Southwest Nova Scotia and the Yarmouth &
The Tusket Basin In Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia has a width of 32 kilometres (20 miles) between headlands at Chebogue Point and Lower East Pubnico. The mainland coastline between these two boundaries is highly indented and irregular with a measure of 500 kilometres (310 miles). Elongated points, peninsulas, ridges, drumlins (low hills) and eskers are oriented North-South, having been formed and carved by the last Ice Age. They are separated by many tidal channels, inlets, estuaries and bays. High tide in the estuary of the "great forked tidal river" (Tusket) carries salt water inland for 24 kilometres (15 miles). From the coast to the offshore there is an archipelago of 365 islands which are drumlins of various sizes.
A dominant feature of the Tusket Basin is the extensive area of salt marshes which occupy more than 8000 acres (3232 hectares), representing one third of the total salt marsh acreage in the province. These marshes are segmented by countless tidal channels, creeks, ponds and drainage ditches. Also visible at low tide are extensive areas of mud flats. These marshes and flats are associated with inshore islands and the indented coastline in the sheltered inlets, bays, channels, estuaries and tidal lakes.
Five rivers and several brooks flow into the Tusket Basin. Little River and Abrams River can be better described as estuaries. The Chebogue River and Argyle River are larger with significant estuaries, however they only reach inland for 10 kilometres (6 miles) beyond high tide. The Tusket River itself is immense by comparison. From Wedge Point to Tusket Falls, the estuary is 24 kilometres (15 miles) in length. From the head of the tide, the Great Tusket River reaches inland for 93 kilometres (58 miles) to find its origin at Long Tusket Lake.
The main river and 10 branch rivers (forks) have a total length of 354 kilometres (220 miles) along the drainage of 176 lakes and countless brooks. All the rivers and brooks of the entire basin watershed drain a total of 213 lakes. Many lakes still retain Mi'kmaq names.
2. Geology and vegetation (Western portion)
The main Tusket River and three western branches (Annis, Carleton and Wentworth) drain a landscape with a geological foundation of greywacke, quartzite, schist and slate. Gentle rolling drumlins impede the drainage to create sluggish streams with chains of elongated lakes. Meadows and bogs are also part of a landscape that exhibits excellent forest growth.
As part of the Acadian Forest Region, the forest is mostly represented by red spruce, hemlock and white pine with tolerant hardwoods on the top of drumlins. The tolerant hardwoods include sugar maple, yellow birch, beech and red oak. The lower areas grow black spruce, balsam fir, larch, red maple, white birch, ash and aspen. Some areas have been highly disturbed by clearing for agriculture. Some old fields are recolonized by stands of white spruce. Most of the old growth forest has been harvested but remnant stands still remain. Shorelines of lakes and streams may include coastal plain plants that are considered rare.
The main Tusket River is extended northwards by two branch rivers, the Silver and the Caribou. These two rivers drain an area where numerous granite boulders erratically cover the landscape. The granitic soils are shallow, leached and very acidic. The tree composition of the forest has a similar description as the main Tusket River area, except that unforested barrens and brushland semi-barrens are found.
3. Geology and vegetation (Eastern portion)
The geology and vegetative features of the main Tusket River extend for short distances into the eastern portion of the watershed. However, the upper reaches of three branch rivers (East Branch, Cold Stream and Quinan) drain a dramatically different landscape. Two secondary branches, the Napier and the Muskpauk, are also part of this eastern drainage.
Surrounding and upstream from Trout Point in East Kemptville, the upper East Branch and the Napier River drain an extensive elevated plateau (400 + feet) of "Granite Barrens". As the name implies, the bedrock is granite with a thin cover of loose, stony granite till. The landscape surface has no drumlins and is strewn with large granite boulders. Large areas of exposed bedrock can be found. Poor drainage has created many streams that flow between shallow irregular lakes, bogs, swamps and swales. On the border of the watershed, some lakes have beaches of white granite sand. The glaciers have formed long prominent eskers which are said to be the longest in the Maritimes.
