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Hello From Nova Scotia – Driving On The Evangeline Trail From Annapolis Royal To Yarmouth

I had really enjoyed my breakfast at the Garrison House B&B in Annapolis Royal, but my second day of explorations had begun and no time was to be wasted. I had a big drive ahead of me and my first quick stop was at Fort Anne where I met Alan Melanson, the Parks Canada Ranger and expert historian who had guided the entertaining and informative Candlelight Graveyard Tour last night.

He had promised me yesterday that he would show me the Fort Anne Heritage Tapestry, a collect...

Canada, Nova Scotia, Evamgeline Trail, Maritime, Mi\'kmaq, Acadians

I had really enjoyed my breakfast at the Garrison House B&B in Annapolis Royal, but my second day of explorations had begun and no time was to be wasted. I had a big drive ahead of me and my first quick stop was at Fort Anne where I met Alan Melanson, the Parks Canada Ranger and expert historian who had guided the entertaining and informative Candlelight Graveyard Tour last night.

He had promised me yesterday that he would show me the Fort Anne Heritage Tapestry, a collective effort of more than 100 volunteers who brought 4 centuries of history to life. 95 different colours of Persian wool were interwoven and stitched to form a historic tableau that is unique in Canada. It is about 18 feet long and 8 feet high and even Queen Elizabeth herself, on one of her travels to Canada, made a few official stitches in this tapestry. Alan himself, as a 9th generation Acadian, added to the artwork by stitching a few drops of red blood in the section on the Acadian deportation.

Pressed for time I thanked Alan and made my way to another unique facility in Annapolis Royal: the Tidal Power Generation Station. Les West who works in the tourism office located on the main floor of the power plant, gave me a quick half hour introduction to the only tidal power generating plant in Canada, one of only two in the world. Les explained that Nova Scotia uses a variety of electricity generating methods, including oil, gas, hydro, wind and tidal power. Its topography with its low-lying hills is not perfectly suited for hydro generation, so during the 1970s, when oil prices were really high, the government devised plans to take advantage of tidal energy.

The Annapolis Royal site was chosen due to its high tides and a permanent causeway was built across the Annapolis River. A stainless steel straight-flow turbine was installed by a Swiss engineering firm and from 1980 onward tidal energy was taken advantage of. Today the Annapolis Royal Tidal Generating Plant produces enough energy for about 4500 homes in the area. More power is brought in as back-up when the tidal power plant does not produce enough energy.

Les also explained that the construction of the power plant and the permanent barrier in the river has had significant effects on the eco-system in the Annapolis River: the river has silted up considerably and sediment builds up at a rate of about 6 inches a month. Because of the significant ecological consequences of this construction it is unlikely that a similar project will be built in the future. However, electricity-generating projects that do not create permanent barriers may still be considered in areas of strong tidal current flows. Lessons have been learnt from the realization that even though tidal power in theory is a renewable, green source of energy, the design of the power plant can still have a major effect on the local environment.

It was time to say goodbye to Annapolis Royal after an interesting 20 hours or so in this historic region and make my way westwards towards the Bear River Heritage and Cultural Center where I would receive an interesting introduction to Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaq culture (written up in a separate article). I set off on my coastal drive through rolling green hills whose colours were just changing. Tidy little villages such as Upper Clements and Clementsport were flying by until I turned northwards into the Bear River reserve for my visit at Bear River Cultural and Heritage Centre.

After my two hour introduction to native culture in Nova Scotia I set off again on my westward drive and enjoyed the beautiful views along the meandering Bear River. I linked up with the coastal road again and slowly made my way into Digby, a local fishing town and a major settlement in the area. I parked my car and decided to take a quick stroll through Digby on a beautiful sunny and warm afternoon.

Digby was settled in 1783 by the United Empire Loyalists under the leadership of Sir Robert Digby. The town’s economy is based on two major industries: fishing (Digby is famous for its scallop fishing fleet) and tourism. As early as the late 1920, a big resort called The Pines was built on the outskirts of town, and to this day Digby is a popular tourist destination. One of the major attractions in the area are the world’s biggest tides in the Bay of Fundy. Digby also hosts an annual Scallop Days Festival which introduces tourists to the history and heritage of the town.

