Experiential tourism is a growing trend globally as travellers around the world become interested in experiencing something that connects them to the place they are visiting. I recently explored Clam Harbour, on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, beginning my day at Memory Lane, a historic 1940’s village. The crew of locals that operate this heritage site have come together to offer a unique attraction that will no doubt bring curious “clammers” to the harbour.
I tagged along with a group of folks from Ontario eager to get their feet wet and fill their buckets with clams. We all met at Memory Lane then drove into Clam Harbour from there. About fifteen minutes later a 5th generation clam digger and his father led us on a very unique adventure. They taught us the skinny on how to earn our clam diggin’ legs.
How it’s Done
A safety lesson came first. Always make sure your digger is claws down. Very important. Next, rubber boots are optional. Both Darcy, and his son Lucien went all in. The soft sand of the ocean floor is very inviting, but watch for shells of course.
The next lesson came when we were informed that you have to go out a certain distance to find the right clams. Conserving the industry is important. The clams closer to shore need more time to grow. Clams have to be at least 2 inches in diameter or larger if you want to put them in your bucket. You can get a $364 fine from the department of fisheries and oceans if not. Darcey was prepared with a perfect measuring instrument attached to our diggers.
As Darcy and son demonstrated how to dig, we all marvelled at how easy they made it look. It takes some practice for sure. But I got the hang of it. The hour we spent on the clam beds went by fast. Not only did we get down and dirty, Darcey gave us a history lesson and shared stories about growing up in a clam digging community. “My grandfather would nail his digger to the wharf and let the ocean currents wear away at the blades to help make them sharper for next season.”
Clam Harbour’s Past
Back in the 1940’s Clam Harbour was a roaring canning community. Men, women and children all pitched in to take advantage of the boom in canned seafood. Buildings were constructed close to the water’s edge to ensure that the freshness of the clams could be preserved; they were cleaned, shucked, and packed for travel across the ocean. The clams were either steamed and hot-canned, or they raw shucked them and fresh packed them in cans surrounded by ice. New England Clam Chowder became a thing because of Nova Scotia clams. Most wholesalers took the clams from Clam Harbour right at the wharf and then put their own labels on them before travelling.
Darcy pointed out where the old factories and buildings used to be as we took little breaks in between looking for good spots to dig. “Stomp your feet,” he said, “it helps you uncover the little holes that direct you to where the clams are.” Those slippery suckers spat their clam juice at us, which of course made us all chuckle. We got to know each other a little out there on our dig. I enjoyed hearing all about where they have been and where they were going next, with so much to discover in Nova Scotia.
What did come next was a wonderful feast of steamed clams waiting for us back at the cookhouse in Memory Lane. This heritage property works with the local clam diggers to create a well rounded clam digging and eating experience. With a set up straight out of the 1940’s, visitors cannot help but to feel like they took a big step back in time. We welcomed another visitor to our table to join us as we ate together. We had more clams than we could possibly eat, especially after filling up on the most delicious baked beans ever; except for my nans of course.
We all dipped and double dipped our clams in warm butter, chatting about what we would do with the bucket full we each had in our cars. Bring a cooler if you want to take some home. Darcy helped us out a lot with our catches, making the trip to the shore well worth it. My clam diggin’ legs did not seem to think so the next day. Maybe some light stretching before digging is in order for next time.
Visit Memory Lane online for clam diggin’ dates and ticket info.