once proud shipbuilding industry in Mahone Bay – its very name stemming from a French term for a low-lying vessel mainly used by privateers on government-authorized pirate raids. Today, a more genteel atmosphere prevails, with the only raiders being tourists looking for mementos in the many gift stores.
l. Gilbert van Ryckevorsel and Warren (Abe) Ervine. Photo credit Gary Grieco.
2. Juan the Hurricane Monster and Friends. Photo credit Susanne Pacher 2006 www.travelandtransitions.com
3. Mahone Bay’s three historic churches. Photo credit Susanne Pacher 2006 www.travelandtransitions.com