Tide watching at Burntcoat Head, Nova Scotia, Canada

In 1975 Burntcoat Head in Nova Scotia, Canada, entered The Guinness Book of Records as the place where the world’s highest average tide was recorded. The difference in the water level between low and high tide was measured at 47.5 feet—around 14.50 metres.

I learn those facts from Nancy, my guide, while we’re watching the tide lap in. She’s quick to add that spring tides rise as much as 53.6 feet (16.34 metres).

We’re standing opposite an eroded island. A number of overhanging trees with exposed roots look like they’ll soon be claimed by the cold Atlantic water.

“Ice, three to six feet deep, built up on the back side of the island in January. It expands and takes the mud with it…we call the ice flows chocolate marshmallows here because that exactly what they look like,” says Nancy with a laugh.

Dining on the Ocean Floor

She points to the area below us and explains that, at low tide, it’s possible to dine at tables set out on the ocean floor. The event is known as Dining on the Ocean Floor and held several times each summer. An expert takes participants foraging for ingredients and local seafood is served.

Nancy is one of the interpreters working in Burntcoat Head Park, close to the former shipbuilding community of Noel. Look on a map and you’ll see how the headland juts out from Nova Scotia’s western shoreline, between the Minas Basin and Cobequid Bay.

Burntcoat Island is lapped by seawater.
Burntcoat Island is lapped by seawater.

The Burntcoat Head lighthouse

The lighthouse at Burntcoat Head was decommissioned and burnt down back in 1972.

In the 1990s locals approached the Coast Guard acquired the plans of the landmark that had stood from 1913 until the early 70s. The wood-built lighthouse that you’ll see today was officially opened on Canada Day—1 July—1995.

The first lighthouse was erected at Burntcoat Head in 1858 but, ultimately, became a victim of land erosion.

Erosion reveals fossils

The destructive power of the sea regularly reveals fossils embedded in the muddy shoreline. They include dinosaur tracks, plants and skeletons dating from the Carboniferous Period, around 299 to 360 million years ago.

“A white line is usually the outline of a fossil,” states Nancy.

Amethyst is often found in the area during April though Amethyst Cove, near Cape Split, is a more reliable source. Agate and jasper also wash up here.

Nancy wears shoes while out on the ocean floor because it’s not uncommon to find glass, which she terms mermaids’ tears, “because every time we throw garbage into the ocean a mermaid will cry.”

Locals pick up the smooth, sea-worn glass to create jewellery.

Nancy shows off a burl in woodland at Burntcoat Head Park.
Nancy shows off a burl in woodland at Burntcoat Head Park.

Wildlife and birdlife

We’ve already strolled through the woodland close to the lighthouse and seen humming birds.

A woodpecker drills into a nearby trunk and the noise reverberates through woodland also providing habitat to deer, chipmunks, skunk and groundhog.

Nancy says it’s common to spot fox and raccoon feeding on the ocean floor at low tide.

“I love this place because, to me, it’s an opportunity to show people that we’re all connected—this ocean, this planet, these people who come to see this. You can’t come here without feeling love. People who come here from away, when they come up to you and look at you with wonderment in their eyes, there’s nothing better than that,” says Nancy.

The power of nature

“I’ve looked for home my entire life and this is home. It’s beautiful. It’s powerful. It’s healing,” she adds with emotion.

The area is popular with locals and people from further afield. Some come for picnics, others to experience nature or to take a look at the interpretative exhibitions within the lighthouse.

“It talks to people. I’ll take people out on the ocean floor and I usually stand next to the water. People will look at me and ask me what I’m doing and I’ll say I’m checking whether the tide is coming or going. Usually I ask people to stand there, close their eyes and feel the power,” answers Nancy when I ask her what she thinks makes the area special.

Further information

See the Burntcoat Head Park website for information on the lighthouse and nearby attractions.

The Nova Scotia Tourism and Explore Canada websites also provide information about the headland and surrounding region.

The Nova Scotia and Canada flags at Buntcoat Head Park.
The Nova Scotia and Canada flags at Buntcoat Head Park.

 

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