I strolled along the waterfront and noticed the many waterfront restaurants that specialize in so many of Nova Scotia’s marine delights including lobster, crabs, shrimps, scallops and various types of fish. I had a quick soup and salad at the Shoreline Restaurant and enjoyed my lunch with a nice view of the waterfront. Less than an hour later I hopped back into my car to continue my journey to Yarmouth.

The coastal road turned into a highway which I exited at St. Bernard where one of Nova Scotia’s biggest stone churches is located. I had entered the St. Marys Bay area which ended up being the final settlement area for many of the Acadians, French settlers who had been deported as part of the Great Expulsion in the mid 18th century. After having been deported all over North America, many Acadians returned to Nova Scotia over the following decades. Although they did not settle in their original agricultural farming areas, as they had been assigned to English settlers, many Acadians located their permanent residences along the northwest shore of Nova Scotia and became fishermen.

The Acadian settlers were devout Catholics and many villages boast magnificent churches, many of them made from wood. One of the finest examples is St. Mary’s Church at Church Point, the largest wooden church in North America. Its bell tower is an impressive 56 metres (185 feet) high. The Centre Acadien de Université Sainte-Anne is located right next to this church, and it is Nova Scotia’s only French language university, right in the heart of Acadian culture.

The entire region is called Clare and denotes the Acadian heritage area. Acadian culture is celebrated every year in August when the world’s oldest festival, the Festival Acadien de Clare, celebrates Acadian heritage, traditions, food and music. The Musique de la Baie festival takes place every year from April to August and celebrates Acadian culture and folklore.

Further south, the village of Mavillette boasts a special attraction: a 2 km long sandy beach that attracts swimmers, surfers and sunbathers. Boardwalks across the grass-covered dunes provide access to Mavillette Beach which offers a great view of the Cape St. Mary’s fishing wharf and lighthouse. A bird-watching platform provides a good view of various indigenous and migratory birds.

As the late afternoon sun was starting to cast long shadows I made my way further south and drove along the rocky, sparsely treed coastline and decided to follow a curvy road without knowing exactly where it would take me. Fog was rolling in and the sky was becoming more ominous. As the road came to a dead end I realized that I had arrived at the Cape Forchu Lighthouse, with its rare apple core design, which is situated on a dramatic coastline with interesting rock formations.

The first lighthouse was constructed here in 1840 in order to protect vessels entering the Yarmouth Harbour and today the complex is a historic site. The little museum and gift shop were closed and the lighthouse appeared rather lonesome on its rocky outcropping. The dense blanket of fog gave it a very mysterious appearance.

It was starting to get dark and it was time to drive into the town of Yarmouth where I would be able to settle in comfortably for the evening at the MacKinnon-Cann Inn, a unique historical property. Time to check in…

 

Hello From Nova Scotia – Local History Discovered At The Yarmouth County Museum

On a dull drizzly morning I got a good start to my day with a filling breakfast and an interesting interview with the innkeepers of the MacKinnon-Cann in, followed by a tour of the four historic heritage properties that they own. In addition to last night’s walking tour of Yarmouth, I had now got a good idea of Yarmouth’s Victorian architecture. Now it was time to delve deeper into history, so I embarked on my visit of the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives.

Nadine Gates,...

Canada, Nova Scotia, Chebogue River, Maritime, Yarmouth, Museum

On a dull drizzly morning I got a good start to my day with a filling breakfast and an interesting interview with the innkeepers of the MacKinnon-Cann in, followed by a tour of the four historic heritage properties that they own. In addition to last night’s walking tour of Yarmouth, I had now got a good idea of Yarmouth’s Victorian architecture. Now it was time to delve deeper into history, so I embarked on my visit of the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives.

