Hello again and welcome to the sixth instalment of a series of posts about my Summer 2014 roadtrip around the Maritime Provinces of Canada with my dear friend Lynne in a very old campervan / RV. You may wish to read it from the beginning.
My regular readers will undoubtedly be glad to note that I have managed to abridge my usual intro down to two sentences now!
We woke on the morning of the 23rd June to another glorious day, unexpectedly back in the excellent Dunromin’ campground in Granville Ferry, Nova Scotia which was certainly no hardship as it is superb.
The reason our stay was unexpected was that we had intended to move on the day before but had become so waylaid with the myriad historical sites in Granville Ferry and nearby Annapolis Royal without seeing them all that we decided to give it another day.
If you’d care to join us you would be more than welcome.
The day started relatively early for us and it was like Groundhog Day. We were on exactly the same pitch in the campground, hooked into the electric with an adaptor we had had to borrow from the site warden (again), I had woken up first, made Lynne coffee and woken her (again) then went for a walk down to the beautiful Annapolis River while she got ready (again). Déja vu? I’ve heard that before!
In the same way that it was no problem to be in the campground so it was similarly problem-free to sit and watch the once again flat calm waters of the river flowing into the Bay of Fundy which has the largest tidal variation in the world as I had learned the day before.
I could have stayed there happily all day and watch the tide ebb or flow. After all these years I can’t remember which it was but it didn’t matter as we had things to do. Lynne wanted to get to Digby, not too far away, but she was being a little coy as to why. I was thinking that perhaps it was that she expected me to get “stuck” in Annapolis again and we’d be back here again. Let’s find out and all will become clear by the end of the post, honestly. Would I lie to you, dear reader?
Groundhog Day ended when I left the adaptor back with the lady in the office and she bade us safe journey once more. I wonder if she expected to see us back again that evening. We even managed to get across the bridge without distraction and if that sounds like an odd thing to say then take a look at the previous post. We parked up, started walking and here is what I wrote about that wonderful activity at the time.
Go for a walk.
“I know it sounds like a very obvious thing to say about a place but taking a walk round Annapolis Royal really is a delightful thing to do. To have so much history packed into it the town is fairly compact and would only take about 20 minutes to walk end to end if you were not stopping off to see the myriad gems on offer.
It appears that just about every building here is of some historical significance and the townsfolk certainly do their best to promote that history as nearly every structure will have a small plaque on it explaining when it was built and perhaps some more pertinent information.
Many of these places are still private residences or Bed and Breakfast establishments and so not open to look round inside but the exteriors look like they have been there for centuries, which indeed they have.
Whilst it is perfectly possible to have a wonderful time just walking round unguided (there are excellent information boards everywhere), I would recommend that you pick up a copy of the self-guided walking tour brochure which is very widely available free locally. You can certainly pick up a copy in the excellent Visitors Centre as well as local campsites etc. and it will add much to your ramble round this wonderful place.
You may well wish to visit places like Fort Anne or do the lamplit Garrison graveyard tour and I suggest you do but if you are on a tight time schedule or very tight budget then a walk round this glorious little town is a free and hugely rewarding experience.
Just a slight word of warning to finish here. The locals are so incredibly friendly that you may well take much longer than you anticipated as everyone seems to want to stop and chat, and they all seem to be experts on local history. It really feels more like a living museum than the thriving community it actually is. A great place for a wander”.
What amazed me was the vast selection of architectural styles. No two buildings seemed to have been designed by the same architect or perhaps people rich enough to build houses this big were also rich enough to dictate a style to the designer.
In it’s prime, Annapolis Royal must have been a very affluent place which probably befits it’s status as the capital of Acadia and then Nova Scotia for almost 150 years. It is not hyperbole when Annapolitans (I had to look that one up) call their town “the cradle of our nation”.
In order to avoid this post becoming another monumantal chronicle like the last one I have selected a few, a very few, of the buildings to tell you about although just about every structure has a tale to tell.
Most of them are still privately owned and you obviously cannot go into them but one you can gain access to is the rather spendid bulding you see here which is called the O’Dell House and is now a Museum, a rather good one. It was named for Corey O’Dell who was rather interestingly a Pony Express rider and I can’t help but think that it must have been a very well-paid job if he could afford a pile like this.
