Photos by Trish Joudrey
Pugwash’s trail is suitable for all ages to enjoy
Nestled serenely at the mouth of the Pugwash River on the North Shore is Pugwash. It’s a town where almost everything conveys peace.
“Peace is our Pugwash legacy,” recounts Gregory Nix, president of Cumberland Trails Association and certified trail guide, when asked how the Peace Trail got its name. “We thought it a fitting title to give our trail since it was here that the first Conference on Science and World Affairs was hosted by Cyrus Eaton to discuss the threat of nuclear weapons in 1957.
“At the end of the waterfront road is the Thinker’s Lodge,” Gregory continues. “There, you can view the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize, awarded jointly to the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs and to Joseph Rotblat.”
I join Gregory, John Caraberis—a Seagull Foundation board member and owner of Basic Spirit Pewter—and two other local avid hikers, Jim Vance and Gordon Young, at Sheryl’s Café just around the corner from Atlantic Canada’s largest underground salt mine and the Pugwash waterfront. We’re here to chat and have a bite before we set out for our seven-kilometre Peace Trail hike.
After the short five-minute drive from Pugwash, we park the cars on the side of the road and enter the trail with a warm welcome from Gregory.
“Welcome to the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. This trail holds many stories, legends, and interpretive signs explaining the ecology of the area.”
I study the signpost at the entrance to see where our seven-kilometre, two-loop hike will take us. The trail contour meanders along the shore of Canfield Creek, hugs Spirit and McLeod Lakes, and follows the Pugwash River, which is all part of the Pugwash River Estuary. “It’s a moderate hike, suitable for all ages,” says Gregory, “We’ll walk on a path through the woods, but we will have lovely vistas along the water for the entire way. The ideal hike.”
At the bottom of the sign, my eye catches a quote by Henry David Thoreau, “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” With Thoreau’s advice tucked into my proverbial back pocket, we set out, hiking poles in hand, through the woods to Canfield Creek.
The light streams through the tall pines, fir, and spruce trees, casting shadows on the needle-covered slopes making our walk through the forest magical.
“We have old-growth pine trees, some more than 150 years old, Acadian forest, and Nova Scotia’s provincial tree, the Red Spruce, along this trail,” says Gregory, stopping to point out something on a trunk. “Look. See this lichen here?”
We move closer for a better look. “We are lucky to see this. It’s a sign of air purity and the health of our forest.”
Walking in this wholesome environment invigorates me. I want to breathe deeply to savour the spicy aroma of evergreen trees around me. Gregory stops and points across Canfield Creek.
“Can you see it?” he asks, pointing to a cluster of trees on the opposite side of the creek.
“What are we looking at?” I ask.
“An eagle’s nest.” Sitting atop of the tallest red pine on the shoreline is a massive, twigged sphere resembling a jewelled crown in the forest.
“It sure has a commanding view over the water,” I say as I zoom in with my camera to capture its magnificence.
“I’ve seen eaglets peeking their heads over the top of that nest in spring,” says Gregory proudly.
The red triangle markers nailed to the trees mark our way through the woods. We pause while Gregory takes out his small handsaw to cut through a log that has recently fallen over the path.
“I am impressed how well-maintained this trail is. It’s one of the best I’ve seen in Nova Scotia with many interpretive signs, well-placed trail markers, and bridges and paths in excellent condition. It must take a lot of work,” I say as Gregory lifts the log off the trail.
“You’re right,” says Gregory, throwing additional fallen branches off the path. I admire his commitment to keeping the trail operational even when he is out for his personal enjoyment. “Similar to the Peace Conferences, the Peace Trail is a collaborative effort from many community companies and people, like our local resident, Bob Nogler, who helped to build the trail and now stewards it.”
“We are blessed that we have over 600 acres connected to this trail system and 10 miles of protected shore frontage. Without the partnership and easements from landowners, Seagull Foundation, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Salt Mine, and Friends of Pugwash Estuary, this trail would not be a reality.”
This reminds me of what John Caraberis said earlier over coffee, “If we don’t protect wildland, it will surely get developed one day. For me, that feels like something dies.”
I pause by a picnic table dedicated to the memory of Alice Power, past Chair of Friends of the Pugwash Estuary, to appreciate the surrounding gift of peace made possible only by these generous donations of land.
“This trail has been therapeutic too, says Gregory. “It has helped some of Cumberland County’s at-risk children get in touch with the land and be part of a cooperative and supportive group who helped to build the trail. Local summer students have also pitched in to unblock old fish ladders so the salmon can flow freely up the river again.” Gregory gazes silently over the bridge at the Pugwash River below.
“I come here to canoe in the summer. It’s where I find peace,” Gregory adds. “We also host an annual canoe and barbecue day. It’s great fun and open to all.” I make a mental note to return for the excitement and adventure in the summer.
“Watch your step,” calls Gregory. “We are ascending a short incline to the top of this knoll.” Strange, I think, to have such a big mound like this along the flat shoreline by the river.
“What caused this?” I ask.
“Busy little mink! The rascals. They’ve tunnelled and undermined this hill. Ha-ha. I love it,” he adds will a playful wink. I think about Thoreau’s words and realize how interdependent we all are on our delicate ecosystem.
I marvel we are still following the water. I can’t remember another forest trail in Nova Scotia where so much of the trail is directly along the water. How exceptional. I stop for a moment to savour the peace. Not even the sounds of birds interrupt the quietness. But Gregory assures me that this area is teeming with birds every spring. “In fact,” he adds, “this area hosts the Annual Spring Migratory Bird Count. This year, we logged a total of 811 birds representing 70 species.”
As we end our hike, thoughts of my busy life start to re-enter my consciousness. I am grateful to know I can find peace, be in the wild, and be a part of something greater than myself, only a few steps away from Pugwash on the North Shore.