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Canadian Gothic

THE QUAINT Nova Scotia offers nothing if not variety. As you round the shore to the south, prepare yourself, aesthetically, for the exquisitely quaint. This is the aspect of Nova Scotia best known to outsiders: the little painted fishing village, casually arranged by the unseen hand of genius around the perfect Atlantic inlet.

The Heart of Quaintness is Peggy's Cove. It's a one-view town—an entire community devoted, touristically, to a single ideal postcard of a view. I buy the postcard and skip the village. You see, I was in Peggy's Cove some years ago. Nice landscape. Nice lighthouse. Shame about the 17 buses full of eager landscape aficionados lined up to experience the one view. Besides, I'm here at the anniversary of the 1998 Swissair disaster—the plane came down just off Peggy's Cove, and the locals famously consoled the families of those lost—and I don't really feel like mixing my shallow view-gathering with genuine, authentic, human activity.

Instead, I check into the Rose Room at 100 Acres & An Ox, an extravagant B&B near Mahone Bay. Ardythe Wildsmith, the benevolent matriarch who presides over 100 Acres (which really does occupy a property of that size, complete with lake, but no ox), has put together one of the world's great B&B experiences. The South Shore is about Getting Away From It All, and Ardythe's estate—quite brilliantly—is devoted to Getting Away From All Those People Who Are Getting Away From It All. It's about 20 minutes from the coast, and everyone else is scrambling with Darwinian zeal to occupy the coast itself.

The day begins with an obscene breakfast—blueberry pancakes made with blueberries picked (by Ardythe) just down the road; maple syrup that is, yes, better than anything south of the border; real whipped cream and scones and cereals and eggs and butter.It's a communal affair: the entire B&B gathers about a dining table, and is forced to be social as the coffee kicks in. Luckily, those breaking fast prove convivial and diverse. I meet another Canadian writer; a leather-clad biker, who advises me to trade in my Sebring for a Ford Mustang; and a man with a scarred lip.

The wounded American is a pleasant guy whose story emerges when I ask him whether he plays the French horn or the trumpet: I associate the round scar on his upper lip with professional brass players. No, he explains, this is where his lip was reattached, after a brief encounter with a Scottish ghost.

Thank God. I knew I was in for a ghost story, sooner or later: plaid and ectoplasm go together like love and marriage.

It turns out that he and his wife were traveling in Scotland, when—against advice—he took a picture in a haunted castle. That night, at a nearby inn, he woke violently in a pool of blood, to discover that a huge wooden valance had fallen off the wall above his head, disturbing his sleep and severinghis lip. The lip was sewn back on by a crack plastic surgeon who happened to be in town for a convention. And—here's where things get shivery and pale—my scarred storyteller later discovered that the room next to his—the room into which the bolts holding the valance emerged after piercing the wall, the room where those bolts mysteriously loosened in the middle of the night—had the same name as the haunted castle.

Phew. Pass the blueberries.

One Hundred Acres makes a good base camp from which to tour this section of Nova Scotia, rightly compared to Maine: an area in which brine-inclined Americans build summer homes where they get to rub shoulders with lobstermen and Yalies. Nearby is Lunenburg, one of those absurdly scenic fishing villages. It has a long history as a shipbuilding town—some of the world's most elegant schooners were hammered together here, and houses often bear a plaque honoring the shipbuilder who tossed that particular dwelling together in his spare time. If you paint your house bright mauve in Lunenburg, your neighbors don't even notice.

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