When Nova Scotia was Twinned with Africa

When I turned 60, that number looked big; but when I listen to my thoughts or look into my heart or look around me I feel much, much younger. But even if I were turning 100 it would still feel insignificant after our journey in 2011 to a magical place in Nova Scotia that is 350 million years old.

Slate cliffs are partly buried.

I’m talking here about a little-known place called Blue Beach near Hantsport Nova Scotia.

Originally I wanted to go to New York for my birthday but as it turned out it was way more affordable to jump in the car with a very tasty picnic lunch that Larry had prepared and drive two hours up the valley past Wolfville, to visit the fossil beach that our visitors last month told us about.

Fossil hunting.

Years ago Chris Mansky and Sonja Wood bought 20 acres of woods with a shale cliff overlooking the Avon River that empties into the Minas Basin and then to the Bay of Fundy.

Larry searches the beach.

Their beachfront was loaded with fossils–and I mean loaded; almost every stone you pick up has something embedded in it. They created a museum for the collection called the Blue Beach Fossil Museum.

Low tide reveals treasures.

Over the years they’ve learned a lot about paleontology and they’ve developed a museum to display some of their more spectacular finds. Chris spends his days cataloging the discoveries and documenting them and is in contact with paleontologists and scientists around the world who recognize what a significant and unusual beach it is.

They formed a non-profit society in 2011 to protect and promote Blue Beach and to apply for funding to help in its future research.

On our way down to the beach we chatted with a couple in their 80s who were just leaving. I mentioned that it was my birthday and the woman broke into song serenading me with the happy birthday song! It was very touching and very Nova Scotian!

Typical of sightseeing in this province in off-season, we would only run into one other couple during our 3 hour visit.

Larry and I spent three hours alone on the beach studying the fossils and watching the tide recede to reveal ever more pieces. The fossils are in the shale deposits that are in a constant state of erosion.

The strong tides reveal new treasures all the time but they also take away the 350 million-year-old evidence of the rich life that happened on this beach when it was still part of – get this – Morocco. Yes, that would be Morocco, Africa. Because at one point when all the continents were together and called Pangaea, most of Nova Scotia was a piece of Africa fused with some of Scotland.

An ancient ripple, frozen in stone.

So I learned a couple of things on my birthday. I learned that 60 is a teeny, tiny number and that our existence is shorter than the flicker of a firefly in the summertime; and that even our Bear River used to be part of Africa.

The churning waves turn the salt water brown with silt and slowly dissolve the fossils.


On their website Sonja and Chris list the unique qualities of Blue Beach:

A. The world’s oldest and largest collection of tetrapod bone fossils dating from the Earliest Carboniferous interval known as “Romer’s Gap” (more than 500 specimens).

B. Recognized as earth’s earliest known assemblage of terrestrial tetrapods, showing a well-established population and previously unsuspected level of diversity with at least six species.

C. The oldest and largest collection of Carboniferous Tracks on earth (with over 1,700 specimens)

D.  Soon to be the most completely known and important fossil Rhizodontid fish in the world (over 2,000 specimens)

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Here is an article about the importance of this beach:

Blue Beach fossil finds are bridging gap in evolution timeline:

Kings County finds helping to solve mysteries in fossil record from 350 to 400 million years ago

And here is another article about a primary student who found the only fossil in the world of a horseshoe crab.

Blue Beach fossil first of specific horseshoe crab

One of a kind find has captured the interest of scientists from around the world


21 thoughts on “When Nova Scotia was Twinned with Africa

  1. Blue Beach is one of my favourite “go to” places in Nova Scotia. I wish it was more widely known. Typical of Nova Scotia that we don’t tout this marvellous place and give it the tourist push it deserves.

    I spent Christmas Day there with a chum. I time my visits for three hours after high tide and that gives me six hours of beach time and even more exposed beach. I love it there and am nutty for fossils.

  2. Dear Flora:

    Happy birthday. I think age is
    as old as one feels more than anything else.

    My mother is aging gracefully and is teaching
    me that how she feels inside never ages.


