Travels in Arcadia, Part One

I have a great love of museums devoted to one thing.  However, the eclectic type of small town museum can also be a great delight, as my dad and I unexpectedly found when we went to the Rossignol Cultural Centre in Liverpool, NS.  We were looking for a toilet and to our delighted surprise found — among a wide variety of other things, including a set of taxidermied big game — an outhouse museum.

Outhouses might have been the theme for our long weekend driving around the southwestern part of Nova Scotia, from Halifax south and west to Lunenburg, Yarmouth, Digby, and then up through the Annapolis Valley to Kentville, Wolfville, and the parts I’ve already mentioned sing to me.  We went to the tip of the series of islands extending North Mountain (the northwestern side of the Annapolis Valley) out into the Bay of Fundy, and on the ferry to the last, Brier Island, we discovered signs for the 25th Outhouse Family Reunion.  Our thought was that the women in that family, no matter how emancipated, probably look forward  to getting married as an excuse to change their surnames.

Actually, what we were doing on Brier Island — apart from looking at it — was hoping to see whales.  We took a tour at 9:30am, in what we’d hoped would be clearing weather but turned out to be variations of fog and haze.  Most of what we saw were birds: shearwaters and puffins, eider ducks and phalaropes, a deeply confused sandpiper that followed our boat desperately looking for shore.

For a long time, no whales.  The captain stopped the boat twice so we could listen for them.  The fog ebbed and flowed around us, the foghorn from the lighthouse on Brier Island sounded out regularly, water lapped on the boat, the shearwaters made quiet high-pitched chuckling noises.  The first time nobody heard anything; the second, two pitches of exhalation, like somebody sighing vehemently off in the distance.

These were the somebodies:

A humpback whale named Flash and her calf, who remains unnamed this year by the people who get together to name whales.  We watched them feeding for a good twenty minutes, with a much better view than the other boats that came up (because the whales were playing hard to get that morning, the tour operators were cooperating; they have a code of conduct that meant that when the third boat came up to us we left so they would have their chance to watch Flash and calf without disturbing them).

Not quite like the previous day, we were told, when the lucky folks on the evening cruise got to see fourteen whales of different sorts (including the very rare northern right whales).  But delightful nonetheless, a marvellous part of a lovely weekend.


6 thoughts on “Travels in Arcadia, Part One

  1. I’m jealous of your whale tail picture! We went whale watching off the coast of Hermanus (South Africa) two years ago – a lovely experience. Although we got to see them up close as they two of them swam right beside the boat, they were a little camera shy and the best pictures we have of them are two greyish bumps sticking out of the water.

    I’m curious – what exactly are on display in an outhouse museum? 🙂


  2. Ah! I wondered if that would get a draw — at the outhouse museum were: several actual houses brought from who-knows-where (there were no signs); a large collection of vintage posters about outhouses; numerous photographs of outhouses from all over the US and Canada, taken by the photographer who donated much of the things in the museum (Sherman Hines) as well as other people; and a large — by which I mean in the hundreds — display of miniature outhouse models of every conceivable shape, size, and interest level.

    There was also a wall covered in Quebec license plates, and, last but not least, the museum’s bathroom (with plumbing, but in disguise).

    Also: whale watching off South Africa — how cool! What kind of whales were they, do you know?


  3. Never thought I’d say this but the outhouse museum actually sounds quite interesting! Although I’d have thought the museum’s bathroom would be a little more authentic, just to keep in the spirit of things 😉

    They were southern right whales ( I once saw a sperm whale and a whale shark while scuba diving off the coast of Mozambique too. Immensely beautiful creatures. So glad they are protected species these days.


  4. Oh marvellous. I saw two whale sharks at an aquarium in Japan (on my sole trip there), which was totally amazing in its own way. Seeing them in the wild would be wonderful.

    And, yeah, I love random museums dedicated to one thing. I’ll go well out of my way for them.


  5. An outhouse museum! I must tell my students about it. When I chaperoned a five-day trip to Washington, DC with masses of grade eights on the last day we stopped at George Washington’s plantation. The children were tired, having been marched all over the city (a thing they are not used to) and looking at one museum after another.

    Sadly, we didn’t have time to go into the mansion, but outside it still stood the outhouse. We went inside and I explained what it was and how it was kept. The kids loved it! I think it was their favorite part of the plantation, even ranked higher than the snake on the side of the walkway.

    As a lure to come to Rochester, there are some pretty cool museums, including the National Museum of Play and the Susan B. Anthony House!


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