March, 2004 -- Things change verrry slowly in Eastern Canada, and sometimes they don't change much at all. Nevertheless, there are a few recent developments to note.
It has become easier to get to Halifax by air. Air Canada's (tel. 888/AIR-CANA; www.aircanada.com) regional carrier Air Nova has disappeared -- it is now part of the airline's new short-hop carrier called Jazz (tel. 888/AIR-CANA; www.flyjazz.ca). The new Canada-based airline Canjet (tel. 800/809-7777; www.canjet.com) began operating in 2001, and flies into Halifax from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, St. John's, and even Florida -- three times a week in the winter.
If you prefer an oversea journey to one by air, the Scotia Prince cruise line (tel. 800/845-4073; www.scotiaprince.com) -- the popular overnight/day-long cruise ship connecting Portland, Maine with Yarmouth, Nova Scotia -- has unveiled a series of upgrades to its service that make the trip more desirable than ever. Among the improvements: an open-air tiki bar and hot tub on the desk (they're only open on the day trip back from Nova Scotia, for liability reasons); a revamped slot machine system (you must now buy tokens, rather than pump quarters); better quality of music bookings for evening entertainment; and some major improvements in the dining room fare. The New Zealand lamb chops at dinner here are better than those you'll find in most restaurants at either end of your trip, and the tiramisu is heavenly as well; the popular breakfast buffet is also worth trying.
The big news in Halifax is the opening of Bishop Landing (www.southwest.ca/bishover1.html), a waterfront complex of high-end condo units and ground-level markets, restaurants, and shops. The highlights include a good little coffee shop, great wine shop, Italian market, Japanese-style steak restaurant, gift shop, and what is perhaps already the city's best restaurant, Bish World Cuisine (tel. 902/425-7993). No wonder this development has already won prizes for seamless urban planning. This is an absolutely lovely spot to sit on a bench gazing out at the harbor, boats, and islands; shop for souvenirs; or dine out on the town.
One sad note, however -- chef Kevin Ouellette's acclaimed Nouveau Canadian restaurant Maple has closed its doors in downtown Halifax, apparently for good. Another of my recommended Halifax restaurants, the Vietnamese eatery Tu-Do's, was closed at press time due to water damage and did not show signs of reopening anytime soon.
In the historic waterside town of Lunenburg, work continues to rebuild St. John's Anglican Church, formerly one of the most beautiful wooden churches in North America until an arsonist torched it to the ground in late 2001. One wing is slowly being rebuilt by craftsmen, as a dome protects the work from the elements; a new makeshift interpretive center beside the church site explains the history and the restoration process, while also selling gifts and other items whose proceeds go toward the rebuilding effort.
Also in Lunenburg, a new business-style hotel called the Lunenburg Arms (tel. 800/679-4950 or 902/640-4040; www.lunenburgarms.com) opened in 2002 where a boarding house and pub once stood. It's a beauty of a place, completely handicapped-accessible and with many of the rooms sporting gorgeous harbor views; some also contain jacuzzi baths, and there are a few two-level lofts. No two rooms are alike here, but all of them are outfitted with brand-new bathrooms, beds, and boutique-hotel amenities.
Finally, the friendly Blue Rocks Road Bed & Breakfast (tel. 902/634-8033) outside town is back in business after a hiatus of a few years, and so are the owners' handy bike rentals. The three units run C$80 to C$90 per night. Contact them for the area's best rentals, then strike off and explore some of the remarkable coves, peninsulas, and beaches in the area.
There's a new way to get to New Brunswick by air: Delta Connection began offering a new short-hop service from Boston to Fredericton, New Brunswick -- the provincial capital -- in the summer of 2003. Flying under the flag of local carrier Atlantic Coast Airlines, the twice-daily flights take place on 32-seat Fairchild jets with all-leather interiors and only two seats per section. (That's right, no middle seats.) Call tel. 800/221-1212 or log onto www.delta.com for more details.
Saint John, a maritime city with an industrial backyard, has decided to showcase and connect its natural assets. The new Harbour Passage pathway has opened, connecting the city waterfront (beginning at the Hilton Saint John's boardwalk) with popular Reversing Falls, a natural phenomenon about a 45-minute stroll away. The pathway is free and handicapped-accessible, though work has not been completed on facilities and other amenities along the way; also, you'll have to walk on streets and sidewalks for portions of the walk. Still, it's a useful link between the downtown and the falls -- you no longer need a car to visit both areas.
Prince Edward Island
Sadly, Kim's Bistro owner Kim Dormaar closed the bistro's doors in 2003; however, a new establishment -- the Harbour House (tel. 902/367-9999) -- has opened up in the same location, at 45 Water Street, with the former chef at The Dunes Gallery and Cafe presiding. The menu is of crepes, mussels, and other good things.
The former Captain Garry's seal watching outfitter in Murray River is now under new ownership and known as Marine Adventures Seal Watching (tel. 800/496-2494 or 902/962-2494). Surprisingly, most of the prices have actually gone down.