Canada’s Atlantic provinces are known for their brightly painted wood-sided dwellings, and no place does it better or brighter than Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
Lunenburg is one of 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada, designated because it is “the best-preserved example of planned British colonial settlement in North America,” the United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organization states. “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.”
Whether there’s a relationship between preserving all that wood and the vibrant colours applied to them is a PhD dissertation just waiting to be launched.
Lunenburg is just over an hour’s drive south of Halifax, along what’s known as Nova Scotia’s south shore. I first got there while a university student to take in the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival, where even the beauty of then-young folk singer Lennie Gallant couldn’t totally eclipse the town’s abundant charms.
Lunenburg is a great spot to visit for a day or two. If you drive there from Halifax, you first pass through Mahone Bay, one of those postcard-making places with three wood-clad churches lined up neatly along the bay and home base for Amos Pewter, which states it was “the first artisan shop in Nova Scotia to become a member of the international Economusée network whose mission is to showcase traditional trades and skills.”
Lunenburg itself, besides the well-preserved historic wood houses, has the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic (housed in the can’t-miss large red wood building along the port shore), what looks like a supersized wood band shell (not in girth but in height: it’s built into a sloping hill and the roof is at least twice as high as you’d expect), and St. John’s Anglican Church, white wood with black trim, gutted by fire in 2001 but painstakingly restored and re-opened in 2005.
Lunenburg was a major shipbuilding centre, the provincial information site says, “with local mills supplying the wood needed to build some of the most impressive sailing ships ever designed. Among these was the famous Bluenose, a fishing and racing schooner built in 1921 that would remain undefeated in international racing for 17 years.” The image of this ship to this day, is on the back of the Canadian 10-cent piece. Its replica, the Bluenose II, has its home base in Lunenburg; in 2017, it has a schedule full of Tall Ship appearances to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial and at other times offers visitors dockside or sailing tours.
The town continues to evolve: on a visit a few years ago, we discovered the addition of many art galleries and the Ironworks Distillery, which takes its name “from the 1893 heritage building we call home: a marine blacksmith’s shop that once produced ironworks for the shipbuilding trade.” We stopped for lunch and there was an old favourite, not only from my Maritime days but from my Ukrainian childhood: I never knew marinated herring served with sour cream, an Eastern European staple, was also “Solomon Gundy” in Maritime Canada until I lived in Nova Scotia.
I also remember, many years earlier, being in Lunenburg and having a wonderful blueberry dessert: while the majority of Canadian cultivated blueberries are produced in British Columbia, and this country is the world’s second-largest producer of blueberries, Nova Scotia specializes in growing and harvesting so-called wild, or lowbush blueberries, which is the province’s largest fruit crop.
So while this is not a recipe directly from Lunenburg — it is credited to Chef Keith Bond in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, about an hour’s drive northwest from the South Shore — whenever I make it, I think of Lunenburg. The cooking method makes the blueberries blossom into a vivid purply-blue, the kind of intense hue that is commonplace along Lunenburg’s historic streets.
Kelley Teahen’s adaptation of Wild Blueberry Explosion
from Summer Flavours: Recipes from the Best Maritime Kitchens
This is one of the easiest desserts in the world to make: you just need some ice cream in the freezer (good stuff that’s creamy and not pumped full of chemicals and air) and five minutes after dinner is finished to sauté some blueberries with two ingredients. If you have mint in your garden, you can garnish with mint sprigs. I use martini glasses rather than bowls for serving: makes something so (sssssh!!!) simple seem very fancy.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup orange liqueur: Triple Sec, Curacao, or Grand Marnier (the original recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1/4 cup Sambuca / licorice liqueur).
2 cups wild blueberries (Note: this is also lovely with ordinary blueberries when you can’t find wild ones.)
Have on hand: best-quality vanilla ice cream: the original recipe recommends scooping the ice cream into “bell shaped glasses” in advance and storing in freezer until the fruit sauce is made.
Using a non-stick skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add blueberries and cook, stirring occasionally, until just heated through and glassy (shiny) in appearance, approximately two to three minutes. Add liqueur and reduce liquid until slightly thickened, another two to three minutes. Pour sauce over individual servings of vanilla ice cream and serve immediately.
Main photo: Kelley Teahen