Springhill Things to Do
If you read my opening page, you learned of Springhill's long and tragic mining past. There were a series of three major mining disasters, in 1891, 1956 and 1958 - claiming the lives of nearly 300 miners. After the 1958 "bump" (an earth tremor), the mines were sealed forever and Springhill faced a huge economic crisis. Due to the resilience of the locals, the town has survived and prospered without the coal industry and its future is bright. As a sidenote, the town of Springhill was presented with the Carnegie Medal for their perserverance in attempting to rescue the miners following the 1958 bump. The only other such group to ever receive this award were the survivors of the Titanic.
If you'd like to honor the fallen miners and learn more about Springhill's past, consider visiting the Miners Museum. Visitors to the museum can tour a short (and completely safe) mineshaft and travel back in time to the days when coal mining was the lifeblood of Springhill. Operated by the Springhill Miners Heritage Society, the museum features many displays including the equipment used by the miners above and below ground, newspaper clippings, photos and other documents, as well as a dummy of a dragerman. Former coal miners are on hand to answer questions and to give guided tours of the wash house and lamp cabin. From there, visitors are asked to dress in "slickers" for the most exciting part of the tour - a trip underground into what use to be an actual coal mine!
The museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. beginning June 1st.
In some ways, Springhill turned out to be a little bigger than I'd imagined. There were several large churches, a couple of larger supermarkets, and even a small junior college - Nova Scotia Community College.
But still, you're never very far from the wide open country in Springhill. No matter where you are in town, you can get into your car and within five or six minutes, you can be at the edge of a sugar maple woods, headed into what was formerly coal mining country, or on a big farm. I highly recommend taking a nice, long walk each afternoon. It's an hour or so well spent - good for the soul.
The photo accompanying this chapter was taken approximately five minutes by car from the parking lot of the local sports arena. And FWIW, this scene was shot about 800 meters down the road from our bed and breakfast, near a tiny little suburban "place" called Rodney.
I am a huge sports fan.... and for me, from a sporting standpoint, Canada = hockey. We Americans love hockey, or at least some of us do. But we realize that it's not our invention.
When we planned our trip to Atlantic Canada, I'd not given hockey a lot of thought. I kind of figured it wasn't quite "season" yet. Upon our arrival in the tiny town of Springhill, Nova Scotia, we set about meeting the locals and doing local stuff. One night, we found our way into a "dive bar" (JB's) because our over-19 year old daughter wanted to enjoy Canadian alcohol laws. (See the genesis of that visit in my PIZZA DELIGHT tip) Anyway, during our time in JB's, one of the less-smashed customers let me in on some interesting news.... the local junior hockey league team was having an exhibition game in a few days. He said that was lucky for me since regular season games are always sold out. He explained that junior league hockey was basically a training ground for future NHL or AHL level talent, and that there was an upper age limit of 21 years old. Some teams have kids as young as 15 or 16 playing, but their time on ice is restricted - due to the notion that they're also supposed to still be going to school. I filed away the info on the hockey game and kept looking for a bit more information.
By the time our last night in Springhill arrived, it was hockey night in Canada - at least THIS part of Canada. Bonnie (I think) really wanted to go with me, but my daughter Sara just doesn't like sports that much.... so, pchamlis ended up going solo to the hockey game. It was about 5 minutes drive from our little B&B just out of town, and parking was a snap. I think the admission was C$5 or something like that. The arena was "the new one", a recent renovation on the "old one" whose roof supposedly fell in. Town famous person Anne Murray and her parents (or their estate) generously donated much of the money. It's called the Dr. Carson & Marion Murray Community Centre.
Up arriving, I really felt local. I'll bet I was THE only tourist in that group of some 800 or so fans at the game. Inside, it was exactly how you'd expect a junior league arena in small town Canada.... COLD, and the seats were right at the ice. I quickly found the "hospitality room", which was the room off the main hall where you could buy a beer or other mixed drink. There was no prohibition on taking said beer out to the seats, you just had to go inside this special room to buy it. No kiddies under 19 allowed in there, although the pretty girl serving the beer wasn't more than 3 or 4 days older than 19 in my opinion. I got myself a cold Blue (Labatt's Blue) and went back out to the seats.
I noticed that a lot of the fans seemed to prefer standing along the back causeway and railing, it appeared to be a social thing. They'd yell at the game, the players and would chat about sports in general. So, for period one, I found an opening and just stepped in. In a few minutes, I gained the confidence of the old fellow standing next to me - small town Canadians are friendly enough, but I was clearly an alien from another world, an American world. :) We chatted a bit and he told me about some of the players. I watched the first period in that little group and had a good time. BTW, the local team - the Cumberland County Cool Blues - are at the top of this league in talent, they won the title last year. And from what I see, they're going to win again, they are quite good. At the end of period 1, the Blues were winning 4-1. Two things, that's an avalanche of scoring in hockey, and second... I forgot to mention the opponents. They were the Black's Harbour Silverkings, from over in New Brunswick. They play in a different junior hockey league, so they won't see the Blues during the regular season. From what I saw that night, it's a damn good thing for the Silverkings if their paths don't cross the Blues' again.
