New Glasgow: A fascinating low-key destination

New Glasgow: A Charming Low-Key Getaway

Last Updated on April 28, 2024 by Pamela MacNaughtan

New Glasgow is an off-the-beaten-path destination, a place that thrives on being subtle and genuine, where tourism is a bonus and not a driving force. New Glasgow, Nova Scotia is not known for prettily painted houses or wineries.

You won’t find a harbour filled with fishing boats, or quaint pedestrian streets. That’s not the vibe here.

Canada’s civil rights movement was sparked here, and one of Canada’s best warm-water beaches is only a 17 km drive from the centre of town. In summer, the Riverfront Jubilee is three days of superb East Coast music, and there is an abundance of scenic trails to traverse.

Settled by Scottish immigrants who were lured to Nova Scotia by shady British promises, New Glasgow is best known for being an industrial epicentre. Shipbuilding, coal mining, and steel fabrication played important roles in moulding New Glasgow (including Trenton, Stellarton, and Westville), and in Nova Scotia as a whole.

Blue collar, no frills, and a zest for enjoying life’s pleasures is what comes to mind when I think of New Glasgow, and my time there.

A riverfront town

Riverfront in New Glasgow, NS
East River in New Glasgow
Downtown New Glasgow

The town of New Glasgow grew up around the banks of the East River. The 12 km estuary from New Glasgow to Pictou Harbour is filled with sea-run trout and Atlantic salmon.

Small pleasure boats line the banks of the marina, and in summer locals take to the water to canoe, kayak and paddleboard. 

Colourful metal benches along the river are ideal for relaxing with a book, and The Monarch Marina has a lovely little restaurant with a patio overlooking the river.

The Glasgow Square Theatre is the town’s performing arts centre and stands on the riverbank. Throughout the year it hosts musicians and comedians, including The Jubilee Music Festival.

The riverfront has come a long way from its days in the 19th century when shipbuilder George McKenzie built ships to transport timber to Britain, coal to the United States, and supplies during the Crimean and American Civil Wars. 

Provost Street is the main artery of the town. It’s filled with shops, restaurants, a bar or two, and a social enterprise cafe. It’s one-way, there are stop signs instead of street lights, and the street parking is surprisingly affordable.

The best way to explore downtown is by foot. Wander around Provost Street, Archimedes Street, and the side streets along the way. There’s a lovely little used bookstore and a couple of gift shops.

The Jubilee: 3 Days of glorious East Coast music

The Jubilee Festival in New Glasgow, NS
Happy people at The Jubilee
Classified rapping at The Jubilee
Classified performing at The Jubilee

The amphitheatre at The Glasgow Square Theatre opens up to a parking lot with large white event tents and temporary stadium seating. All of the nearby roads are closed, and people saunter down Riverside Parkway towards The Jubilee music festival.

Since its inception in 1997, The Jubilee has featured East Coast emerging artists, Juno award winners and Canadian legends for three nights of dynamic music. Sloan, The Rankin Sisters, Great Big Sea, and Jully Black have played at the festival, along with many others. 

The town of New Glasgow swells with visitors from around the Maritimes on the festival weekend. The hotels are full and finding a taxi to the venue is a lesson in patience.

Piling into a taxi with three people from my hotel, I arrived shortly after the first artist began her set.

On the stage was DeeDee Austin, a 17-year-old Indigenous singer with boundless energy and songs that quickly grip the soul.

As she sang Buried Truth, a song she wrote about residential schools, it was as if time stood still. DeeDee was a perfect choice to open the first night and the festival.    

StoneHouse, Classified, and Canadian legend, David Wilcox, finished out the night to fans jumping, dancing, and singing along.

From sporadic downpours to light showers, the rain didn’t deter Amanda Marshall, Randy Bachman, Ria Mae, The Stanfields, Zamani and others from performing. This is the Maritimes, rain rarely stops anyone from doing, well, anything! 

Black History in New Glasgow

Viola's Way - a tribute to Viola Desmond in New Glasgow
Viola’s Way – a tribute to Viola Desmond
Africentric Heritage Park in New Glasgow
Africentric Heritage Park

In 1946, Viola Desmond challenged the racism Blacks faced in Nova Scotia when she refused to give up her seat in the “whites only” section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow. She was removed forcibly, arrested, jailed overnight, and fined.