This land is part of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area. This protected area (1000 square kilometres / 386 square miles) is the only remaining wilderness in Nova Scotia. The head waters of the East Branch are but a canoe portage away from the Shelburne River, the most remote wilderness river in Nova Scotia. This "Canadian Heritage River" links the Tusket watershed with Kejimkujik National Park. The whole area forms parts of a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
The granite soils present a fascinating contrast in vegetation composition. Not only do they produce some of the most barren lands in the region, but they also support some of the most significant old forest stands. Along the river valleys, lake shores and islands, virgin and old growth stands of red pine, white pine and hemlock are exceptionally well developed. The barrens and semi-barrens (brushland) have a sparse scrub growth of white pine, black spruce, wire birch, aspen, red maple and red oak. Ground vegetation is dominated by a dense cover of shrubs such as huckleberry, holly, sheep laurel, viburnum and alder. On boggy sites, black spruce, red maple and larch are common.
The causes of barrens include deep repeated burns; excessive soil leaching causing low fertility; iron pans, excessive boulders and dense shrubs preventing tree growth.
The upper reaches of the Cold Stream and the Quinan River drain an extensive area of barrens and semi-barrens with a different geological foundation of quartzite, shale and schists. These barrens are mostly the result of repeated burning. The organic matter loss to fire has severely reduced the ability of soil to support good forest growth. The area features a few scattered drumlins and eskers with numerous lakes and a relatively unimpeded drainage.
The natural vegetation appears to have been white pine and red oak, but many hills only support scattered black spruce and low shrubs such as blueberry, sheep laurel and huckleberry. Ridges with deeper soils still support white pine and red oak with red maple and white birch. Low sites grow black spruce, balsam fir, larch and red maple. The shorelines and islands of Great Barren Lake and Quinan Lake still display old growth stands of red oak and mixed woods. This area is on the edge of a small isolated exposure of granite soils and boulders.
The Muskpauk tributary drains an area that is more typical of the coastline geology with ridges, drumlins and eskers of schist, slate or quartzite. Large sphagnum (peat) bogs have developed here with forest vegetation and barrens as described above.
4. Water quality
Most of the water of the Tusket River comes from run-off. Melting snows and rains provide maximum water flow during spring and autumn. Waters that percolate through the many peat bogs are stained brown by organic substances such as "tannins" that are naturally acidic. This color is readily visible in Tusket and Napier River waters. Acid rain increases the acidity since the hard rocks of the watershed yield very few buffering minerals. The productivity of these waters is generally very poor.
A few spring-fed clear water lakes are less acidic because they do not receive bog tannins and organic substances. The sunlight penetration allows plant life at greater depths. However the lack of organic substances render these clear waters less productive than the dark ones.
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Large mammals of the watershed include moose, white-tailed deer and black bear. A remnant population of western Nova Scotia moose is associated with the brushland and semi-barrens of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area. The introduced white-tailed deer carried "moose sickness" and thus replaced the moose population in the more forested lands. A small herd of caribou became extinct at the turn of the century. Black bears are plentiful in the barrens and semi-barrens due to the abundance of berry- producing shrubs.
The snowshoe hare becomes exceptionally abundant during peak cycles in the brush and shrub lands where natural predators such as bobcats, hawks and owls also abound. Squirrels and chipmunks are mostly found in the forested areas, including the endangered Southern Flying Squirrel, which is mostly noctural.
The extensive areas of lakes and sluggish streams provide habitat for beaver, otter and mink. By the end of the 19th century, the Nova Scotia beaver was almost exterminated by over- trapping. A remnant population survived in the remote parts of the Tusket watershed. In the 1930's live beavers were captured and reintroduced to other parts of the province.
Inland muskrats are scarce, being more numerous in the fertile coastal marshes. Foxes and weasels hunt mice and shrews in the barrens, woodlands, old fields and marsh edges. Marten and fisher were recently reintroduced to the forested areas while the eastern coyote arrived naturally in the 1970's. Past diseases have rendered the skunk a rare animal while the raccoon is abundant near human habitations and along the coast.
