Nova Scotia’s Lobster Crawl is a Lobster Lovers Dream
Save and Savor: This month-long celebration comes with off-season rates and without crowds
Story & photos by Hilary Nangle
Would she or wouldn’t she? That was the question on a chilly February Nova Scotia morning as onlookers awaited the big reveal. Every year, locals and savvy visitors gather on a small beach in Barrington, Canada’s lobster capital, to see if Lucy the LobStar will see her shadow when she crawls out of the sea. (Canadians find Lucy far more accurate at predicting a lengthy winter than that Pennsylvania groundhog whose name no one can spell). Lucy’s annual appearance kicks off Nova Scotia’s South Shore Lobster Crawl.
When I heard Nova Scotia’s South Shore shell-ebrates all things lobster throughout February, I had to investigate. As a Mainer and a lobster fiend, I couldn’t resist visiting this almost-an-island province during low season, when crowds are meager, and lodging rates are at their lowest. And even better: U.S. residents save a mint, thanks to a roughly 25% discount courtesy of exchange rates.
A lobster lover’s dream vacation
February may be low season for tourists, but it’s the peak of lobster season along Nova Scotia’s South Shore. In this region stretching from Barrington, Canada’s lobster capital, to Peggy’s Cove, it seems every restaurant in the area has some form of lobster — if not many forms — on the menu. And that’s before the Lobster Crawl specials.
For five days, I savored lobster for breakfast (benedict, scrambled eggs), lunch (rolls, sliders, sandwiches, quesadillas, salads, chowders, and bisques), snacks (dips, bruschetta, poutine, stuffed mushrooms), and dinner (pasta dishes, mac & cheese, cioppino, whole). Whenever possible, I ordered creamed lobster, a regional specialty that gilds the lobster lily with abundant butter and cream. Stories about this local favorite’s origins abound, from fishermen at sea needing a meal to a local restaurateur.
Although lobster brought me here, between meals, my travels ebbed and flowed along the region’s raggedy coastline like the tides upon its shores. Unlike those who visit during the warmer months, I didn’t have to contend with crowds. I walked off all the butter and cream on unspoiled beaches. I toured museums, viewed a handful of its more than 30 lighthouses, and wandered through a UNESCO World Heritage site in peaceful bliss. I noodled through postcard fishing villages, eyeballed fishing fleets, attended a sea shanty concert, sipped my way through beer and wine tastings, and picked up local intel at a community breakfast.
Lucy the LobStar
But it all started with Lucy the LobStar. On the morning those south of the border waited for Phil-the-groundhog to crawl out of his hole, I joined a small crowd of onlookers and Canadian media gathered on causeway-connected Cape Sable Island to await Lucy’s arrival.
Nova Scotia’s beloved Kilted Chef Alain Bossé served as master of ceremonies, while Lucy’s land-based cousin, dressed antennae-to-claws in a full lobster costume, kept onlookers entertained. Coffee, hot chocolate, and cookies kept everyone warm and satiated.
When the time for the big reveal arrived, Lucy appeared in shallow water. Bossé picked up the voluptuous 7.5-pound crustacean and placed her atop a lobster trap. As the crowd quieted, the paparazzi elbowed to the front. Gently, Bossé lifted one of Lucy’s humongous claws.
“There’s a shadow,” he proclaimed. “It’s official: six more weeks of winter.”
Afterward, Lucy obligingly posed for shell-fies with her fans.
Lucy may garner national headlines, but she can’t compete locally with two tasty and tasteful professional competitions: the Lobster Roll Off and the Lobster Chowder Chowdown Showdown. I snagged a ticket for the Roll Off competition, where 12 restaurants vied for the best lobster roll title. I laughed along with the rest of the audience as Bossé, the M.C., revealed titillating details about the secret life of lobsters during a lobster show-and-tell.
During the crawl, I met Nova Scotia Explorer and lobster aficionado Cailin O’Neil, who digs into the local lobster scene on Lobster Crawl tasting tours. Although I didn’t take her tour, I imagine it’s a hoot. She dishes about all things lobster while nibbling and sipping through a tasting menu taking in four to six locations along King Street in Bridgewater.
Other Lobster Crawl activities and events include Beach Bingo Brunch, lobster dinners, the Lobster Crawl Ball, concerts, craft workshops, ice skating, an outdoor games day, and this being Canada, a hockey tournament.
Cape Sable Island and Shag Harbor
After Lucy’s show, I looped around causeway-connected Cape Sable Island, with its easy-on-the-eyes scenery comprising fishing villages, breakwater-protected harbors filled with cheek-by-jowl fishing boats, seemingly endless beaches, and lighthouses.
The handsome Cape Sable Light, built in 1861 on an island off Cape Island’s tip and rising 101 feet, is the province’s tallest. I gazed at it from a viewing point where interpretive signs share its history and the area’s importance for migrating birds. A memorial honors those lost at sea, and a plaque details shipwrecks on the treacherous offshore ledges.
Three undeveloped, white sand beaches scallop Cape Island’s western shore: Hawk, where the remnants of a 1,500-year-old drowned forest appear at low tide; miles-long Daniel’s Head, where Piping Plovers nest; and secluded Stoney Island Beach. As flurries danced on a breeze, I padded along the shore, searching for sea glass and other treasures. Oh, to have had a kite with me!
Maine lobstermen use a carapace tool to measure the lobster’s back. Those too small or too large are thrown back, but Nova Scotia allows the big ones to be caught. Lucy was big, but when I toured Fisher Direct’s lobster-processing facility in Shag Harbor, I saw a few ginormous ones as we progressed through where it holds, sorts, grades, and exports live lobsters worldwide.