I went back to the hospitality room and got another Labatt's. I went back out to the arena and found another group of folks to stand around for period two. Same deal, I slowly became friendly with them and we had a chance to just chat. They seemed to enjoy explaining hockey to this silly American. I didn't let on that I already knew what icing is and what the blue lines meant. They seemed to be enjoying the chance to squire me through their game. Why spoil the fun? The second period was more of the same, although not a lot of scoring. At the end of period two, it was Blues 5, Silverkings 1. Oh, and that other "thing" about hockey started up seriously in period two - FIGHTING. Hockey players often get into fights during a game. I'll be honest, most of the fans love it when a couple of players "throw down" on the ice. We actually used to have a minor league hockey team in my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida. (The late, great Tallahassee Tigersharks) The Tally fans loved the fighting. The game I was attending in Springhill was actually THE last exhibition game for both teams, and both teams were three or four players over roster limits. Soooooooo, that meant this was the last night for several of the players. THAT is one reason they were more than willing to mix it up with the rough stuff. Two of the Silverking players were ejected from the game for fighting above and beyond the call of duty - dirty stuff, they said. I didn't see exactly what the officials saw, and there sure as hell wasn't a video screen or anything for replays. To show you how small town the junior hockey leagues are, their penalty after being tossed from the game was that they had to get dressed and then wait out by the Blacks Harbour team bus until game's end.
At the end of period two, I went to the regular food concession stand, and learned that Canadian hockey fans have stomachs of iron. See my "Nova Scotian cuisine" tip on the poutine, for example. There were also the deep fried pepperoni chunks, and the Rolaids antacid tablets for sale on the menu.
When I went back in for period three, I sat in the regular seats and began chatting with a man and his wife. It turns out that they had a cousin who was one of Cumberland's young 15 year old players. They told me that IF he made the team, he'd only be allowed to play a certain number of games and could only make a couple of road trips max - because of his age. The kid looked to be pretty good, but it was obvious that the muscular abilities of 21 year old players were generally a lot higher than 15 year olds. He got a couple of pretty good check shots from older players on the Silverkings' side.
The lady turned out to be a registered nurse, so I took the opportunity to talk a little health care with her. My country is busy in debate over healthcare changes and the future, and many of my (misguided) fellow citizens want a single payer plan like Canada's. Let's just say that this nurse I met in Springhill sums it up this way... She said "why in the world do you want YOUR system to be like ours?" It was a sentiment that I heard from several other Canadian healthcare professionals during our stay in Canada.
By midway through the third period, the score had swelled to 7-1 Blues and I decided to head on home. We were going to be driving and ferrying to Prince Edward Island the next day. I read in the paper the following morning that the game got wayyyy out of hand, scorewise. Final count was Cumberland 10, Blacks Harbour 1. That is a massacre in hockey.
Folks, if you like sports or hockey, you need to see a local game in Canada. Get away from the spoiled professional leagues and see young kids playing their hearts out for a few dollars in a game they love. There's nothing like hearing the organ play "O Canada" as the crowd stands in a tiny frosty arena in a place like Springhill.
The Jade Palace was another place recommended to us by our B&B hosts, Craig and Linda. As you'd guess, this is a Chinese cuisine place and also as you'd perhaps guess, it's not going to be a GREAT Chinese restaurant. For those of us who've visited some the the best in San Francisco, New York City and other places, well..... we may be a little bit "Jaded".
The service was friendly, the food was edible and for us - it was something different... we'd had quite a few evenings of seafood and local cuisine since arriving back in Maine. And since we were eating in Springhill, it was either the Jade Palace, or a repeat visit somewhere we'd already been.
If I am rating the food, it's about 2 1/2 stars out of 5. And surprisingly, I thought it was a little pricey for what we had.
I guess what I am saying is this.... if you've gotta have an egg roll or some sweet and sour pork, come on in. But otherwise, you might want to do something else.
Favorite Dish: We all had egg rolls, fried rice and sweet and sour chicken. There weren't really any more unusual or exciting choices, but again.... this is a small Chinese place in Springhill, Nova Scotia. From an Asian food standpoint, it's the middle of nowhere. :) Kind of ho-hum, as I say.
Again, if you're Jones-ing for something Chinese, maybe it'll get you by until you can find somewhere Chinese in Halifax or maybe over in St. John, New Brunswick. Maybe there's something in Amherst, too..... we didn't check. Otherwise.....
Another of the local Springhill recommendations that our B&B hosts gave us was the Lamp Cabin Inn, just outside of town. This is basically a local "joint" - pub food and a bar. They also have a DJ or band some nights and there's dancing. We didn't stay that late, but I bet they have a good time, the whole crew seemed like a lot of fun.