Game birds include the ruffed grouse in the woodlands and the introduced ring-necked pheasant along the coast. The Tusket watershed is renowned for migratory flocks of woodcock.
The waterfowl that reproduce in the inland wetlands include the black duck, ring-necked duck, wood duck, merganser and loon. The wilderness cry of the common loon can be heard around the many pristine lakes. A tremendous variety of smaller birds can be viewed in the diversified forest, brushlands and barrens edges.
The watershed has very significant spawning runs of gasperaux. A small run of atlantic salmon remains in the more fertile and less acidic branches of the Tusket River. The rare acadian whitefish may still exist. Acid rain and power dams have altered the former abundance of these fish. Speckled trout are found throughout in the less acidic and cooler waters. Shallow lakes with warm waters support white and yellow perch, bullheads, eels and several species of minnows. The introduced chain pickerel and smallmouth bass are well established in several lakes. The very acidic lakes only support tolerant eels and yellow perch.
Amphibians and reptiles are also found in the watershed. The rare Blanding's turtle only occurs around the Kejimkujik Park area while painted and snapping turtle are common. All the snake species are non-poisonous.
6. Human relations
The Mi'kmaq First Nation's people survived in this area for 7000 years by harvesting resources from the coast and the mainland. The "Great Forked Tidal River" provided canoe access to inland resources. According to Father Le Loutre (1748) the Acadians traded with the natives for beavers, otter, fox, marten, bear, wolf, wildcat, caribou and moose. He reported that this area (Cape Sable) was renowned for moose hunting and that "a quantity of eels so great as to fill ships" could be found.
The first Acadian settlers of the early 1600's adopted many of the Mi'kmaq ways of survival. Some integrated with the native people. They certainly relied on canoe travel and river access to salmon, trout, eels, moose and fur bearers. Structural stone remains of eel weirs and moose pits can still be found.
The Acadian settlements remained coastal for 150 years. Then some Acadians escaped the deportation of 1755 by hiding inland with the native people. Others settled inland upon their return from exile. The communities of Belleville and Quinan were founded in the 1780's. Quinan was originally known as the "Forks" as indicated in the Mi'kmaq reference to the Tusket as "the Great Forked River". In this area the Tusket River branches and many trails radiate from a traditional site called "Meat Rock".
The Acadian farmers of Belleville and Quinan also utilized the forest. During winter, logs harvested by axe and saw were dragged onto frozen lakes by teams of oxen. The spring thaw provided flood waters in the rivers to float the "log drives" to water-powered saw mills.
In the 1800's, wood products from the watershed were utilized in the ship building industry along the coastline of the Tusket Basin. Many of the sailing ships were captained by Acadians who traded lumber and other products all over the world. The traffic of merchandise included contraband liquor during the "rum running" days of prohibition.
The forest industry flourished all along the Tusket River. A historical operation was located on the Silver River near Long Tusket Lake. From 1895 to 1912, the Stehelin family from France established a remote self-sufficient colony that operated a saw mill complex. The lumber produced at "New France" was delivered to prosperous Weymouth by ox teams and by a steam locomotive on wooden rails. Thirty one years before electricity reached Weymouth, this remote colony was lit by a water powered dynamo. The Acadians called New France "The Electric City". Restoration work has been undertaken at this historical site.
Many inland Acadians became skilled as "guides" for sportsmen in search of salmon, trout and moose. In the 1940's and 1950's, a population explosion of introduced white-tailed deer created a greater demand for hunting guides. Many traditional hunting camps still exist along the many trails of the watershed.
The numerous trails in the Quinan area have lead to many resources such as spruce "knees" for ship building; birch "hoops" for barrels; fauna for survival or sport; and berries for food. Many barrens were burnt to produce wildlife browse and commercial crops of blueberries. A historical blueberry site is called "Aggie's Rock".
