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Bear River, Nova Scotia

By Hannah Guy

While a large portion of Nova Scotia boasts huge tourist draws during the island’s summer months, many visitors find themselves searching for those colorful little communities so popular in Canadian and maritime novels. In fact, one little artistic community has endeared itself to residents and the occasional tourist by its lively spirit and spectacular beauty.

Known as the “The Switzerland of Nova Scotia,” Bear River is tucked into a deep valley in the south western part of the province, conveniently located between Digby and Annapolis Royal. The village is named after the tidal river which segments the community. One of the most arresting aspects of this unique little village is the main street, which winds around steep hills before plunging across the river winding back into the hills on the other side.

Having the flattest portion of Main Street run across this picturesque river didn’t deter the original settlers from building houses on it in the late 1800’s, however. Built on sturdy stilts, the row of houses – which has evolved into a number of eclectic (and sometimes eccentric) shops and art galleries – has now become something of a regional legend and fringe tourist draw. Modest Victorian houses are nestled into the hills, some of which host a variety of galleries, inns or even the local art centre.

Despite its diminutive population (just over 300), Bear River not only has many art attractions, but also offers a wide variety of businesses and activities; from the local costume shop, a heritage museum (which explores the settling days of the village, as well as its Mi’kmaq native origins), canoe and kayaking excursions (starting at $65) and even tours of Canada's first solar aquatics wastewater facility, which is actually a working greenhouse and is unexpectedly picturesque.

Bear River also has its roster of summertime highlights, starting in June with the Bear River Cherry Carnival, an annual celebration that’s coming up on its 110th birthday and features a host of events such as a children’s parade, pie-eating and pit-spitting contests, sky divers, bingo, music, an enormous turkey dinner and fireworks. There’s also the Bear River Music Carnival and the Digby County Exhibition in August, which also coincides with Paint the Town, an arts and crafts event in Annapolis Royal.

When nighttime comes, there are a number of cozy places to stay, whether it’s the Lovett Lodge Inn Bed And Breakfast ($35 to $50, private baths available), the Bear River Backpackers, which is a 150-year-old farm house situated on 12 acres of wilderness ($16 to $30), By The Book Bed & Breakfast, the Inn Bear River Annex (they offer a free lobster dinner during your stay) or even one of the log cabins available for rent.

While Bear River doesn’t boast the Alps or Von Trapp Family that Switzerland boasts of, it does have its own colorful history, personality and stunning wilderness – the perfect place for an unusual summer getaway.


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