Peggy’s Cove Is More Than The Most Photographed Lighthouse In The World
Whenever I think of Peggy’s Cove, I think of its lighthouse. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a framed picture of my Grampie “lifting” the iconic Canadian lighthouse with one hand on my basement wall. Maybe it’s because of its status as the most photographed lighthouse in the world. Either way, the red and white lighthouse is the undetachable epithet to the small Nova Scotia town: Peggy’s Cove lighthouse.
So when I remembered that Peggy’s Cove was a quick bus trip away from Halifax, I was quick to book my ticket. After all, you can’t say you’ve been to Nova Scotia without visiting one of its most famous landmarks!
Along the hour-long route from Halifax to Peggy’s Cove, the bus driver gave us the dad-joke packed history lesson of Halifax until we reached- what he called- the “halfway to hell” highway, Highway 33.
If we were only halfway to hell, the scenery outside was hardly damning. Large boulders of 415-million-year-old Devonian granite, called glacial erratics, sat sporadically atop of grassy hills. Smooth, cracked stones and scouring marks laid in the bedrock below. The dramatic 2,000 acres of preserved land surrounding Peggy’s Cove was the aftermath of a glacier battlefield that ripped life and topsoil from the bedrock over 400 million years ago.
I was so captivated by the scenic drive; I hardly noticed our turn into Peggy’s Cove until we drove past piles of lobster traps and colourful houses. We soon pulled up to the tourist-filled Lighthouse Point, where I quickly went the opposite way. I wanted to see Peggy’s Cove from the beginning.
Who was Peggy?
The first recorded name of Peggy’s Cove was Eastern Point Harbour or Peggs Harbour in 1766. Many say Peggy’s Cove was likely named after its geographical location- a small cove in St. Margaret’s Bay. (Samuel de Champlain named the bay after his mother, Marguerite, during his explorations in the early 17th century.) As Peggy was a common nickname for Marguerite, the small community of six German families who were allotted the land in 1811 became known as Peggy’s Cove.
But if you ask the locals, legend has it that the village was named after another Peggy. In the mid-1800s, a Schooner ran aground on Halibut Rock, just off of lighthouse point. The high waves from the storm washed the passengers from her decks. The sole survivor, a young woman named Margaret, swam ashore and was rescued by the village people. She stayed in the town, married one of the town’s men, and would be known as Peggy of the Cove. Soon after, the village became known as Peggy’s Cove.
A Tribute to Tragedy
Whether the local legend is true or not, Peggy’s Cove lent itself to many tragedies. The small community of 35 permanent residents was primarily a fishing town before it became a tourist hotspot after the Second World War. Fishing is one of the world’s most dangerous jobs. Remember the TV series ‘Deadliest Catch’? And with a small window to fish and check lobster traps, many fishermen of Peggy’s Cove died at sea.
The tragic village tales moved William Edward deGarthe, a Finnish artist who immigrated to Canada in 1926 and settled permanently in Peggy’s Cove in 1955. Until his death in 1983, he dedicated his painting and sculpting to the stories of Peggy’s Cove’s residents. His masterpiece, a 30-metre engraving of fishermen, their wives and children under the wings of a guardian angel, remains outside his home at the entrance to Peggy’s Cove. His wife donated their home to the Nova Scotia government after his death, which became the deGarthe Gallery, a museum dedicated to his work.
The Vessels of Peggy’s Heart
Although I was able to admire deGarthe’s sculpture, I had to save the deGarthe Gallery for another time due to time constraints. So I continued along the sole paved road to the heart of the community- the cove itself. Surrounded by colourful houses and gift shops, the small inlet was a safe harbour for its small red, white and blue ships.
Looking at this small bay in Peggy’s Cove, you wouldn’t know that it’s the life source of the community. At first glance, it’s obvious that the roughly 35 permanent residents dock their boats in the cove. But those five small docked boats are what bring the bacon home. Or in this instance: the lobster. The hard working families of Peggy’s Cove go out twice a day to check on about 250 traps during the 6-month window of lobster season. With each trap costing at least $200 CDN apiece and lobster licenses costing over $1 million CDN nowadays, it’s easy to see why lobster businesses are typically family-run.
As tourist peak season barely overlaps the end of the lobster season, visitors can expect to see the colourful vessels in the cove and piles of lobster traps at the village entrance.
The Most Photographed Lighthouse In The World
After people watching in the cove, I wandered back to the lighthouse. Some of the tourists had left to explore the rest of the village or to grab some lunch at that point, so I spent the rest of my trip photographing the iconic lighthouse.
Tip: A local photojournalist told me I met the day before in Halifax that the best times to shoot the lighthouse are in the early morning (before 10 a.m.) or just before sun down (5 p.m. onward), as the tour busses tend to come in the middle of the day.
While taking photos of the lighthouse, I noticed that despite signs warning people to stay off the black rocks, some tourists were venturing almost too close to the water’s edge. Visitors are swept off the rocks each year, with several incidents resulting in drowning. So please stick to the lighter coloured rocks.
Grab Some Grub
I had a few minutes before my bus left before I left the lighthouse and went to grab some food. I was quite hungry after forgetting to grab lunch in Halifax and spending most of the afternoon outdoors. There is an ice creamery, a convenience store and a restaurant in the village, which are only open during peak season (as are the bed and breakfasts, gift shops and the museum). I would recommend bringing cash with you as not everywhere carries debit and credit machines. For fellow travellers who are gluten-free, vegan and/or plant-based, it’s best to pack a lunch. My lunch for the day was a family-sized bag of chips.
For fellow travelers who are gluten-free, vegan and/or plant-based, it’s best to pack a lunch. My lunch for the day was a family-sized bag of chips.
On our way out of town, we drove past the Swissair Flight 111 Memorial. I didn’t have time to pay my respects there, but the crash was a horrific part of the town’s- and the province’s- history. There is a short walking trail to get there from Peggy’s Cove.
Read more here: Swissair Flight 111
All in all, Peggy’s Cove was such a vibrant, quaint community.
Although the lighthouse was certainly beautiful, standing tall atop of the smooth, cracked rocks as the waves crashed below, the village of Peggy’s Cove had more to offer.
Have you ever been to Peggy’s Cove? What was your favourite memory there?
Share your stories in the comments below and let me know if I’ve missed any unique or interesting activities in my day-trip to Peggy’s Cove! For more photos and stories from The Full-Time Tourist, please follow all my travel adventures and recipes on social media- Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram!
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