Hello again everyone and welcome to another episode in my journal regarding a road-trip I made with my friend Lynne around the Maritime Provinces of Canada in the early summer of 2014. We were in an agéd but remarkably comfortable campervan / RV called Betsy and if you want to read the whole tale from the beginning then just click on this link.
If you have read the preceeding entries you will know that we had spent the first night of our little adventure in a campground in Granville Ferry called Dunromin’, which is an awful name, although probably toungue in cheek (I hope) but is a great place to spend a night. A quick glance out the window showed that it was a glorious day and we had nothing planned so what to do with it? If you wish to know, then please read on.
By way of fair warning at this point, this was a busy day and you know what that means with me, this is a very long post so you might want to skip it (please don’t, it took me ages) or else get yourself comfy.
I am not breaking any confidences here and I know Lynne does not mind me writing this as she speaks openly about it and it is in the public domain from the Virtual Tourist website we both contributed to before it was shut down. Lynne and I both have fairly erratic sleep patterns, insomnia, call it what you will, which in itself would not be a problem if we could manage to sync them. Somehow we never manage to but as we have both been like this for years we just get on with it.
For our first night in Betsy (we had not even had a test run at home) I slept like a baby and have you ever considered how stupid that expression is, like so many in English? “I slept like a baby”, does that mean that I woke up every four hours hungry, red faced, screaming and soiled? Actually no. What I mean is that I slept very well as Betsy was remarkably comfortable in all respects and I can easily understand how people choose to live in RV’s permanently.
I woke first and Lynne was sleeping like a….. well, like a contented sleeping person so I got up, grabbed my kit and went off to the immaculate wash block to sluice my weary old bones, which is Fergyspeak for having a shower. I wouldn’t normally include an image of a showerblock unless I was writing a travel review but I want to give you an idea. I got back and put the kettle on for coffee as Lynne, like most North Americans, is coffee mad and I shall tell you about her Tim Horton’s addiction another time.
I woke her with the coffee which is nowhere nearly as chivalric or even romantic as it may sound as it entailed me standing at the worktop, turning through 180° to wake her and hand her the mug, RV living really is that intimate, especially in a 23′ rig. In the next RV we got, which was configured slightly differently, one of my great joys is to sit on the bed whilst cooking dinner – bliss!
Choose your travel companion(s) with great care!
To give Lynne time to get sorted, I went for a walk round the campground I had only seen, if that is the correct word, in the dark the night before and I wandered down to the water which I had found so wonderfully peaceful the night before. In the daylight on a flat calm day it was utterly gorgeous and I hope my image does it justice.
I could see now that it was not a lake as I had surmised but a river, the Annapolis River to be precise, which was a major transport artery in Nova Scotia right into the 20th century with ships navigating as far upriver as Bridgetown.
The French Acadians, who we shall meet later and often, under Pierre Dugua (the first permanent French settler in Canada) and Samuel de Champlain (founder of Quebec) settled the riverbank here in the early 17th. century and named the river the Rivière du Dauphin for the heir apparent to the French throne. We shall find out how that name got changed very shortly, there is lots of history for you in this episode.
Looking over to my right I could see an impressive bridge with a modern building at the nearer end of it and I wondered vaguely what it was but didn’t pay too much attention to it. I was too busy appreciating the beautiful surroundings. I was to find out what it was soon enough and so shall you, dear reader, it is impressive.
I was surprised how quiet the campsite was as there were plenty of vehicles there but everyone seems to have been doing something indoors or gone out for the day or, I don’t know what ese. I had a bit of a walk round and my first favourable impressions of the campground were confirmed and probably enhanced, it is a great place. I have included a few images here to give you an idea. At the time I thought we had hit lucky and Lynne had chosen well but it was to be a feature of the whole trip how good Nova Scotian campsites are.
I am not sure what time checkout is at Dunromin’ but I am sure we were beyond it when we finally got ourselves packed, every hatch well battened down to avoid another “crockery incident” and we were rolling. There was no demur whatsoever from the lady on reception when we returned the borrowed adaptor, drove out the gate and turned left.