Today, farming in the Tusket watershed is minor while the forest industry continues to be important. The history of mining relates to a few abandoned gold mines and a large inactive tin mine. A significant gaspereaux fishery and a minor eel fishery still exist on the Tusket River. Sport fishing, hunting and trapping are still valued as traditional activities.
Unmeasurable values can be attributed to the tremendous diversity and beauty of the landscape. The numerous pristine lakes and rivers offer private canoeing, kayaking and boating. Local guides are familiar with a diversity of canoe routes that offer white water and/or still water adventures. Spring and Fall canoeing are recommended in most rivers due to dry summer conditions. The entire watershed can be interconnected by long canoe routes that follow the down stream current. Shorter routes can be navigated during summer to visit old growth forests. The multicolors of the autumn leaves offer an exceptional aesthetic experience.
Some portions of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area can only be accessed on foot or by canoe routes and portages in very difficult terrain. Some lakes along routes have islands or shores with virgin forests and white sandy beaches. The Shelburne River (Canadian Heritage River) is the most remote and picturesque. The landscape is a contrast of lakes, still waters, granite barrens, eskers, brushlands, meadows and virgin forests. This river provides a canoe link between the Tusket watershed and Kejimkujik National Park. The legendary "Jim Charles Rock" and "Junction Rock" are located in the habitat of a remnant moose population.
Some historical Mi'kmaq trails on long remote eskers remain relatively inaccessible in the Tobeatic Wilderness Area. Many of the traditional trails that radiate from "Meat Rock" have now been interconnected by users of all terrain vehicles. The entire watershed area has a tremendous potential for wilderness hiking and nature trail interpretation. Some sites like "Indian Look-off" and "French Hill" have beautiful vista views. The "old coach road" has an uncertain historical background. A few interpretive trails have been developed in the area.
The Tusket River watershed can treat the ecotourist to many nature-adventures such as nature photography, animal and bird watching, vista viewing, canoeing, kayaking, auto touring, wilderness hiking, biking, nature and historical interpretation with a blend of Acadian heritage.
Compared to the coastal weather, the inland climate is warmer in the summer and colder in the winter. Snow and ice accumulations become greater as the landscape elevation increases. Coastal fog banks rarely reach very far inland. Comfortable sun bathing can be experienced in isolated locations or on a lake beach at Ellenwood Park.
The ecotourist can experience the Acadian heritage by visiting the inland communities of Belleville and Quinan. The friendly bilingual people are very hospitable. In the last century, Belleville was renowned for skillful craftsmen and carpenters. Well kept 19th century homes attest to this fact. The residents of Quinan are still known for their love of nature and their relationship with flora and fauna. This tradition was handed down by their forefather "guides".
Quinan is the most inland Acadian community associated with the coastal Tusket Basin. Another Acadian community is found at Corberrie on the northwestern edge of the Tusket watershed along the Wentworth River. This village is however an inland extension of the large Acadian community of Saint Mary's Bay.
Access to the Tusket River watershed is via the infrastructure described for the Tusket Basin. The airport, ferry terminal and major highways connect with many secondary highways and access roads to reach inland and intersect many parts of the watershed. The western and eastern boundaries can be accessed by auto- roads. Highway #203 travels West to East to dissect the Tusket watershed into a southern and northern sections. The southern area contains the many trails that originate at "Meat Rock" near Quinan. Highway #203 forms part of the boundary of the Tobeatic Wilderness area in the northern section. Motorized access has been prhibited throughout the wilderness area. Access is restricted to foot trails and canoe routes. "Canoeable" waters are found throughout the entire watershed area.
Most of the accommodations for the inland watershed are found along the coast as described in the Basin description. A few inland cabins and lodges are available such as Trout Point Lodge and River Bend Lodge & the Cottages at Trout Point, off the East Branch Road. Camping and tenting sites are available at Ellenwood Park and in Arcadia. Outdoor tenting is an option for the hard-core adventurer.
From the Province of Nova Scotia: Into the Tobeatic: A Guide for Planning Wilderness Travel in Tobeatic Wilderness Area
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