Nadine Gates, the curator, welcomed me and gave me a personal tour throughout the facilities. As an overview she explained that the Yarmouth County Museum is a good representation of Yarmouth’s past. The town’s seafaring history is a major focus of the museum which features the third largest collection of ship portraits in Canada. More than 120 different ship portraits illustrate Yarmouth’s historic importance in shipbuilding and navigation.

The Yarmouth County Historical Society was founded in 1967, and the museum opened in 1969 in a former church building. Beautiful wooden beams across a high vaulted ceiling demonstrate the former ecclesiastical use of this building. The museum has been expanded twice in 1999 and 2004. The new wing we were standing in is called the Education Wing and hosts a variety of Historical Society meetings, talks and lectures, music recitals and other events and is open to the public. At the present time it is hosting a stained glass exhibit that features local artists.

From the Education Wing we entered the main section of the museum which is an impressive space with a very high ceiling. The main exhibit area (the former church) still exudes a solemn atmosphere. Nadine took me to an area called “Families at Sea”. Throughout seafaring history, particularly at the beginning of the previous century, entire families would be living on tall ships, and souvenirs from their trips all over the world were displayed here along with photos and letters of the various family members whose permanent residence was a wooden vessel on the ocean. A certain Catherine Ladd, for example, spent the first twelve years of her life living on a ship, and her artifacts are available for viewing.

Nadine also gave me a general explanation of Yarmouth’s history. The town was founded in the 1700s as an Acadian settlement whose residents were deported in the mid 1800s as part of the Grand Expulsion. Some Acadian settlers tried to escape deportation and hid in the forest with the Mi’kmaq native tribe. United Empire Loyalists were then assigned the land, and their economy focused on ship-building. This was the Golden Age of Sail, the Age of the Tall Ships. Today’s economy is based on fishing, and in particular lobster fishing. Interestingly, Nadine pointed out that years ago lobsters were only eaten by poor people and often they were used as cheap fertilizer in local gardens. How tastes change….

One area of the museum also features nameplates of ships. The most prominent and well-known one is the nameplate of the “Samson”. This ship was the closest ship to the sinking Titanic during the cold April days of 1912, and she heard the mayday calls of the sinking ocean liner. But because the Samson had been illegally fishing in the waters off Eastern Canada, the crew chose not to answer the distress call and left the area. We will never know how many more people could have been saved if the Samson had responded to this distress call. She was later renamed the “New York City”, a name that is still visible on the other side of the nameplate.

The Yarmouth County Museum is located right in the heart of Yarmouth’s Collins Street Heritage District. In addition to being a heritage property itself, the museum is surrounded by dozens of large homes owned formerly by wealthy sea captains and merchants. The Pelton-Fuller House next door was built as a summer home between 1890 and 1895 as a mansion for Alfred Fuller, a wealthy merchant, and was donated by one of his descendants in 1995 together with all its contents. Today it is part of the museum complex and an example of Victorian living.

The Yarmouth County Museum has another off-site satellite location: the Killam Brothers Shipping Office is Canada’s oldest shipping office. In 1788 John Killam built his first schooner and started a family business that would span 203 years and five generations of the Killam family. The property was also donated to the Yarmouth County Historical Society, and the 19th century setting gives visitors an idea of a commercial office of the 1900s.

One of the highlights of the Yarmouth County Museum is the lens of the Cape Forchu Lighthouse which dates back to 1908. The lens weighs approximately 3300 pounds and has 360 prisms. It was built in Paris, France, at a cost of $38,000 and was lit with kerosene. The job of a lighthouse keeper was very strenuous since a heavy tank of kerosene had to be carried up the narrow winding stairs of the lighthouse every night. The original Cape Forchu Lighthouse dating back to 1838 was replaced in 1962 at which time the lens was replaced and donated to the Yarmouth County Historical Society.

A Victorian room features a variety of historical customs and dresses as they would be worn by people about 120 years ago. Types of dress of first class, second and third class passengers were on display and speak to a time of great social divisions and class distinctions. A temporary exhibit features the silhouettes of Victorian fashions.

