Bear River is a small village built around the tidewaters of the river of the same name. It’s a two hour drive from Halifax and less than 20 minutes from Digby. Although it is a bit out of the way, Bear River has a lively community and this tidal village has attracted many artists and craftspersons who now live and create there. Adding to the dramatic value of the place is the river itself, as it rises and falls about 25 feet twice a day thanks to the tides of the Bay of Fundy.
About 800 people call Bear River home.
Originally inhabited by the Mi’kmaq and then Acadian settlers, the village straddles the river which is the border between Annapolis and Digby counties, so the town is actually split between both. Houses and buildings along the river are built on stilts, and the river runs under and between them.
Despite the fact that Bear River is off the beaten track, it is self-sufficient and not lacking in the amenities.
The road into the town winds downhill, so you see the village stretched out, with centuries-old but colourful buildings lining the main street. A former shipbuilding community, Bear River produced many large vessels in the late 19th century. An abundance of hardwood and the ability to move it on the river also made it a feasible spot for lumber yards and saw mills. Those industries are gone now, but tourism has taken their place.
One of the biggest attractions in Bear River is the art. Signs and flags decorate every pole on the main street, directing visitors to local studios where you can buy art directly from the artists. Pick up a brochure at the visitor’s centre and travel the Artists Trail. All studios are located within 10 minutes or less from the village centre. It is an impressive artistic population, one of the reasons that Lonely Planet Travel Guide recommends to visit.
“If you want to buy just one unique treasure to take away from Nova Scotia, this is a good place to find it.”
Despite the fact that Bear River is off the beaten track, it is self-sufficient and not lacking in the amenities. Sissiboo Coffee Roaster is a good place to start. It also doubles as a gallery with pieces by local artists adorning the walls. With your latte in hand, you can head out onto the main street to explore. Next to Sissiboo is Blue Mind Gallery. The sign outside encourages you to grab a coffee next door and come in to browse (staff here wouldn’t say no to a cuppa either, if you were inclined to bring them one).
Across the street is the Flight of Fancy Fine Art and Fine Craft Gallery. These galleries also feature offerings from local artists, including paintings, wood turned bowls, pottery, jewelry, textiles and more. Most of your time in Bear River can be spent looking at these treasures, but if you will want to stop for lunch or a snack, there are options.
The impact of the Mi’kmaq First Nations is apparent in Bear River. The culture is expressed through art.
Just across the bridge is Myrtle and Rosie’s Cafe. It is a sweet and comfortable place to grab a burger or sandwich for lunch. Or you can take it to go and head over to a picnic table at the Waterfront Peace Park. The park features paths and labyrinths as well as a community greenhouse, all located along the riverbank so you walk and enjoy nature at your own pace.
The impact of the Mi’kmaq First Nations is apparent in Bear River. The culture is expressed through art offered in the galleries and the Mi’kmaq Heritage and Cultural Centre can be found just 10 minutes away (by car). You’ll know the building as the entrance resembles a traditional wigwam. Contained within the building is a heritage gallery that shows the history of Bear River’s Elders and past Chiefs, as well as the first birch bark canoe to be build in the area in seven generations, using traditional methods.
Centuries ago, French settlers found the warm and sheltered microclimate was ideal for growing grapes and in 1611 the first vines were planted. Today that history is carried on by Bear River Vineyards, which produces several varieties of wine. Tasting tours are offered and you can even rent the guest room above the winery if you want to stay overnight.
If you stay in the area, live music evening events often happen in the pub, Tall Sips on Stilts Tearoom and Tavern. With a regular Sunday night Celtic jams or shows by individual singer/songwriters, guests can take in the tunes while sipping on a local brew or cider.
Whether Bear River is a stop on a day drive or a stay-over destination, there is a lot to see and do in this tidal village on stilts.
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