Little piece of Caledonia

My partner, Hannah, and I had been discussing embarking on a wintertime Nova Scotian adventure upon my arrival to the province, having both recently become Haligonians seeking a change from rainy Vancouver, BC. Hannah arrived into Halifax at the end of the summer and I had been tying up loose ends in Vancouver with plans of joining her on the East Coast few months later. I arrived just in time to witness a snowstorm, East coast style with plenty of wind and heaps of snow. Given the stellar snow conditions we set our minds on spending a few days snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the wilderness of Kejimkujik National Park. The park intrigued us; a wild enigma nestled in the center of southern Nova Scotia, with all sorts of novel maritime flora, fauna and topography to explore. We knew nothing about the park or surrounding area other than where it lay on a map. Thankfully a quick Google search of “Kejimkujik National Park” and “accommodations” came to the rescue. We were neither outfitted for winter camping nor interested in big budget lodging, and well, sleeping in the back of our cute little Toyota Yaris was never an option. A number of Bed and Breakfasts and lodge type accommodations were listed but exceeded our budget when dining out was added on. Then I found a link for the Caledonia Country Hostel, located only 17 kilometers from the Kejimkujik Park gates. I called the hostel and spoke with a friendly woman who introduced herself as Sharon. She explained her rates: the standard affordable hostel rate of $25 per person or $60 per private room with full access to the kitchen. She detailed how to get there (and advised the quicker route that Google Maps disregarded), and how she could arrange to have a local resident who rents snowshoes and ski drop off equipment at the hostel for us. This was sounding pretty ideal! Sure enough when we arrived at the Caledonia Country Hostel we were greeted by a mid-aged couple, Sharon and her husband Dan, wearing smiles and welcoming us like old friends. Being mid-winter, the hostel was surrounded by piles of shoveled snow and icicles glistening off the eaves above the front porch, creating a classic country effect far from the soggy edifices of Vancouver. The wood paneled home was painted white like the other classic looking homes in this small town and surrounding rural landscape. Sharon was the more outgoing of the two, engaging us in conversation while Dan opted to remain smiling in the background, industriously working away outside, snow shovel in hand. Sharon wasted no time educating us on the local scene. She astutely gauged that we were nature enthusiasts and informed us of a monthly presentation a few kilometers down the road being presented at the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute later that evening. Within minutes of arriving we had a warm bed, our bearings, and a plan for the evening. It was a truly warm welcome. We told her we were new recruits from BC and she went on to tell us her story. She and Dan are also transplants, having moved to Caledonia from BC three years ago to be close to family. For years they had been planning to retire from their careers and run a guesthouse of sorts. After extensive travel and various lodging experiences they had decided that creating a hostel was their vocation. It catered to a different crowd, more varied, less posh perhaps, more their type of people. Lloyd Jones, a Thunder Bay, Ontario Hostel manager himself, once wrote an eloquent essay titled “A Spiritual Guide to Hostelling” that Sharon models her own philosophy after. He asserts that increasing xenophobia – or fear of strangers – in our society has created a sort of paranoia of each other that has tarnished what true hospitality ought to be. He describes how a hostel acts as a spiritual refuge for travelers seeking a ‘free and fearless space’ to be amongst other travelers and receive an open, non-judgmental form of hospitality. We were inspired by this piece that Sharon shared with us and it grew obvious that she and Dan were working to exemplify this sort of hospitality in their own hostel. The dedicated pair also has a full sized van that Dan drives to help serve the area with a much needed taxi service, enabling hostel guests without vehicles to access more attractions throughout the area. The Caledonia hostel is situated between inland Kejimkujik National Park and National Heritage Site and coastal Kejimkujik Seaside, both of which we managed to explore during our visit due to this ideal location. The Hostel has been getting busier since its inception three years ago. During summer the scenic route on which the hostel is located is a popular cycle touring route making it an ideal stopover point for overnight cyclists. Throughout the year university students, researchers, and travelers come to stay at the hostel to take advantage of its ideal proximity to Kejimkujik National Park and the greater Tobeatic Wilderness Area that extends from the park. In wintertime, with snow falling, skiers and snowshoers flock, mostly from nearby larger urban centers and universities, to enjoy an active recreational weekend away. Summer offers boundless outdoor adventure opportunities in the region from cycling, hiking and boating to fishing, bird watching and sightseeing. The entire upstairs of the house is devoted to guests. Two separate rooms with bunks and double beds, one private room, a large kitchen, and an entertainment/living area. A world map hanging in the spacious kitchen, soft from the use and touch of countless hands, echoes stories of the many who have visited with colorful pins marking the origins of guests come and gone. Sharon and Dan have made this space a transient home for a diverse collection of inhabitants speaking to the open door and vibe of the Caledonia Country Hostel. Their abode has a humble, heritage home feel to it, well suiting this historic region. Everything is well cared for and maintained and kept clean and fresh. Guests are free to come and go as they please through their own entrance via a code enabled door lock at the back. For me the Hostel served as a base for my third and fourth nights in my new province of residence and a great way to welcome me to my new home and reconnect with Hannah after months of a long distance relationship. The hostel gave us the freedom and space for us to become reacquainted in a warm hospitable environment amidst a vast beautiful landscape. After spending a couple lovely nights at the Caledonia Country Hostel Hannah and I are inspired to one day start a similar venture based on similar principles. But for now we have other adventures to be had and more hostels to visit. We plan to return to the Caledonia Country Hostel on our next visit to Kejimkujik National Park and look forward to visiting Sharon and Dan and exploring the region extensively, in our new home – Nova Scotia. To learn more about the Caledonia Country Hostel visit http://www.caledoniacountryhostel.com or call (902) 682-3266 toll free 1-877-223-0232