Communities around the Bay of Fundy have always been proud of their unique geological heritage. With a new UNESCO geopark designation, the rest of the world is starting to discover the area’s majesty.
Nova Scotia’s first UNESCO Global Geopark began to take shape in public meetings in bingo halls, community centres and fire halls all along the Fundy and Cobequid shoreline in small places like Bass River, Economy, Advocate, Port Greville and Parrsboro.
John Calder is one of the driving forces behind the Cliffs of Fundy UNESCO Geopark. Into his fifth decade as a geologist and an award-winning scientist, Calder is still in awe of how the Bay of Fundy shoreline tells the tale of North America’s separation from Africa in the distant past — it’s one of this planet’s best examples of strategic geology, hearkening back to when the supercontinent Pangea was formed 300 million years ago and broke apart 100 million years later.
But first, Calder and Tim Fedak, then curator-director at the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro, had to convince the people who lived there that the geopark proposal was a good idea. The two set out on a road show to garner community support.
“Geoparks are supposed to be a grassroots, bottom-up-led venture,“ says Calder. “If the community, and that includes the Indigenous community, doesn’t support an idea like this, then it’s just an idea.
“In every one of those meetings, we had pretty much unanimous support from the people who turned out.”
The Mi’kma’ki Elders’ Advisory Council also gave their support on behalf of regional First Nations, on whose ances- tral land the park is based. This later extended the geopark’s boundaries to include the Mi’kmawey Historical Site in Debert, pegged at being at least 11,000 years old. (www.mik-maweydebert.ca)
“I’m proud to say not a single non-Indigenous person [at the meetings] showed any reluctance to us giving the Mi’kma’ki storyline the place it deserves,” says Calder.
“We were and still are working to give this shoreline an identity.”
For Devin Trefry, research, policy, & community engagement officer at the Municipality of Colchester, the geopark idea was the perfect tourism hook to promote the area. “It was an ‘Aha!’ moment,” he says. “Finally, we had a tool that we could use to shine a spotlight on this part of Nova Scotia — the geology, the highest tides and the Indigenous story all coming together.”
Today, the Cliffs of Fundy Geopark is one of just five UNESCO geoparks in Canada. As the geopark’s website points out, the massive Cobequid Fault provides a formidable backdrop to help tell the story of a supercontinent breaking apart. The locals in places like Economy, Parrsboro and Apple River say if the similarity in soil and rock sediment between the park and parts of Africa don’t impress you, the fact that the global geopark is home to the world’s highest tides just might tip the scale.
But establishing a geopark meant welcoming a quarter of a million new visitors every summer — an influx that some feared would place restrictions on resources the community now enjoyed. Trefry says he and his geopark-boosting partners were quick to allay people’s fears about stringent controls. “We wanted to make the greater community understand what they were getting — that this would not place restrictions on community life.”
Anita MacLellan has managed the welcome centre in the village of Economy for 27 years. She says the geopark has been a welcome development for the area, and that many visitors in the summer of 2022 were amazed at the Cliffs of Fundy story. “When you say: ‘these red sands that are here in the geopark are the same red sands that are in Morocco,’ it just blows their minds. So you take them through the time periods and bring them forward to today, and they are really excited when they leave — they really are.”
July, August and September of 2022 — the first partial summer of anything close to a normal tourism season since the pandemic hit — became the Cliffs of Fundy Geopark’s first “test season.” It produced a host of visitors who came to explore the scenery, natural attractions, history, geology and the Cliffs of Fundy lifestyle.
MacLellan says she appreciates how the temporarily-housed Cliffs of Fundy Discovery Centre in Lower Truro has been sending people toward her facility, at the geopark’s halfway point. Already, plans are in the works to replace the temporary centre with what MacLellan calls “a magnificent new building, pedway and trails along the river leading to Cobequid Bay and the Cliffs of Fundy.”
MacLellan says combining the draw of the new Discovery Centre with plans for the new Mi’kmawey facility in Debert is going to be the “icing on the cake” for history and geology buffs, and for the geopark itself. Debert is believed to have been home to Indigenous Peoples more than 10,000 years ago, making it an important partner for the geopark.
The geopark is already proving to be a boon to businesses in the community, according to Calder. He points to tour- ism-focused businesses such as Nova Shores Kayaking, which rents kayaks to visitors who want to view the Three Sister Rock Formations along the Minas Basin at Chignecto Park.
Since its official launch in 2020, the geopark has risen quickly onto the world stage. The excitement is already leading to improved signage and name recognition for the Cliffs of Fundy. “People have been coming into our welcome centre and asking us about the geopark over this past sum- mer,” says MacLellan. “In the summers before that, we used to have to explain to them what it was.”
She’s predicting that as the new facilities near Truro, Debert, Parrsboro and other locations take shape over the next few years, the Cliffs of Fundy destination will only grow stronger.
Calder agrees. “Ten years from now, the Cliffs of Fundy Geopark will be almost as well-known as the Cabot Trail,” he says.
Cliffs of Fundy Facts
The Cliffs of Fundy UNESCO Geopark consists of more
than 40 geosites spread over a 165-kilometre drive. Some of the park’s impressive highlights include:
The best geographical example of how supercontinent Pangea was formed and broke apart.
The site where the oldest dinosaur bones in Canada were discovered. The highest tides on Earth.
A magnificent landscape that is sacred to the Mi’kmaw, with great significance to their culture and traditions.
A place where one of the largest outpouring of lava in Earth history is exposed.
The earliest known inhabited human site in northeastern North America.
An important area in the history of the Acadians.
A textbook example of an ancient rift valley system
A place that inspired the landmark work of Charles Lyell and
Site of the earliest documented exploration for minerals by European explorers in the early 17th century.
To find out more about the Cliffs of Fundy Geopark, visit fundygeopark.ca Caleb Grant Geoscientist firstname.lastname@example.org