  3. Hi Flora,

    Happy Birthday girl. The video of you touching the stones made me
    miss you so much. You are so elegant in your scarf, and the way your
    hands move over the stones — so you! It is one of the miracles of
    this age we live in that we get to see that. But also it makes me
    realize how very much I miss having my wonderful artist friend in town.


    1. Awww Barbara…….you are too sweet! I miss you too and I wish this country was a little smaller. I hope we get to see you and Steven out here this summer. xoxoox

  4. What a beautiful, inspiring post! A belated happy birthday to you Flora on your 60th! I have always been fascinated by fossils so Blue Beach sounds very much like a place I would love to visit one day – after I recover from from my recent bout of flu that is ha ha.
    xo, Marcia

  5. A belated “Happy Birthday!”, Flora – very best wishes! It’s a good age, 60. Thanks so much for this interesting blog post and extra links. Friends were just telling me about this fascinating place, but couldn’t recall the name. I like the way you celebrate your birthdays!

  6. Happy birthday and thanks for the fascinating peak and geological lesson. Out of Africa indeed!
    I recently listened to a very good audiobook by Tracy Chevalier called Remarkable Creatures. It is a fictional account of two real 19th century women who played important roles in paleontology of the time. It also got thinking about the things that are on our beaches. Just near us there are these shells of huge (1-2 ft across) clams that you can clearly make out when you stand there but very hard to take a coherent picture. They apparently were once at the bottom of the ocean….hard to realize how much things change.

    1. Siki, Thank you! Where are those clam fossils? The book sounds good.
      I see that my local library system has that book available. Thanks for the suggestion..I’ll put a hold on it.

  7. Happy Birthday Flora !

    I know where I’ll be going on my next road trip.

    I love fossils and the images of the ripples frozen in time are wonderful.

    1. Sybil, aren’t those ripples something else? It is the strangest feeling to hold a rock in your hand that is telling such a clear story that is so ancient. I love it too!!

  8. Who needs to go off for an expensive vacation, when we live in such a beautiful area? For my 60th Birthday, we went to Joggins, a good distance up the Bay of Fundy. I handed realised that there was such a special place at Hantsport, a bit closer. We will have a trip over the valley one week-end and walk that really interesting beach. Thank you for your Blog.

    1. Jackie isn’t it true that there is so much yet to see in this province. I like the small size of it too because it’s actually doable! We still haven’t been to Joggina nor have we been to lots of other places. Home is pretty wonderful too. Thanks for reading!

  9. Hello Flora,
    Arved Fuchs was in Your home last year…today I read on the website of “arte” that the documentary was on TV in March. The stream on arte isn’t online anymore. Have You got a copy of the documentary? If not, I can ask the company who produced it for a copy.
    Greetings from Germany, Margrit

    1. Hallo Margrit,
      I would really like to see the documentary and if we or Rob Buckland could get a copy, that would be wonderful!

  10. Thanks for sharing your birthday visit to Blue Beach – it was almost like being there! And a very happy birthday, albeit belatedly!
    Blomidon is in several of your pictures – it is an iconic landscape feature to those of us who live close to it – and appears and re-appears everywhere in local art, from the lovely lightcatcher I have in my kitchen window, to the focal point on the quilt that is my Gravatar. Attending a funeral several years ago in the historic church of St. John(circa 1760’s) I was glancing around and my eye lit on a stained glass window with the theme of the Good Shepherd, and lo and behold – He was tending His sheep in the shadow of Blomidon!
    So typical of Nova Scotia’s attractions – when I was a child, if there were people on a beach we went on to the next one, as that one was “too crowded”.
    Enjoy spring now that we finally have it!!

    1. Janet, hi!
      I had to laugh at your comment that: “when I was a child, if there were people on a beach we went on to the next one, as that one was “too crowded”.” That is soooo true!!
      And I hadn’t realized that was Blomidon in the distance. Thanks for that information. Aren’t there so many magnificent landscape markers in this beautiful province. My artist friend Barbara Muir who has a schoolhouse near Pugwash is close to a beach with red sand. Her paintings often include this, which I thought was an exaggeration looking at them years ago in Toronto. It was like stepping into one of her paintings when I finally got to visit her there. What a contrast to the grey slate beach at Blue Beach!

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