Nova Scotia knits revisited

Posted by Sylvia Olsen on


Tex is brilliant at turning work into play and business trips into holidays so I decided to accompany him to his workshops in Nova Scotia. On a side note we constantly are reassessing the cost benefit analysis of our work and its impact on the environment. We both travel all over the country working to improve the energy efficiency, building practices and delivery of housing on reserves.  It sounds counterproductive to expend all that energy to save energy but we hope the changes we help implement justify the travel…there is no way of accounting. It is what we do. It’s what we’ve always done. And we work to make it worth it.

For now it is the immense privilege of our work that allows us to enjoy the people and places in this country we would never otherwise meet. A fourteen hour trip from Victoria to Halifax. A 630 km road trip from Halifax to Wolfville to Yarmouth to Shelburne to Mahone Bay and Lunnenburg and back to Halifax.

I don’t know about you but that also sounds like a knitting road trip to me. A retrip to some of the wonderful yarn shops we visited in 2015. 

Brenda wasn’t in when we got to Gaspereau Valley Fibres. But kids were talking to the sheep, families were picnicking by the barn and the shop was filled with yarn-seekers. There are good reasons why, from my very unscientific poll, this store rates at the top of Canadian yarn shops. It doesn’t have yarn for everyone. Inexpensive synthetic yarns are totally absent and I didn’t see any acrylic blends. But if you are looking for unique, high quality, especially wool and especially Canadian, yarn then this is your place. And especially if you are looking to knit a shawl—it has many options for beautiful shoulder pieces. 

We spent the next three days in Yarmouth for Tex’s workshops. On my first stroll into town I literally stumbled into a sandwich board on the sidewalk as I sidestepped around a group of walkers. It read Hands on Crafts. Inside I was met by a mixture of earthy fragrances and an array of wood work, craft supplies and knitted things. At the back of the store surrounded by yarn cubbies sat the ubiquitous knitting table piled with patterns, yarn and unopened boxes. A spot at the end had been cleared for an elderly woman who sat knitting. 

“Hello,” she said. “Have you been here before?” “No,” I said. “Oh. It’s lovely. I come in most days. Tonight is our knitting night. A few of us sit around this table and knit together. You’re welcome to come if you want."

There is something especially Canadian about small towns, yarn shops and knitting tables. Or is it that there is something special about knitting in Canadian towns that have yarn shops?

We also did a lot of “not knitting” things on this trip. A lot of art galleries…too many to mention. I’m guessing Nova Scotia has more art galleries per street corner than anywhere else in Canada.

Stepping back out on Yarmouth’s Main Street I eyed my turn-around-and-head-back spot a few blocks up. On the corner of Forest St. behind a tall hedge sat a stately old Maritime house turned art gallery. I heard “I’m coming” as I jiggled the locked door. 

It wasn’t just a great gallery filled with local fine art it was Murray Manor Art & Culture House, Vera Saeme’s home. Vera is a vivacious Brazilian woman who has lived around the world and had her share of fine culture and high living. “B there is no place like here,” she said. “The people are real. This is the place I want to be.” I felt like staying as well. There are some people that make distant places feel like home.

After sharing our life's stories she said we had to visit the yarn shop in Mahone Bay. “You won’t miss it. It’s on the main street right next to an art gallery.” 

Along Highway 3, on our way back to Halifax, we stopped in at Whirligig in Shelburne. I wanted to reconnect with Louise at her art shop. But she was in Cape Breton at craft fairs and markets for the summer…looks like knitting circles in Shelburne will have to wait until the fall. 

On to Mahone Bay. Vera was right. Have a Yarn lived up to my expectations with a wide variety of great wools, a wall full of sock options—one day I will knit socks. For now I bought a great felted slipper pattern. There is always something I just can’t not try. Auto correct is telling me to fix the double negative. But “I can’t not try” is different than “I must try.” Obsessive knitters know what I mean.

Back in Halifax we went back to the beautiful Hydrostone Market to visit Louise at L K Yarns. She was off doing summer things with her grandchildren but we remet two friendly familiar faces from the workshops two years ago. 

Economic reports may rate Nova Scotia as one of the weakest provinces in the country but its culture is alive. Maritimers are not only knitting they are creating art and establishing innovative businesses. Most importantly they are just good people. They stop their cars and let you cross the street. They say hello and are interested in where you are from and what you are up to. They value what they have and although these may sound like platitudinous generalizations you get a real sense that stark capitalism has a soft edge in Nova Scotia and I like that. 

Tex’s friend, Allen’s, Horton Ridge Malt & Grain Company. It’s Atlantic Canada’s first craft malt house. It uses the fine art of floor malting with organic local grains to make malts for the region’s craft and home brewers. You can also stop in and taste the finished product.


     Bethany Riordan-Butterworth and her wooly sheep mugs (Halifax)

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  • It’s so satifying to read positives about my province. Your post hit home with me at those were my thoughts when I moved from Victoria 30 years ago.

    Jane Kyle on

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