We turned left as we had come from the right so it seemed pointless to go back and I obviously don’t remember an exact conversation after all these years but I can easily imagine it. Lynne: “Where are we heading to today”? Fergy (shrugging and pointing out the front windscreen at the road), “Wherever that takes us”. I know it infuriates Lynne and that is genuinely not the intention, neither is it done for effect but she gave up asking after a few days. Having now travelled together in five countries on two continents I think the poor lady is resigned to it now.
Where the road did take us was in a sweeping curve round to the left towards the bridge I had seen earlier and that was about as far as we got because I saw the sign you can see above. Interpretive Centre open 10am – 6pm. It is 1300 now, “Lynne, pull in, will you?” This is another of Lynne’s many skills, she has great reflexes and so in we pulled without even having to turn round.
I don’t want readers to think that I just bark orders at Lynne all the time, it isn’t like that at all, I wouldn’t dare! After a quick consultation we parked up and went exploring. As we walked towards the strange building I had seen before I looked half a mile back upstream and saw the shore I had been standing on two hours before. I remember thinking that if that was all the distance we had travelled before stopping that we weren’t going to get far, poor Betsy wasn’t even warmed up. I am in no way clairvoyant but……………..
When we went into the building we were confronted by the Visitor Information Centre and here is what I wrote about it at the time.
“When we walked in we were greeted by a delightful chap called Jack who was a veritable mine of information about the town and surrounding region. He was backed up in this by a very extensive collection of free literature to assist the visitor.
We had a great chat and his typical Nova Scotian hospitality extended to him inviting me to join his group in Granville Ferry that night for a music session once he had found out I was a musician of sorts. Now that is what I call visitor information.
This is an excellent place and a credit to the town, I do suggest you visit”.
(2021 edit. The VIC has now re-located to the King’s Theatre in town during the season).
A phenomenal piece of technology.
I am going to start this piece with a few facts that frankly astounded me when I learnt of them on my visit to the Annapolis Tidal Generating Station which is what it is about.
The Bay of Fundy has the largest tidal variation in the world, averaging an incredible 47 feet. This huge tide means that tens of billions of gallons of water pass through here every day and that amounts to more than the output of every single freshwater river in the world. Even now, some time later, I find it difficult to comprehend as the figures are so gargantuan.
What all this means is that Annapolis is perfectly situated for the generation of tidal power which is obviously renewable and eco-friendly, factors which seem to be becoming more and more important. Fossil fuel will inevitably run out but, if anything, the tides will get larger due to global warming, melting icecaps and so on.
Recognising the immense potential for green energy, a tidal generating site was proposed several decades ago. Work began in the early 80’s and the station started generating in 1984.
When you get the talk from the chap in the display room upstairs it is hard to imagine that this is effectively still a test project albeit one that does function practically and supplies enough energy to the grid to supply many thousands of homes in the area with it’s 20Mw. output.
The energy generating company are extremely anxious to stress their environmental credentials and community involvement which is probably partially a reaction to what was, I believe, a fairly negative local reaction to the plan initially. Amongst the environmental measure they have put in place are fish runs so that the salmon can get upstream to spawn and then return to the sea.
Another fascinating project is relocating osprey nests from the top of power poles which seem to be a favourite nesting spot for these birds. When you consider that the nests can measure as much as 13 feet across it is some feat. The company erects large poles specifically for the purpose and whilst some birds nest there of their own volition other nests are physically moved by trained specialist teams under conditions which cause minimum stress to the birds.
There is a good example of the scheme in operation visible from the carpark of the generating station itself as there was a nesting pair with a young one in a nest on one of the “artificial” poles. You can see one of the birds in the image. I apologise for it’s quality but I only had my compact camera with me and the lens would not reach the nest itself so this is one of a nearer real pole. Hopefully it will give an idea though. They were quite magnificent and are the provincial bird of Nova Scotia.