Viola appealed to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and lost. Her fight ignited the civil rights movement in Canada.

Today, the Roseland Theatre is the Bespoke Motor Company, and the alley between it and East Avenue Dining is known as Viola’s Way.

The artwork of Viola’s image decorates the side of the old theatre, and an information panel shares details about her life and fight. Benches painted in Pan-African colours provide an opportunity to sit and reflect. 

A Canadian hero, Viola Desmond is now featured on our ten-dollar bill. Interested in learning more about Viola? This book by Graham Reynolds and Viola’s sister, Wanda Robson is quite good.

On Vale Road, at the south edge of New Glasgow is a small park with a pyramid structure in the centre. This is the Africentric Heritage Park, a touching memorial site dedicated to the first Black settlers in Pictou County.

At the base of each of the pyramid’s four corners is a rose-coloured stone engraved with the names of Black settlers. After taking time to read the names, I walked under the pyramid and read about the slavery of Africans, and the history of the Black settlers in Pictou County, including its slave history.

Parks and scenic trails

Trenton Park in Trenton, NS
Trenton Park in Trenton, NS
Acadia Park in Westville, NS
Acadia Park in Westville, NS

“Trenton Park is beautiful, and has the best ice cream”, I cannot tell you how many times locals said these words to me. Whether you go to enjoy the great outdoors or to devour ice cream from Cohen’s Cones, Trenton Park (in Trenton, next door to New Glasgow) is always a good idea.

It’s 565 acres in size, with century-old trees, ponds filled with trout, 6.5 km of trails, a public pool and a splash pad. One could easily spend half a day in Trenton Park.

On Terrace Street, close to Cameron Avenue is the trailhead for Samson Trail (named after Canada’s oldest multi-unit locomotive). The trail follows the East River on the old railbed which was used to transport coal from Albion Mines (now Stellarton) to New Glasgow.

At the Duff Pioneer Cemetery, the trail name changes to Albion Trail and continues to follow the river past the Museum of Industry to Bridge Avenue in Stellarton, where it ends. 

On the other side of the river, Pioneer Trail starts at The Monarch Marina and trails the river to the New Glasgow Farmers’ Market where it heads inland.

Stop at the lookout at Potters Brook, and walk through the Charlie Hoegg Kinsmen Covered Bridge. When you reach East River Road the trail changes name to Johnny Miles Memorial Trail. 

In Westville, Acadia Park is small and peaceful and sits atop the former site of the Acadia Mine which operated from 1866 to 1990.

After the mine closed the land was donated by the Pioneer Coal Company. The park has a playground, picnic tables, a pond, and a walking trail.  

A delicious food scene

Lobster Rigatoni at East Avenue Dining in New Glasgow
Lobster Rigatoni at East Avenue Dining
Nova Scotia Beers and Ciders at The Shoebox Cantina in New Glasgow
Nova Scotia Beers and Ciders at The Shoebox Cantina

From greasy spoons to gourmet restaurants, New Glasgow’s food scene is a delectable journey for your tastebuds. On Provost Street, East Avenue Dining, The Shoebox Cantina, and Mamatsu Fresh Asian Kitchen top many foodie lists – and rightfully so!

On the other side of the river, Tilly’s Kitchen is known for its seafood paella. 

In Stellarton, the Blue Lobster Public House is an absolute must, with its distillery and menu filled with dishes like haddock po’boys, fried chicken sandwiches, truffle fries, and steak frites. The outdoor patio is quite large with picnic tables, fire pits, and a small stage for live music events.

Near the Albion Trailhead is Ceilidh Drive-In, a greasy spoon (of sorts) that has been serving burgers for over 50 years. Donna’s firecracker personality is an added bonus.

Appleseed Modern Diner looks bland from the outside, but inside is a retro-looking diner with granny smith green banquets, and purple accents. A great brunch spot. River Run Cafe is a social enterprise cafe that’s popular with locals of all ages.