Shelburne, Lunenburg, and Peggy’s Cove
On a bitter morning, with sea smoke rising from the white-capped water and hoarfrost coating evergreens, fences, and lobster traps, I journeyed to Sandy Point Lighthouse, guarding Shelburne Harbor. The Sandy Point Lighthouse Community Breakfast, held from 8-10 a.m. on the first and third Saturdays of the month in lighthouse hall, is not only a great deal at $10 for all-you-can-eat (eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, hash browns, baked beans, toast, juice, and coffee or tea) but also a fine place to pick up some local insights and tips. How cold was it? Well, when one guy tossed a beaker of boiling water into the air, it crystalized immediately. And yes, this was one of my few non-lobster meals on the South Shore.
Just as the beaches were empty, so were the South Shore’s historic sights and museums. After the American Revolution, more than 3,500 Loyalists fled to British North America in Atlantic Canada, including formerly enslaved people who’d fought for the crown. Birchtown, N.S., became the largest settlement of free Blacks outside Africa. The Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Shelburne shares their stories of enslavement, escape, resistance, and struggles through compelling interactive exhibits.
That’s not the only reason to visit Shelburne, a historical shipbuilding center. Even though most sights are closed in winter, it wasn’t hard to envision the quiet 10-block Shelburne Historic Waterfront District as a bustling port in the 18th century, and on foot, I had time to admire the United Empire Loyalist houses around it.
UNESCO considers Lunenburg the “best-surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America.” The lack of summer tourists made it easy to wander through Old Town Lunenburg admiring the wooden houses, churches, and waterfront buildings.
Similarly, it was eerie to have no one around the working fishing village of Peggy’s Cove and its lighthouse on Peggy’s Point, one of the province’s most popular attractions. Like Lunenburg, in the warmer months, visitors crowd viewpoints, restaurants, galleries, and shops. But with most tourist-oriented businesses closed in winter, no one elbowed me while I snapped pics of the lighthouse capping the barren and craggy granite shore or the protected harbor, with its jaunty fish shacks and colorful boats and houses. And it was quiet enough to enjoy a coastal symphony of gulls screeching and crying, waves breaking and crashing, and a distant fishing boat chugging home.
If You Go
Where to Stay and Eat
You’ll want to split lodging locations to experience the best of Nova Scotia’s South Shore and the Lobster Crawl. Since it’s the offseason, many properties are closed for the winter. Here are places where I stayed or dined and can recommend.
The Starboard Inn, Barrington Passage: This Inn, comprising a motel and chalet-style cottages, has an onsite restaurant serving all meals.
The Quarterdeck Resort, Summerville Beach: This property comprises beachfront and hillside rooms, studios, suites, and villas. The onsite restaurant offers many versions of lobster.
The Muir, Halifax: This Marriott Autograph property opened two years ago on the waterfront in downtown Halifax. The primo location puts most intown sites within easy walking distance. The hotel’s design, art, and amenities are locally inspired, and it has an excellent restaurant and a secret cocktail lounge.
Capt. Kat’s Lobster Shack, Barrington Passage: I tasted my first creamed lobster at Capt. Kat’s. This is not an eat-with-your-hands sandwich. It’s pure decadence, and eating it requires a fork, although a spoon is helpful to scoop every drop of sauce. Also worthy of mention is lobster fondue. But one can’t go wrong with any of the dishes here. Plus: After her appearance, Lucy the LobSTAR retires from the media frenzy to the spa here (also known as the lobster tank).
The Salt Banker, Clark’s Harbour: Oh, my goodness! If traveling with others, share a lobster-themed feast including lobster dip, lobster mac & cheese, creamed lobster on toast, lobster grilled cheese sandwich, a classic lobster roll, and lobster poutine. Pair it with Gaspereau Vineyards’ Tidal Bay, Nova Scotia’s signature white wine.
The Emerald Light Kitchen & Bar, Shelburne: While the gourmet grilled cheese and signature tomato soup earn raves, don’t miss the Lobster Crawl special. When I dined, it was lobster bacon club sliders paired with addictive house-seasoned asiago potato chips and Three Sheets creamed ale. If you prefer wine, try Mercator Vineyards’ Tidal Bay.
The Grill at The Quarterdeck Resort, Summerville Beach: I opted for the lobster fettuccine, an eye-candy dish with big chunks of lobster. I loved it, although I must admit, the lobster poutine was equally tempting. What is poutine? It’s a Canadian specialty that tops French fries with cheese curd and gravy. It’s irresistible, and adding lobster ups the ante.
The Grand Banker Bar & Grill, Lunenburg: In winter, you won’t have to wait for a table at The Grand Banker Bar & Grill to order its signature dish, the Lunenburger: a burger topped with mozzarella, smoked bacon, spinach, and lobster paired with a tarragon butter sauce and topped with a bacon-wrapped scallop. It’s a delicious mess; I’m drooling just thinking of it.
Drift, Halifax: If you can’t handle another lobster meal, you’ll find other options crafted from local ingredients here, including seafood hodge podge and rappie pie.
Maine-based Hilary Nangle considers herself fortunate to live in a state known for its lobster. She considers Atlantic Canada (and Quebec) her backyard and always takes advantage of every opportunity to explore the region. In addition to updating her four Moon-series Maine guidebooks, she contributes to publications including AA, AARP, Afar, Lonely Planet, National Geographic Traveler, Travel and Leisure, and Yankee. She’s also the maven behind Maine Travel Maven.