The display room has only a few information boards and exhibits but there is always a member of staff there and this is where the interest is. There is no guided tour nor set times for talks, the chap just greets you and starts chatting informally which I liked. Certainly, he is an employee of the power company and there to put a good spin on things but he did seem genuinely proud of the facility and the responsible attitude of his employers”.
That was an interesting start to the day and we had not even got into town yet. A quick look at the tourist literature we had picked up showed that Annapolis Royal was definitely worth a bit of investigation but, and there’s always a but, half of the interesting stuff was on this side of the river, the Granville Ferry side and so we did no more than head back the (short) way we had come.
Instead of turning right back towards the campground we turned left down the very aptly named Historic Lane and drove a couple of miles downstream until we came to where it all started, Port Royal where we parked up and had a look round although there did not seem to be much to see initially except the scenery which was still in the process of amazing me but, here’s that but again, we just had not walked far enough. A bit of a walk round was pleasant enough and we got there in Betsy soon after.
Back along the road but not far until it was stopping time again, brought to a halt by another carpark with a sign indicating a modest admission fee and a hut serving as a ticket office which, as you can see looked distinctly shut. I’ll explain why later. Might as well just have a look round then although there was nothing obvious to see. Here is what happened.
“Were the visitor not given very comprehensive details on various noticeboards then he or she might think that they were just waking along a fairly short and pretty path in the Nova Scotian countryside with lovely views over the Annapolis river that indeed would merit a visit by themselves. Then they find the settlement.
What the Melanson settlement actually represents, although now a reconstruction, is a very important piece of Acadian / Nova Scotian history and an archaeological site of considerable importance albeit that it has not yet been fully excavated.
To start at the beginning, which is usually helpful, we have a man called Charles Melanson dit La Ramé, son of a French Hugenot father and English mother who was born in England. About 1644 he married Marie Dugas who was French Acadian and they began a settlement on the site. Melanson died in 1700 but not before fathering 14 children, many of whom stayed on in the settlement. (2021 edit: you will meet one of his descendants later in this post).
There were some other families there although the community never exceeded more than about one dozen households. All this came to an end in December 1755 when the British expelled all the Acadian French from Nova Scotia in the “Great Deportation”.
There are a number of things that make this site so interesting. Firstly, it survived on a system of dyke agriculture which was common in coastal France at the time and brought to North America by a man named d’Aulnay. By this method previously unworkable land was rendered productive utilising a clever system of dykes and sluices. The area around the Annapolis river is the only place in North America where this was practiced at the time.
From the historians point of view the site is of further value due to the amount of contemporary documentation pertaining to it. This was brought about by it’s proximity to Annapolis Royal which was the administrative centre of the region. Becuase of this, the historians and archaeologists have been able to piece together a detailed picture of what pre-expulsion Acadian life was like.
Whilst it may look fairly spartan accommodation, artefacts from as far away as China have been found here indicating a reasonably comfortable lifestyle. This relative affluence reflects the importance of the Melansons as one of the premier families in Acadian society.
After the deportation the place was left uninhabited for some years and one English military officer remarked on the trees over-laden with unpicked fruit on one occasion.
Eventually New England settlers came and re-commenced work on the dyke agriculture but they did not build on the previous site, instead preferring to build along a road slightly uphill which has left the original relatively undisturbed. Some Acadians eventually returned but not many.
We were still no more than two miles from where we started so surely we could get across that bridge and go and have a look at the lovely town we had thus far seen only in the brochures. You would think so and it is time for our old friend Mr. but again. I think we would cover a lot more mileage if I wasn’t so damned observant! The but this time was a sign indicating the North Hills Museum.
You can probably guess what happened next there then and what is going to happen here now. I did warn you it was going to be a long one and I haven’t even found a pub yet – YET I said. This section includes an explanation for the Melanson site not being fully open.
A lovely time capsule.
“In Nova Scotia there is an odd practice of closing all provincially administered sites on Sunday and Monday (even in high season) and so we were very lucky that we were able to gain admission to the North Hills Museum in Granville Ferry on a Sunday in late June 2014. This was due to it being a special anniversary and was a one-off event but I am glad it happened as it is well worth seeing.