The baked goods are tasty, and the coffee is even better. Over on Archimedes Street, The Coffee Bean has good coffee and a selection of pastries and sandwiches.

For nightlife, The Dock is the best pub in town, with tons of history, character, yummy food, and beer. Shaun Beverage Room is next, followed by events at The Shoebox Cantina, and then The Spot.

Museums and Monuments

museum of industry in stellarton, nova scotia
museum of industry
smelting cauldron in trenton, nova scotia
smelting cauldron in trenton

In Stellarton, the Museum of Industry is a provincial museum covering Nova Scotia’s industrial age. The museum chronicles the history of coal mining and steel fabrication in Nova Scotia through the tools, machines, and vessels used. It’s an impressive museum with interactive displays.

See the bus which was used in the 1940s as a classroom for boys in rural areas, old cars, and locomotives. Kids can play, and adults can join in the fun as well. Honestly, you could spend a half day slowly exploring this incredible museum. 

Monuments to New Glasgow’s industrial past can be seen throughout the town. Information panels recount the story of shipbuilders and coal miners.

On the road through Trenton, a rusted smelting cauldron catches the eye, along with a rusting forging machine press, and an old CN train caboose.
For a break from all things industrial, head over to the Carmichael-Stewart House Museum.

Tucked into a quiet neighbourhood street, this large white house is a testament to everyday life in Pictou County in the 19th and 20th centuries. There’s intricate glassware, antique furniture, period clothing, photographs and knick-knacks.

A day trip to Pictou and Melmerby Beach

pictou, nova scotia
pictou, nova scotia
melmerby beach in nova scotia
melmerby beach, nova scotia

After a couple of days of enjoying the history, food, and charm of New Glasgow, it’s time to explore other parts of Pictou County. There is the lighthouse on Caribou Island and Hopewell Falls.

In the early morning, rolling fog adds a touch of moodiness, and small-town cafes make for yummy breakfast stops.

About 20 minutes from New Glasgow is the town of Pictou, the birthplace of New Scotland. This is where the Scottish first landed after sailing across the Atlantic on a ship named Hector.

Their journey is chronicled at the Hector Heritage Quay, a fascinating museum located along the harbourfront.

Water Street is the main drag in Pictou, with restaurants and shops, and Mrs. MacGregor’s Shortbread – where I almost spent all of my money.

From there, it’s off to the harbourfront for lobster rolls at the Marina Bar & Grill or Harbour House (both are quite good), a visit to the Northumberland Fisheries Museum, and a boat tour to see Great Atlantic Grey Seals. It’s easy to spend a day here, especially if you’re a foodie.

The 30-minute drive to Melmerby Beach from Pictou is totally worth it. In the early evening, the beach is relatively quiet and sinking your toes into the sand is incredibly soothing after a long day of wandering and stuffing your face with delicious food.

Melmerby Beach is one of the best warm-water beaches in Canada, perfect for an early evening dip followed by a sunset picnic.

Are you ready to visit New Glasgow?

I love destinations that are considered plan b options because they are often a true reflection of everyday life. That is why I travel. I want to see, experience, and learn about daily life in places outside my home city.

I want to find a way to connect and leave a place pondering the people and places I encountered. Travel, in my opinion, should make us think, and change our perspective ever so slightly.

New Glasgow is not the first place one thinks of when they’re planning a trip to Nova Scotia, nor is it the second or third, but it should be. This town, and the surrounding area, are the industrial backbone of the province.

They know they’re not like Lunenburg, Annapolis Valley or Halifax, and that’s fine with them. Tourism is a way to share their history and heritage.

New Glaswegians have bled, sweat, and suffered devastating losses. They’re compassionate, friendly, and have a delightfully gritty sense of humour.

Come to New Glasgow and let the town’s chilled ambiance take over. Plus, it’s only a 9.5-hour drive from Quebec City!

Finding accommodations in New Glasgow and area…

Disclaimer: I was invited to explore New Glasgow and area by Nova Scotia Tourism. The article above is a true reflection of my time in the area, and I can honestly say I hope to return to New Glasgow on my own to explore further – especially its food scene. Miam! This post contains affiliate links, if you make a purchase I receive a small commission, which is used to run this website.