Family-music man Dan Zanes points the way to a quiet corner of Canada where he and his kin have found a simpler way to play
Courtesy of Festival Five Records
| Credit: Courtesy of Festival Five Records

As a musician, I spend a good part of the year traveling, surrounded by vans, gear, and people of all sizes. It’s very exciting, but I’m always thankful when I get to regroup with my family and take an unplugged vacation. Every summer, my wife, Paula, our daughter, Anna, 12, and I spend a week in remote Guysborough County, on Nova Scotia’s northeast shore, sharing an old cape with my mother, Hope. My sister and brother-in-law and their two boys stay in their cabin across the road.

Up there, cell phones are useless—mere paperweights—and TV would be an intrusion. We do have a phone, a cassette player, and one tape of bagpipe music. So we make our own entertainment. Cooking, eating, and cleaning up after meals creates the framework for our days. We pick berries, hunt for chanterelles, and dig clams—my mother loves free food. When we’re not foraging, we canoe and skip rocks in the bay, or swim at the sandy beach a few miles away. Once we had a very successful pirate day. We dressed up, searched for buried treasure, danced the hornpipe, and drank water out of beer bottles.

None of us goes to Nova Scotia expecting new adventures. It’s the routine we look forward to—the boat rides with our friend Captain Chaos, the visits to historic Sherbrooke Village, where we have old-time photos taken of ourselves, the songs we sing every evening. There’s a 60-seat church nearby, and a bunch of us always play a gospel concert to raise money to help keep it going. The church isn’t used much these days, but it’s there if you need it—which is just how we feel about Nova Scotia.

Guysborough County Lodging, Barrens at Bay rents idyllic seaside cottages. 902/358-2157;; from $130 per night. Find more about Dan’s music at