On Canada’s eastern coast, souvenirs from the sea naturally dominate, but there are also fabulous, handcrafted finds to be found.
The four Canadian provinces that make up Atlantic Canada have one major thing in common—the Atlantic Ocean. People in Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have traditionally lived off the sea, catching cod and lobster, but are now finding creative ways to turn their “catch” into things visitors can easily take home. The same goes for entrepreneurs who find their inspiration from the land’s natural bounty.
Artisan chocolate can sell itself, but Peace by Chocolate also comes wrapped in an irresistible story. The town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia sponsored a Syrian refugee family that wanted to rebuild their family chocolate business all while giving back to the community and to Canada. The Hadhad family started selling chocolates at a farmer’s market just two years ago, and now runs a factory that’s poised to employ 50 people. They sell Peace by Chocolate bars and boxes of chocolates at their shop in Antigonish, in select retailers, and through the Sobeys supermarket chain. Peace by Chocolate named its first bar Wantaqo’ti, the Mi’Kmaq word for “peace.” Its Pride flag bars feature rainbow, bisexual, asexual, and trans flags.
Fogo Island Quilts
Nothing says Fogo Island quite like a handmade heritage quilt that celebrates the textile arts. At Herring Cove Art Gallery and Studio, Linda Osmond specializes in the iconic “heads and tails” salt fish pattern that speaks to the cod fishery that sustained the community for so long. She also loves the more delicate Labrador tea leaf pattern. Elsewhere on the internationally popular but remote island—at Mona’s Quilt & Jam Shop, Wind and Waves Artisans Guild, and even the United Church rummage sale—you are sure to find crazy quilts, strip quilts, Rob Peter to Pay Paul quilts, and more. Every pattern has a story, so be sure to take the time to hear it.
INSIDER TIPQuilts are an investment that typically cost hundreds (even thousands) of dollars, so consider starting small with Herring Cove’s ornament-size, hand-sewn, miniquilts that hang from twine.
Those who grew up with mittens hand-knit by family members but regret not learning to carry on the tradition will be pleased to find this particular art is thriving in Newfoundland. The Fogo Island Shop says the traditional Newfoundland honeycomb stitch signifies a good catch for fishermen, and luck or plenty for everyone else. Honeycomb mittens in every color combination and fabric are sold across the province—even in random gas stations and convenience stores. A practical variation is the Newfoundland trigger mitten popular with fishermen and hunters, which has three slots—one for the thumb, one for the index or trigger finger, and one that bundles the final three fingers together for warmth.
Named after a major mining discovery near the Inuit community of Nain in Labrador, labradorite is the province’s official mineral and shines in a beguiling kaleidoscope of blues and greens. Artisan jewelry makers work labradorite (sometimes local, sometimes from overseas) into rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, selling their pieces throughout St. John’s. Posie Row—a gift boutique and business collective called Posie Row and Company—and Whink are two favorite downtown shops.
Partridgeberry and Bakeapple Jam
Don’t discount rummage sales and small craft shops as a souvenir source, especially if you’re craving local jam. Wild partridgeberries—a relative of cranberries and popularized as lingonberries thanks to IKEA, which dollops lingonberry preserves alongside meatballs in its restaurants—make a sour-tart “jam” that’s better served with proteins than toast (they’re also often included in baked goods and artisan ice cream). Bakeapples, orange/yellow berries known globally as cloudberries, are also cherished and harder to find. Both berries are picked wild from bogs and marshes. The Dark Tickle Company sells a variety of jams, spreads, sauces, and other products made from the province’s five wild berries, which also include crowberries, squashberries, and wild blueberries.
Recycled Rope Mats
Driving through the region’s various fishing communities, especially in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, you’ll see piles of frayed rope that did serious ocean time and are waiting to be transformed into hand-woven doormats, baskets, bowls, and centerpiece-size wreaths. In Fortune, Newfoundland, one fisherman will take you to his workshop to choose a mat, and has plans to launch a mat-making experience. Craft shops are great hunting grounds for handmade recycled rope products. In Nova Scotia, nautical rope weaver Angela Worsley sells All for Knot Rope Weaving creations online and at retailers across the province.
Food tastes best when it tells a story, and Maritime Salt Makers of Canada spins a compelling yarn about its solar-dried sea salt. Two salt-obsessed friends collect jugs of seawater from their favorite Nova Scotia beach between May and October, filter it, and let it dry in salt houses in Dartmouth. Some salt is left as is, some is smoked with applewood chips, and everything is packed into small jars or cloth gift bags. Kept Gifts and Housewares in Dartmouth, and about a dozen more retailers and wineries, sell the salt. Other local sea salt is sold across Atlantic Canada by everyone from artisan companies to large commercial operators. There’s no judgment if you grab some for a last-minute gift at the airport.
Nobody predicted that seaweed gin made by the Newfoundland Distillery Company would spark such interest, but it has captivated the masses, recently doubling gold medal for flavored gin at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Lightly flavored with dulse (seaweed) harvested from the Grand Banks and proudly full of local juniper, this craft gin offers subtle hints of sea. Summer visits to the distillery in Clarke’s Beach mean gin, vodka, and aquavit can be sampled alongside locally sourced plates of sourdough bread, chutney, cheese, charcuterie, and smoked salmon. If you can’t make it to the distillery, select bars and restaurants serve this line of spirits; you can also find it sold at various liquor stores in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
For an ethical indulgence, consider Canadian caviar produced in Carters Point, New Brunswick. Acadian Sturgeon and Caviar farms Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon, and works with a small commercial fishery on the Saint John River to harvest a limited number of wild fish each year. Founder Cornel Ceapa has made a name for this sustainable, Ocean Wise–certified caviar, and smoked sturgeon pâté also travels well (although you might have trouble taking smoked fillets over the border).
INSIDER TIPAim to visit New Brunswick in July and book a spot on the company’s six-hour “sturgeon and caviar safari” or two-day “sturgeon and caviar extravaganza.” A shorter academy experience is offered year-round.
Prince Edward Island conjures up images of white sand beaches, red sandstone cliffs, and all that red earth that grows some excellent potatoes. That’s why the wooden “pens from the forest” that Sid Watts makes are so unique. Retired from a career in forest management, he now runs Watts Tree Farm, and also cares for a 100-acre mixed forest woodlot. Interesting pieces of firewood from about 20 types of trees are sized, labeled, shaped, sanded, shellacked, waxed, and turned into one-of-a-kind pens with the help of metal inserts from pen-making kits. Call them pens or call them functional art like Watts does. Select gift shops carry them. You can buy ink refills for the pens at any office supply store.