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On my Canada East Coast road trip to the Maritimes I spent two nights in the town of Amherst, Nova Scotia.
Amherst is a hidden gem in Nova Scotia.
I was surprised by this lovely little town and I’m glad I discovered it!
Let’s take a look at this beautiful town in Nova Scotia!
A Visit to Amherst, Nova Scotia
One of the first towns across the border from New Brunswick is Amherst. It’s the largest town in Cumberland County with a prime location on the Trans-Canada Highway.
It’s home to a number of small and large businesses that support the community. There’s a well-preserved town centre with a number of small shops, boutiques, and cafes.
The city centre remains quiet at all times with most people living in suburban areas outside of downtown.
Amherst became a popular place due to its strategic location in the center of the Maritime Provinces.
People heading to Prince Edward Island or making their way into New Brunswick have to pass through.
Businesses started to sprout up to support the growing transportation industry and a community grew.
A Quick History
The town was originally established in 1764 more than 3 km to the west in a different settlement.
The current location of the town became the popular choice once a gristmill and tannery were built nearby.
With the other settlements starting to lag behind, a community of Acadians moved the current town area.
Near the end of the 19th century a rail line was built. This encouraged growth and the first industries in town were built near the rail station.
In downtown many of the well-preserved buildings are from this time period. These were built when the local industries were booming and locals were becoming wealthy.
Look closely at the details.
Many of these buildings were built using local workers and local materials. You’ll see a lot of sandstone and brick – two raw materials that are readily available in the surrounding area.
The attention to detail also shows how skilled the local craftsmen were.
At the beginning of the 1920s large companies and manufacturing plants began to shut down. Others would transfer to different locations in Quebec or Ontario.
Amherst began a decline that would continue until the 1960s.
Thankfully, the Trans-Canada Highway was being built nearby. The city built a large industrial park to accommodate the newly built highway.
This helped partially revitalize the town.
Today, the biggest employers in the town are located at the industrial park.
The success of larger industries and businesses has had a noticeable impact on Amherst. Over the years many small businesses have shut down or left the area.
In the historical center you’ll notice a number of empty storefronts and abandoned businesses.
What does the future hold for Amherst? I’m excited to find out…
Today, Amherst is a sleepy town close to the border of New Brunswick.
It’s right beside the Trans-Canada Highway making it a popular choice for tired travlers.
Outside of the town centre is a large commercial and industrial area.
This is where you’ll find the Walmart, Canadian Tire, Atlantic Superstore, Sobey’s, Giant Tiger, and the other big box stores.
In the historic downtown there are independent shops and locally owned restaurants.
The Best Things to Do in Amherst, Nova Scotia
Amherst is a wonderful place to visit.
You don’t need much time to explore the town, just an hour or two should be enough.
There is a plenty of free parking downtown. If you can’t find anything for free then drive a few blocks into the residential streets. There’s a lot of free parking available.
When it comes to things to do in Amherst you’re bound to find a few things to keep you occupied.
Let’s take a look at some of the best things to do in town if you’re visiting for a short while.
Street Art and Murals
Throughout the town center are a number of different murals and street art exhibits. They’re fun to find and add a much-needed touch of color to the cityscape.
When you’re walking around the center keep an eye out on the backs and sides of buildings. This is where you’re going to see the murals.
If you’re having trouble finding any just ask anybody walking around.
A few locals stopped and pointed me in the right direction when I was on my own search for the different murals in Amherst.
The Historic Downtown
The entire downtown area of Amherst has maintained its historical layout and it’s full of picturesque architectural features. There are a number of well-preserved department stores, churches, banks, and city buildings that you can check out.
The main historical area is on Victoria Street. There isn’t much walking involved as the town is small and easy to explore.
Don’t forget to walk up and down a few of the side streets.
There are some other historical buildings in the area and you might even find some more murals.
When you’re done walking around on Victoria Street I recommend making your way up the street towards the main residential area.
There are some beautifully well preserved Victorian-era homes in this neighborhood. It’s close to the downtown and it’s definitely worth exploring to see the architecture.
The Farmers Market and Local Gallery
Depending on when you visit you might get lucky with a farmers market. The market usually runs on the weekend but I’ve heard of that there are sometimes markets going on through the week.
At the farmers market you’ll be able to pick up fresh local produce as well as a variety of other foods made or harvested nearby.
There are some art galleries in Amherst that you can check out if that’s your thing. I’m not sure if there are any museums but there is a town archives that you could visit if you want to learn more about local history.
Dayles Department Store
You can’t miss Dayles Department Store in Amherst when you’re walking around the historical downtown.
Once you reach the end of the commercial area you’ll notice the large department store at the end of the block. This is the Dayles Department Store and it has been a fixture of the local community since 1906.
For 110 years Dayles served the local people as a department store. Unfortunately, in early 2016 the store was shut down and from 9 months it sat being unused.
Thankfully, local small business owners wanted to give it another chance and Dayle’s was transformed into the Maritime Mosaic. The old department store building is now home to 5 different businesses and the future looks hopeful for the marketplace.
Today it’s known as the Dayles Grand Market and there was a lot of hope that this most recent renovation is the spark that the community needs for forward motion.
The exterior of the Dayle’s building is well-preserved and features a very recognizable department store layout. It looks similar to the Bay department store building in downtown Toronto with the large windows and red brick design.
If you get the chance try to pop into the building. There’s an original wooden staircase that has served the store and it’s visitors for more than a century!
Take a look at the different shops that you can find inside. If you see anything you like don’t hesitate to support the local economy!
Where to Stay in Amherst
I spent two nights at the beautiful Apothic Inn.
This is a beautiful B&B located two blocks from the historic town center.
Check out my Apothic Inn review for a better look at the property.
Inside this completely restored Victorian home from 1870 are three private rooms for guests.
A full breakfast is included. It’s a 5 minute walk to the downtown area.
The Apothic Inn makes for a great base for exploring Cumberland County.
Take a look at the Apothic Inn if you’re planning a visit to Nova Scotia and you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Amherst!
More Photos of Amherst