Until I researched this post I had though that the Pony Express was a peculiarly American phenomenon but apparently not. I also knew that the Pony Express had only operated in the USA for a very brief period (18 months) until it was rendered obselete by the telegraph. The service in this area lasted only half as long between February and November 1849 and was employed for the purposes of journalism, would you believe?
Dispatches with the latest European news would arrive by steamer at Halifax and they then had to be transported the 146 miles to Digby Gut where the telegraph station was so that the news could be relayed along the Eastern seaboard of the USA. It was funded by Associated Press until, like their American brethren, the riders were put out of business when the telegraph was extended to Halifax.
I reckon that Lynne and I would not have been very good at that job. The genuine Express riders could cover the 146 miles in eight hours in the right conditions and whilst there were many changes of pony, there was only one change of rider at Kentville. They must have been tough men with excellent mounts, 70 odd miles flat out in one go.
You may remember that Lynne and I, with our trusty steed Betsy, had started from Kentville two and a half days before and we hadn’t even got to Digby yet. I don’t think we would have got the job but enough of this and back to the Museum. It is run by the National Trust of Canada and really is worth a visit. As well as being a family home the building has seen service as a stagecoach inn and a tavern, I am sure Corey would have approved.
The inside is set up as a home from the period of the mid to late 19th century and is absolutely crammed with wonderful pieces as you can see in the images.
The next building I have picked to show you is this one which I was just about to say is obviously too big to be a home but on reflection, in Annapolis Royal, maybe not. It is in fact the local Masonic Hall and in a town like this you could almost guess that it has historical significance.
During this trip I was struck by the extent of that organisation in the Maritimes although it is not really surprising given the large Scottish influence in the region. Scotland is very much associated with Freemasonry to the extent that one of the higher levels of the Brotherhood is known as the Scottish Rite.
Although the building here dates only to 1911 it houses, amongst other Lodges, the first Masonic Lodge in Canada which was formed here in 1738 by a man called Erasmus James Philipps, an officer in the 40th regiment of foot (2nd Somersets) who had been sent here to administer an oath of loyalty to the British Crown by the Acadians. They refused and this was the start of a chain of events that was to lead to their deportation from 1755 onwards.
Philipps is an interesting man who served on the Nova Scotia Council from 1730 – 1760 (his death) and who also resolved land disputes between Massachussets, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, thereby setting the boundaries for modern day America.
When I saw this next building my heart jumped a little as I thought we had discovered a pub we had previously missed but it was not to be. We could have had a drink here but only if we were guests as the Queen Anne Inn has to be the poshest Bed and Breakfast establishment I have ever seen.
The building itself was built in 1869 and has a bit of a sad history. It was commissioned by a man called William Ritchie as a wedding gift for his son Norman and his new bride Fanny but sadly poor Fanny never got to live in it as she died after ten months of marriage and before the building was completed. Understandably, Norman did not wish to live there and the magnificent new home lay vacant for a while before his Father and his wife, also called Fanny, moved into it.
Being so huge for just the two of them, they opened it as a guest house. When they died it was a parsonage (lucky parson) and then in 1897 it became St. Andrew’s School, the first private school in Canada. This too was short lived, closing in 1906, and the building again lay vacant until 1921 when it was opened as the Queen Hotel which function it performs until this day.
The last of my little collection is this beauty. If you are the postman this is 477 St. Geroge Street but if you are just about anybody else it is the de Gannes-Cosby House which I think sounds much better.
When it was built by Major Louis de Gannes de la Falaise (what a mouthful) in 1708 I doubt the thoroughfare outside was even called St. George Street. It is one of very few surviving examples of a pre-expulsion Acadian design but poor de Gannes did not enjoy it for long. The British re-took the town in 1710, he was returned to France and the house went to the British Crown.
This beautiful home then became the home of another Major, Alexander Cosby who died in 1727 although his widow lived on here for another 61 years and that is not a typo. Despite having had many owners it has always been a private home and remains so to this day. The owners have spent years, and undoubtedly a small fortune, restoring it faithfully to it’s original condition and filling it with period pieces.