As the title of the piece suggests, this Museum really is a small time capsule in an old typically constructed Nova Scotian wooden farmhouse that was built in 1760. It is not, however, the original artefacts of the house that make it what it is but rather the private collection of an avid antiques buff called Robert Patterson who acquired the place in the 1960’s.
By profession he had been a banker but had always had an interest in antiques an on his retirement he opened an antique shop in Toronto specialising in English items, specifically English Georgian furniture, ceramics, silver and glass and what you see here today is one of the finest collections in Canada. I hope the images do it justice”.
Unsurprisingly I was having a serious Kodak moment which I hope you enjoyed. Now, back to that damned bridge. I was going to get us across it one way or another and, would you believe it, we finally managed it! I think I must have been in a state of shock as I didn’t take a single image crossing the bridge, which was impressive as I had suspected, and that is most unlike me.
We had finally escaped Granville Ferry after nearly three hours, two historic sites, a Museum and a technological wonder so surely things would calm down a bit now. I have to report, dear reader, that the whole day was only getting started, if you can believe that.
Driving into Annapolis Royal is like driving onto a film set as you will see. We had no problem parking up and jumped out to go for an exploration. Out of habit I locked the door on Betsy although I would say that if we had left her wide open nothing would have been touched, it is that sort of place. Here’s what I wrote.
Fascinating history in a beautiful setting.
“Annapolis Royal is a most beautiful town situated on the Southern bank of the river named for it. It is incredibly clean and tidy with some delightful historic buildings but the present day atmosphere of a sleepy little tourist destination belies the often violent history of the site which is actually the most contested piece of land in North America.
Originally a Miqmaq native area, it had it’s first exposure to Europeans in 1605 when a site a little way away from the modern town was settled by the French and named Port Royal. It took a mere eight years for the fighting to begin and it was destroyed by the British in 1613.
Following this victory, Scottish settlers arrived in 1629 and established a community on the present site which they named Charlesfort but that did not last long and it was handed to the French in 1632 following a treaty. Once again, the French named their settlement Port Royal.
Subsequently there were no less than 13 attacks / sieges with the place changing hands seven times. The British renamed it Annapolis Royal (as the namesake city in USA) in honour of the reigning monarch, Queen Anne, and they similarly named the impressive military base Fort Anne.
In 1711 the French, assisted by the local native people again laid siege to the Fort but were unsuccessful. Further sieges and attacks followed but the British finally held sway.
The next period of note was the time immediately following the American Revolution when there was an influx of Loyalists fleeing North from the USA. Annapolis Royal flourished with the extra populace and in the 19th century it enjoyed a brief heyday as a shipbuilding centre, although the advent of steamships put paid to that as the waters were not deep enough for that industry. The town was incorporated in 1893.
The visitor today will find not siege and bloody war but a most charming community with some of the friendliest people imaginable. Complete strangers will stop to chat in the street and tell you about the history of the place. It seemed to me that every resident of the town was an amateur tour guide.
Some years ago it was voted the world’s most liveable small community and I am not surprised. It really is a tremendous place and I do recommend you visit”.
The first place we headed for was Fort Anne and the title of the next section tells you everything.
Such a shame it was closed.
“I have mentioned before the ludicrous practice in the Province of closing all provincially administered attractions on Sunday and Monday, except in very high season which regrettably started two days after my trip there. For this reason I missed out on perhaps the jewel in the crown in Annapolis Royal namely Fort Anne, the historic military structure which dominates the town. I really do wish they would rethink this absurd policy.
I say I missed out and this is largely speaking true as I did not get inside the fort nor see any of the many demonstrations staged by re-enactors but even a walk around the outside was sufficient to give me a sense of the place and gain a small insight into the history of it, and what a history there is.
Allow me to share a little of it with you here briefly, although the attached website does a much more thorough job.
