Experiencing Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy Tides

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Considering my mother’s fear of water, I had always been baffled at why she wanted to travel to Nova Scotia, a region she had on her dream travel list for years. When I had asked her months ago about what she wanted to see in Nova Scotia, she immediately started talking about the Bay of Fundy and the biggest tidal changes in the world.

Bay of Fundy low tide

The Bay of Fundy tides are a unique and destination worthy phenomenon – it’s claim to fame is having the highest tidal range in the world. The tides in this bay which lies between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick rise and fall upwards of 53 feet a day. Think about it – that’s equal to a 5-story building – a lot of water change in a matter of 6+ hours. For the science curious, there is s reason why the Bay of Fundy gets these drastic tidal changes,

“Fundy’s tides are the highest in the world because of an unusual combination of factors: resonance and the shape of the bay. The water in the Bay of Fundy has a natural resonance or rocking motion called seiche. You could compare this to the movement of water in a bathtub. Although the water in a bathtub sloshes from one end to the other and back again in a few seconds, it takes about 13 hours for the water in the bay to rock from the mouth of the bay to the head of the bay and back again. As the ocean tide rises and floods into the bay every 12 hours and 25 minutes, it reinforces the rocking motion. The bay’s shape and bottom topography are secondary factors contributing to Fundy’s high tides. The bay becomes narrower and shallower [from 130 m (426 ft) to 40 metres (131 ft)] toward the upper bay, forcing the water higher up onto the shores.” Via Bay of Fundy Tourism.

A fishing boat resting on the bottom during low tide at the Bay of Fundy

Digby wharf

Fishing boats in Digby tied to the wharf rise and fall with the tide.

What?! Why would my mother who wants nothing to do with water want to go to the Bay of Fundy? On the train ride from Montreal to Halifax I uncovered the answer to this. As the train rocked back and forth, my mom and I were planning our driving route for our Nova Scotia holiday. This was my chance to try to dig into exactly what she wanted to do and see around the Bay of Fundy. I knew there were a number of different water oriented things you could do around the Bay of Fundy – like kayaking, whale watching, and tidal bore rafting – but all of these things didn’t really seem like a fit since I knew my mom hated water. That’s when she said it, “I want to walk on the bottom of the ocean.”

“What?” I replied slightly confused wondering if her 77 years were starting to show. She went on to explain that she had always thought of the Bay of Fundy as the place where she could actually walk on the Ocean floor without getting in the water. At that moment the gears in my head that had been grinding this question of why my water-fearing mother would want to go to the Bay of Fundy suddenly clicked into place and started moving freely again – things became clear. So maybe the Bay of Fundy is the best place for a person who hates water! It’s one of the only places in the world in which water haters can experience the ocean bottom without getting wet.

I completely got it now – and I was on a mission to get my mom to that ocean floor. There’s nothing I like more than helping people achieve their dreams.

Bay of Fundy low tide

Bay of Fundy at low tide

My mom and I spent a day and a half driving along the Bay of Fundy starting in Digby all the way up to Scott’s Bay and Wolfville along the Evangeline Trail. We stopped at various places to view the tidal changes throughout the day – but unfortunately we weren’t able to stay in one place for the entire tide change. We did stop at Hall’s Harbor for lunch for a few hours and watched the boats in the harbor sink slowly towards the dirt bottom. As we sat there and ate the tide must have went down about 6 to 10 feet. I couldn’t help but think about how fisherman must have to time their work very carefully in this odd environment.

When you travel along the Bay of Fundy, you naturally start watching the clock. Time is important in this part of Nova Scotia! We planned for the low tide and drove up through Scott’s Bay – a little fishing community near Wolfville that a local had recommended we see. The drive out there was pretty solitary, after passing through Scott’s Bay the road started to deteriorate which actually made me beam with happiness since I felt like we were really getting off the beaten path now! The road eventually came to an end at a little park where a hiking trail took over allowing you to hike out to the end of Cape Split. I would have loved to tackle this trail – but we didn’t have time as we had that ocean bottom to get to.

We drove back towards Scott’s Bay and found a dirt road that led out towards the big flat bay. We could already see that the tide was out quite far now. The water line glistened in the sun and you could see it churning as it receded back ever so slowly – barely detectible. I still wasn’t quite sure if we could get out to the ocean floor or not, but I was in my determined mode and was willing to try anything – even trespassing if necessary. My mother was not quite as determined – in fact she questioned my choices a number of times on this journey to the ocean floor, but having dealt with this worry side of her for 43 years now – I had learned a long time ago to ignore it and just keep going. I knew she would follow.

We went up and over a foot bridge and stared out along a vast open space of rocks and glistening wet sand on the other side. There it was – the ocean floor exposed, just waiting for us. But first we had to get over the rocks which to me didn’t seem like any big deal at all, but in my determination I had forgotten that rocks and a worry prone 77 year old might not be a great combination. But yet I knew she would follow.

Slowly and gingerly she made her way over the slippery rocks stopping a few times to tell me that this wasn’t a good idea and that she didn’t think she could make it. I continued to push her as I knew without a doubt in my heart that she could make it. This was just her way of pushing back on the leader a bit. My dad had been dealing with this for years, I just adopted his tactic giving her a little encouragement and kept going. She followed.

Scott's Bay nova scotia

Rocks cover Scott’s Bay at low tide

As she stood on the ocean floor looking at the tidal line churning away in the distance she looked beautiful. The sun glowed off her wrinkled face and I thought about how I had probably contributed so some of those wrinkles in her life. She stood there with her arms crossed, refusing to crack a smile for a while as she dealt with her stubbornness, but I knew she was satisfied. I knew that she was happy to have followed. She would be recanting this story of her crazy daughter dragging her over rocks to walk on the ocean floor for years to come.

And if you don’t believe me, then check out this video of my mom’s ‘accomplishment’ – I think it show’s her stubborn side pretty well!


Disclosure:  I was a guest of Visit Nova Scotia during this trip and they provided me assistance with lodging as well as suggesting driving routes.  However all of the opinions here are my own.



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