That, ladies and gentlemen, concludes Fergy’s guided tour of Annapolis Royal and I hope you enjoyed it as it really is stunning but it was time for Lynne, Betsy and your humble narrator to get back on the Evangeline Trail and see what else we can see. “Hold on”, I hear you say, “I thought you said you were on Highway 1, what is all this Evangeline Trail stuff about”? What it is about is my rather clumsy way of introducing my next topic.
When I mentioned in a previous post that we were on Highway 1 I was in error as it is actually Trunk 1, a designation I had not heard of before I was looking something else up whilst writing this post. Trunk is a term I understand as in “a trunk road” but I have never seen it used as an official designation outside Nova Scotia. Most of these Trunks have names and in due course Trunk 1 will become Trunk 3, the Lighthouse Route and so on. So who’s Evangeline?
The plot revolves around the Acadian Expulsion aka The Great Upheaval when the British forced the Acadians out of the Maritimes and Northern Maine in what is now the USA. In the course of the Expulsion our heroine Evangeline Bellefontaine and her fiancé Gabriel Lajeunesse are separated and the poem details her travelling far and wide across North America in search of her lost love.
Eventually, as an old woman in Philadelphia, Evangeline is ministering to the poor and, as poetic convention almost demands, finds her beloved who then dies in her arms. Before anyone writes me nasty comments, that was not a spoiler! How could I spoil a famous poem that is over 170 years old? Only joking.
I had never even heard of the Acadians before I went to Canada, it is not exactly taught in school in the UK as it is not one of the finer hours in my country’s history. Actually, I had heard of them but just didn’t know it.
Being a folk musician of sorts I had obviously heard of cajun music and quite like it. Similarly, I like cajun food and will usually have a jar of cajun spice in the larder (great on chicken!)but I had never even thought of where the word came from.
When the poor French speaking Acadians were expelled, many of them moved South beyond the British sphere of influence to what are now the Southern states of the USA. If you speak French, try saying the word Acadian with the French pronunciation. If you are not a Francophone, the D in Acadian is soft, almost like a J so it is easy to see how Acadian became Cajun over time.
Speaking of pronunciation (pun absolutely intended), isn’t it strange how there are two ways to pronounce the word pronunciation? Maybe, maybe not and certainly not as strange as the way my mind rambles sometimes and I am regrettably stone cold sober whilst writing this lunacy.
Oops, bit of a major digression there and I swore I was off them so let’s get back onto poor old Miss Fontaine’s Trunk Road. Betsy was holding up well and plodding along steadily if thirstily (she couldn’t half drink that old girl, like a maiden aunt on the sherry at Christmas), clear blue sky, windows down, music playing and, to quote Robert Browning, “All’s right with the world”.
We accomplished our major trek, all 20 miles of it, and sort of managed to “miss” Digby which is quite a feat. Quite how we ended up on the Shore Road heading towards the St. John’s Ferry I don’t know but help was at hand and you can read about it now. This was obviously written soon after the events but I preferred to leave it “as is” rather than messing around editing it.
Get the information first.
“I have to say that in my travels round Nova Scotia (I am writing this whilst still there) I have been hugely impressed by the quantity and quality of Visitor Information Centres, certainly in season (I have been here June and July).
I understand that tourism brings in much needed revenue to an area where the fishing industry that once made the place very affluent is in somewhat of a decline but notwithstanding that they really do seem to make a serious effort at it.
I believe there is a Visitor Information Centre in the centre of Digby itself but we had managed to get ourselves a little bit lost (not for the first time!) and this one is out the Shore Road towards the St. John’s, New Brunswick ferry which probably accounts for it’s presence as it is a bit out of town.
The ladies here could not have been more helpful. Not only did they give us detailed instructions as to how to get where we wanted to go and offered to supply us with further literature (which we already had) they even took the time to assist us with a small mechanical problem we had on the RV (not the first and I suspect not the last). Service indeed for the visitor and thank you ladies.
If you are arriving in Nova Scotia off the ferry you could certainly do worse than pop in and see the excellent staff here”.
I should point out that the navigational embarrassment was entirely my fault as that was my department, poor Lynne was spending all her time keeping Betsy on the straight and narrow and getting us from A to B was supposed to be my job.
Looking back I can only surmise that I had worked out that there was effectively only one road that ran along the coast and if we followed it then we’d get where we wanted to be, wherever that may have been. Despite us having a plethora of maps from the CAA and various VIC’s I really wasn’t using them much and obviously we had no access to Google maps. I’m not even sure I had heard of such a thing then.