“The area surrounding what is present day Annapolis Royal was originally settled by the French in the early 17th century where they lived peacefully with the indigenous Miqmaq people. In 1621 King James VI of Scotland and I of England granted a charter for Scottish settlers to come here and it is from this that the term Nova Scotia derives, that being the Latin for New Scotland.
The settlers arrived on this site in 1629 although the settlement did not last long as it was handed to the French in 1632 following a treaty. The French returned under Charles d’Aulnay and it is these settlers that later evolved into the Acadian people that are still in the region to this day n numbers of about 300,000.
On their return, the French set about developing the rather basic Scottish fort and, under the supervision of an officer called de Labat, they constructed the star shaped fort much as it is seen today. It served as the administrative capital of the region until 1710 when the British forced a French surrender following a seige.
Whilst there was some friction between the British, French and Miqmaq inhabitants of the area, things didn’t really come to a head until the 1740’s when there were several attacks on the fort, the friction leading eventually to the expulsion of the Acadians from the region in 1755.
The First Treaty of Paris in 1763 brought the violence to an end when the French surrendered all their lands in North America (except a couple of small islands) to Britain.
The Fort became Canada’s first national monument in 1921 and has been beautifully preserved. A walk round the star-shaped bastions affords delightful views over the river and town and it is easy to see how defensible it would have been in the age of musket and sword”.
What surprised me a little about the Fort was that it is in what I would call the Dutch gable style although I am no expert and I do not believe this was common British military practice at the time.
Adjacent to the Fort was the inevitable graveyard and I had to stop for a look round with my interest in both graveyards and military history.
“The proper name for the cemetery is the Garrison Cemetery denoting it’s use for those garrisoned in the fort and their dependents and ancillary workers and it seems that the life here was regrettably short judging by some of the inscriptions.
Sadly, many of the stones are now suffering the ravages of time and the sometimes brutal climate here but it is apparent that serious efforts at conservation are being made (lead flashing on top of some of the stones etc.) and hopefully it will have the desired effect”.
Lynne and I had been told locally by some of the unpaid local tour guides I mentioned about a lamplit tour of the cemetery after dark and had it been highly recommended. Something to think about.
As I was looking round the Garrison Cemetery I couldn’t help but think about another such place I had been in Kandy in Sri Lanka not four months before. I wrote about it here.
It was so much the same and yet so different. From the oppressive heat of a Sri Lankan summer, tropical diseases and even death by elephant to the brutally cold Canadian winter with it’s different dangers, the one constant was the completely indiscriminate nature of death. The Grim Reaper did not distinguish between officers and enlisted men, wives and children, civilians and soldiers and the poor British squaddie and those close to him were dying for centuries all over the globe. It was certainly food for thought.
The Provincial Government may well close historic monuments but they can’t close a whole town down although perhaps they can under 2021 virus regulations. In the halcyon days of 2014 Annapolis Royal was as open for business as my jaw seemed to be most of the time. I know my description of it as a film set is probably not strong but I cannot think of a better. It even had the tiniest lighthouse I have ever seen. Have a look and judge for yourself.
If I tell you that it was now gone 1700 regular readers will have noticed an omission in the narrative, lengthy as it has already been. What happened to “beer o’clock”? By this point I was wondering much the same thing so that was the next order of business. Besides that, we needed an O Group which is Forces talk for what civilians might call a planning meeting.
At this latitude and with a clear blue sky we had had at least four hours light left which, even allowing for Betsy’s modest pace would allow us to put a few miles behind us. We needed a plan (yikes, a plan) and a pint would help my thinking processes. We chanced upon the gorgeous bikes you can see and I just had a feeling we were close. I had set my “beer nose” to seek mode and it never fails me. Here is what happened.
A brilliant, historic, friendly pub.
“Annapolis Royal has many attractions and I commend them to you but what it appears to be slightly short of is pubs. There are plenty of restaurants, many of them licensed but the vagaries of the Nova Scotian licensing laws mean that you have to eat there if you want an alcoholic drink. This seems to be the case in much of the Province, a lack of places just to go for a drink. I am not sure if living here would suit me, delightful as it is.