On the lower level of the museum various rooms display an early 1900s kitchen, a bedroom, and a nursery / toy room. These rooms provide good insight into late Victorian home life. The next room features industrial exhibits and machinery: a transmitter from a radio station, a coffee grinder and a printing press illustrate the evolution of mechanical equipment. A brass steam whistle from the Cosmos Cotton Mills is an example of industrial equipment that was used to call employees to work.

A room with various Nova Scotian wildlife scenes is followed by a forge. The blacksmith used to be one of the most important people in the village and his work environment is featured along with other implements such as a yoke (the contraption fitted around a draught animal’s necks where the plough would be attached). An early Acadian loom is testimony to the craftsmanship that existed here a few hundred years ago. A tool room features a foot-powered jig saw. Today we can hardly imagine an existence without electricity. Our ancestors were well-versed in the application of human or animal power to propel various types of equipment.

Several glass cases display antique glass and china collections while Mi’kmaq artifacts and arrowheads provide insight into native history and craftsmanship. Back upstairs we had a look at the antique musical instrument collection of the Yarmouth County Museum. Nadine demonstrated the Olympia Music Box, a device from 1898 that uses zinc disks for each song. A barrel with teeth plucks the various notes, propelled by a spring-loaded mechanism.

The musical instruments section was a real highlight of the museum and Nadine mentioned that usually they demonstrate three of the instruments to visitors. A Concert Roller Organ from 1902 is an example of some of the mechanical instruments that were used long ago. This device, patented in 1887, is operated by cranking the external handle. The internal bellows, tuned reeds, valves and a roller produce organ-like tones. The Square Grand Piano dates back to 1874 and a Player Organ from 1890 is also on display.

My favourite instrument was the Pianola Player Piano, manufactured in 1902: the rectangular box is pedal-operated, and a set of tiny hammers at the back strikes the keys of a Guild “Square Grand” piano made in Boston in 1874. The Player Piano could simply be pushed up to any piano, and even a person who had never played the piano before could make beautiful music. All they had to do was to push the foot pedals up and down. Nadine played the 1920s tune “The Entertainer”, the music itself is recorded on perforated paper rolls which actually looked rather fragile to me. The foot pedals operate a bellows system that operates the little hammers that play the tune on the piano behind it. What an ingenious invention….

A small display area is dedicated to the Yarmouth militia, attesting to Yarmouth’s history as a military training ground during World War II. All throughout this wing of the museum numerous ships portraits depict impressive tall ships of years gone by. The ship owners would commission these paintings because once these ships were built and commissioned, they hardly ever came back to town, and in many cases the owners would never see the ships again.

We ended our tour in the new section where there is a collection of stage coaches, bicycles and other vehicles. One of the highlights in this area is the 1921 electric car of a certain Minnie L. Lovitt, who was the first female driver in Yarmouth. She must have turned a lot of heads at the time. My guided tour had come to an end and I thanked Nadine for sharing her knowledge with me and got ready for my trip along the famous Lighthouse Trail where I would experience a significant incident that helped me gain important insight into the local mentality.

 

Hello From Nova Scotia – The Garrison House Bed And Breakfast In Annapolis Royal

After last night's entertaining and informative Candlelight Graveyard Tour I had a wonderful night of sleep at the Garrison House. In the morning before breakfast I was already able to log onto the wireless network to check all my messages, conveniences that a writer on the road always enjoys. At 7:30 I was ready for a hearty breakfast and I went downstairs into one of the dining rooms. I requested one of the friendly waitresses to put me in touch with the owner because I alw...

Canada, Nova Scotia, Garrison House Maritime, Bed and Breakfast, Halifax

After last night's entertaining and informative Candlelight Graveyard Tour I had a wonderful night of sleep at the Garrison House. In the morning before breakfast I was already able to log onto the wireless network to check all my messages, conveniences that a writer on the road always enjoys. At 7:30 I was ready for a hearty breakfast and I went downstairs into one of the dining rooms. I requested one of the friendly waitresses to put me in touch with the owner because I always like to learn about the people behind the destinations.