Anyway, my daughter was excited for another chance to enjoy Canada's 19 year old drinking age and the Lamp Cabin has a nice selection of bottled and draft beers - nice and cold.
OK, are you waiting for the donair story? (this is a continuation from my previous "Pizza Delight" tip). Here goes....
When we were looking over the menu, by golly there they were.... donairs. I guess these things are everywhere, especially in Nova Scotia. (post script, I have sinced learned that the donair was "invented" in Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia) I'd had a couple of brews so I figured, what the heck?? It's time that pchamlis learn all about donairs.
I told our waitress that I'd only learned of donair existence the previous night - and she almost laughed out loud. But, she insisted that I'd like them and I put in my order. I had the super/ultimate donair - which as best I can tell just meant it was bigger than a regular donair. There didn't appear to be additional ingredients. My donair came with - just as the waitress the night before had said - kind of a peppered beef, lettuce, chopped tomatoes (kind of like you'd find on a taco) and a liberal ladling of donair sauce. (in case you haven't read the other tip, donair sauce is evaporated milk + vinegar + garlic powder + sugar, whipped until it's thick and then chilled) And the verdict? It was tasty, actually a good combo with cold beer. The down side to me was that it wasn't THAT filling. I could have probably eaten two. Live and learn. Please see below for a photo of my donair (#3 photo), along with a photo of the waitress who laughed at me.
Favorite Dish: Well, after finding ourselves in a "dry" restaurant the night before, the cold beer was nice. We all had Labatt's Blue (it's Canada, eh?) They just call them "blues".
I had my ultimate donair. Bonnie had a burger and fries - she pronounced it pub-worthy and tasty. Sara had a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. (bacon? it's Canada, eh?) She chose the sweet potato fries... I tried them and they were excellent.
We asked our B&B hosts (Craig and Linda McCormick) for local eatery recommendations. The first place they mentioned was the local Pizza Delight. PD is apparently a regional chain, and they have a loyal clientele in most places - at least from our observation.
Anyway, we went down to the Pizza Delight and it was great. Honestly, THE only thing that was a bit of a downer was that they do NOT serve beer. I'd call a pizza place that doesn't serve beer "un-American", but then again, this isn't America. :) OK just kidding about that un-American stuff. Pizza Delight is obviously a family joint and the suds just don't fit into what they're all about. We slipped over to a "dive bar" after dinner to wet our whistle, so it's not like we went without. :)
I'll talk about the pizzas down below, but let me tell you what I learned on this visit. I learned about DONAIRS. What the heck is a donair? Well, that's what I said. Here's how the conversation went down....
We'd ordered some "cheese sticks" to enjoy before our pizza came (pizza dough crusted with mozarella cheese and garlic). The sweet waitress started this conversation...(W is waitress, P is Pete/me)
W Would you like some donair sauce to dip your cheese sticks in?
P What is donair sauce?
W (a bit puzzled) Well, it's the sauce that you put on donairs.
P OK, what is a donair?
W (with an incredulous look on her face) Well, it's a...a...a.. well, it's a donair.
P Again, what is a donair? (My wife chimes in with "we're not from around here")
W Well, it's a flatbread dough, and then we put donair meat onto it, lettuce, tomatoes and donair sauce.
P What is donair meat?
W It's the meat that you put on donairs. (exasperated at this point)
P What animal does it come from? Is there some animal called a donair?
W No, it's not an animal, and I'm not really sure what meat it is. (OK at this point, I definitely did panic a bit... mystery meat??)
P What is it like?
W Well, it's a little bit like, what do you say..... jerky? But it's not so dry. It has pepper and spices, it might be a little bit mideastern.
P Is it something like the meat you get on gyro sandwiches?
W (less than committed sound in her voice) Eh.... yes I think so.
P What is donair sauce?
W It's the sauce we put on donairs. (Oh hell, here we go again I'm thinking)
P What is it like?
W Well, it's a little sweet, it has some garlic, maybe a little spice, I don't know... it's donair sauce, I can't say anything else. It's kept cool.
P Is it anything like garlic mayonnaise? (I was afraid to say aioli, didn't know how much confusion that would add to the conversation)
W No not really. Would you like me to bring some out in a cup on the side?
P Yes, please do.
Well, we didn't order any donairs that night, but we did try the sauce, and it's "different", but actually very good. (See my Lamp Cabin Inn restaurant tip for the story and photo of my first ever donair, or perhaps my local food tips on my Nova Scotia page) FWIW, donair sauce (I looked it up on google) is made with evaporated milk, white vinegar, garlic powder and sugar. The vinegar + milk thickens it and you "whip" it to a desired consistency. And yes, I did make some when we got back home.
Favorite Dish: We had the family trio special, which was garlic cheese fingers, sprinkled with bacon (it's Canada, eh?) and a tasty works pizza. We dipped the fingers into the mysterious donair sauce and it was very good.