It was with a glad heart, therefore, that I happened upon the Olde Towne Pub, just off the main riverside street. My friend and I wandered in to be greeted by a most friendly member of staff and if pushed to pick one word to describe this place it would be that, friendly.
Nova Scotians really are hospitable people and in no time flat we had been engaged in conversation by the barmaid, the manager and at least three of the customers. A return visit by myself the next day (almost obligatory I felt) prompted the same scenario. I genuinely felt like I had been a local there forever, great atmosphere.
There is a good selection of drinks and I plumped for a pint of the red ale which seems to be very popular in Nova Scotia and for which I was developing a great liking. My companion had a Virgin Caesar (Bloody Mary without the alcohol as she was driving) and pronounced it very good.
Although we didn’t eat there, I saw a lot of food served and it looked very good and well-presented with the advertised prices about average for the area.
I suppose it would be easy for this place to let standards slip and rely on it’s monopoly position but it most certainly does not. It is a very comfortable place with spotless washrooms and I can do no more than to recommend it highly”.
Yes, the bikers were in there as I had suspected and now time for the O Group. What were the options? We could press on or we could stay basically and herein lies the joy of my style of travelling. We had nowhere we had to be and nothing we had to do bar what we felt like.
We certainly had not seen anything like all of Annapolis Royal and there was certainly plenty to see. There was the undoubted attraction of a torchlight cemetery tour and / or the music session Jack had invited us to and which it seemed rude not to attend, we knew a very good campsite not two miles away (yes, that was how far we had got on our roadtrip) and so it was not much of a decision really.
The sequence of events now is a bit of a mystery to me and it has nothing to do with the beer. Obviously we must have eaten as we had nothing since breakfast and I know we went back to the campsite. The lady was a little surprised to see us but allocated us the same pitch and lent us the adaptor again.
I am guessing I must have cooked as, if we had eaten out, I would undoubtedly have taken images to write about the meal. I know we went to the music session and I remember performing although I have inexplcably not got any images and my notes mention that I was offered a gig at some future date which I obviously had to decline. I know we ended up at the cemetery tour but how we managed all that in the timeframe is a mystery to me. Lynne, if you read this, can you help?
Here is what happened at the cemetery.
“We arrived at the front of the Fort at 2130 that evening to be greeted by a chap I now know as Alan Melanson, an Acadian gent who can trace his lineage back to the 17th century and the very earliest French settlers in this area. Melanson, incidentally, is a very common Acadian surname.
Alan was dressed, as he explained, in Victorian mourning dress, and then he proceeded to give us an absolutely fascinating tour of the cemetery pointing out all the major graves of particular note.
Principal amongst these was the oldest English gravestone in Canada dating to 1720. I have included an image here taken in daylight the next day. (2021 edit: it is the middle one of the three images above). I did not take any images on the tour itself as my small compact camera would not have yielded good results and I did not want to ruin the torchlit atmosphere by using flash.
Regrettably, several others did not see fit to extend the same courtesy to the rest of us. If I have one minor quibble with this excellent tour, and it is minor, it would be that. I really think that flash photography should be banned as it detracts greatly from the excellent ambience Alan builds up.
Just a note to those with children. You may think this would be frightening for kids but there were several on the tour we did and they seemed to enjoy it greatly, it is not a ghost tour as such. Alan is an excellent raconteur and, if anything the tour tends slightly towards humour rather then terror”.
We really enjoyed Alan’s tour and he is the descendent of the settlers I mentioned meeting what seems like about 300 paragraphs ago now so you’ll be glad to know, I am sure, that we are done for the day. It was a day that ended exactly where it had begun and had taken place in a very small radius and yet I think you’ll agree it was a fantastic day out, I certainly thought so.
Ridiculous as it may sound, we are not even finished with Annapolis Royal yet so if you want to find out what else we can possibly find to do, stay tuned and spread the word.