I had just ordered my delicious breakfast: homemade organic granola with berries and yogurt, when Patrick Redgrave, the Garrison House’s owner, joined me at my table. Patrick first filled me in on the history of the Garrison House: it was built in 1854 on the former grounds of the Lieutenant Governor. Annapolis Royal is one of the most historic towns in Canada and served as Nova Scotia’s capital until 1749 when Halifax took over that role.

The property became the “Temperance Hotel” from 1854 to 1870 when it was turned into the “American House” from 1870 to 1920. Then it was purchased by a physician with a large family who converted it into a medical practice until 1970 when another individual turned it into a bed and breakfast. Patrick finally bought it in 1980 and spent more than a year renovating the entire property and brining it up-to-date. This meant completely rewiring the building, redoing the plumbing and modernizing the seven bedrooms and the common areas that today make up the restaurant.

The Garrison House finally opened in 1982 and since then the property has undergone minor transformations on a regular basis. Most recently a porch has been turned into a screened-in veranda, providing a beautiful open-air dining space with a perfect view over Fort Anne.

Patrick himself is not from Nova Scotia. I was surprised to hear that he actually hails from Oakville, Ontario, and spent his early years in Toronto where he went to school. He later attended university in Kingston, Ontario, to study history and political science. His original intention was to become a lawyer, but during one of his trips to Europe, Patrick worked in vineyards and as a waiter, and fell in love with French wine. After his return to Toronto in 1977 Patrick connected with individuals who were opening the first wine bar in Toronto and, enthralled with this business, Patrick decided to get into the wine trade and became a wine merchant.

Of his move to Nova Scotia in 1980 he says that it has been a wonderful experience. In his words, the people of Nova Scotia are a “throwback to the old values of civility, friendliness, openness and helpfulness. People here are self-reliant and multi-talented.” Patrick’s love for his chosen home town and its people shines through.

He went on to say that the tourist season here consists primarily of summer and fall. Accordingly, the Garrison House is open from early May to late October. During the past few winters Patrick has been traveling a lot and he has visited places as far away as Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. He has fallen in love with these places and feels that in many way people’s mentality in the Far East is similar to that of Nova Scotia.

As far as food is concerned, Patrick is a consummate chef and his restaurant has garnered various awards. Fodor’s has recommended the Garrison House Restaurant as the best place to eat in the area. I certainly enjoyed my dinner last night where I had a chance to speak with the other chef, Norah Folks, who has been working with Patrick now for the last 20 years.

His trips to Asia give Patrick new inspiration for his own restaurant. Patrick loves Asian street food and refers to his culinary experiences as an “assault on the senses”. He indicates that the richness of Asian cuisine and the opportunities to learn about cooking are extensive in Asia and could in theory be compared to the Caribbean. However, the cost of an extended stay in Asia is much less expensive than that of the Caribbean.

So during the last few years Patrick has chosen the Far East to recharge his batteries and to come back to Nova Scotia with fresh ideas for his restaurant. Along the way he has not only learned about Asian cuisine, but has also gained a good understanding of the various South East Asian countries, their history and current state of development. He recounts visiting a French colonial town in Laos, which is just starting to develop its tourist infrastructure. There he found some of the best French baguettes in the world. He also told me about a French fusion cooking school located in Laos. Obviously Patrick is committed to continuously innovating his cuisine.

Of his home in Nova Scotia he says that a lot of new people are moving into the area. Many people from the British Isles and the European mainland are moving here and buying a lot of properties. When speaking of his personal choice to become a bed and breakfast owner in Annapolis Royal he said that you definitely do not come here to get rich, but you get rewarded in so many other ways. Patrick has discovered a unique historic area with special people and a special mentality.

I would soon have a chance myself to see more of this special region by continuing my drive along the Evangeline Trail down to Yarmouth. So I thanked Patrick for his time and hospitality, packed my car and set off on a new day of discoveries…




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