Suitably directed by people who knew what they were doing we had no difficulty in finding the Digby Campground and had no bother getting a pitch which was very pleasant and overlooking the water. I suppose just about everything in Digby overlooks the water, it is just a matter of picking the right window! Here is an excerpt from my notes.
” It has fully serviced pitches, overnight huts, tent sites, laundry, excellent clean showers / washrooms and all the facilities you would expect from such a place.
There is a small outdoor pool although I didn’t chance that as it hadn’t really been that warm! There is also a mini golf course advertised but, in truth, it has seen better days and looked a little jaded. I don’t think Rory McIlroy would have been impressed! Everything else was in tip-top condition however.
There is a pleasant view overlooking a small body of water and you are a mere minute or two’s walk from the sea.
What I particularly liked about this site was it’s proximity to the town and there is even a delightful (unlit) walking trail leading from the back of the site all the way into town. Many of the sites we stayed at are a considersble distance from the nearest habitation which means you have to unhook everything to drive in and the driver (Lynne in this case) cannot have more than one drink.
At this site, it is a very pleasant woodland stroll to get into town and an easy walk home although I do recommend a torch (flashlight) as it gets pretty dark there. If you don’t have one, the road is about the same distance and there is little traffic there at night”.
I was secretly rather glad about the location as it relieved my guilt trip about Lynne having to sit drinking Virgin (non-alcoholic) Caesars whilst watching me guzzling pints and so we got ready for a night in the fleshpots of cosmopolitan Digby. In my case I am guessing this would have consisted of brushing my teeth, combing my hair, which would have been blowing about all day without the benefit of a comb, and swapping my flip-flops (thongs) for trainers. Suitably smartened up, off we went.
It is a very pleasant walk into town as my notes on the campground state and we headed for the Fundy restaurant where I shall let my notes tell the tale again.
Excellent place for a drink, lovely view.
“I should preface this tip with a small caveat as I do like to report honestly. The place in question, namely the Fundy Restaurant / 98 Club (same premises) is owned by a friend of my current travelling companion Lynne called Kim and the reason we went there was to meet her and her husband Christian who both turned out to be delightful company.
I was somewhat surprised when we entered the bar / restaurant, it was late June and I expected it to be fairly full as it is supposed to be tourist season but the place was nearly empty except for a few diehards playing the gaming machines in the side room and it was even the night of a World Cup football (or soccer as they insist on calling it here) game.
We were greeted in typical Nova Scotian friendly style by a young Asian lady (of Vietnamese origin at a guess) who promptly served Lynne a Caesar with all the trimmings and myself with a very well poured pint of Red.
After a while my nicotine cravings got the better of me and so I went downstairs to the gorgeous deck area for a smoke. This area affords excellent views over the harbour which for so long was the raison d’étre of the town and to a certain limited extent still is.
Although we did not eat here, the visitor may dine either in the main bar upstairs or in the downstairs restaurant or on the decking there. There are plenty of places to eat in Digby but not too many actual pubs and this one seems to be a good choice.
The company was as pleasing as the setting and it transpired that the owner’s husband and I had quite a bit in common in various ways and so the evening became, shall we say, “convivial”.
I know this because at 0128 in the morning (I checked my image times) I obviously thought it was a really good idea to make a Greek style feta cheese salad snack to go with the bottles of very good Bulwark Nova Scotian cider they had pressed on me (did you get that? Cider? Press? I’m rambling again). Let’s be honest, it has to be better and healthier than the horrible greasy kebabs on offer for the late night drunk where I live.
Needless to say, I did not need much rocking to get me to sleep in Betsy that evening, she was really starting to feel like home.
We had managed to cover a distance today that an elite marathon runner could do comfortably in under two hours, in fact probably passed poor old Betsy on the way, but that mattered not a jot.
We had explored a most wonderful town, which in my opinion should be UNESCO listed, we had glorious sunshine, met some wonderful people along the way and spent an evening with yet more generous and beautiful people. I was with a very dear friend and fulfilling a dream I had harboured for perhaps 35 years and if life gets much better than that I would love someone to tell me how.
f you want to see if it can get any better you’ll have to stay tuned and spread the word.