5/28/22: Saint John, NB-Canning, NS via Digby Ferry-Annapolis Royal & Valley

Family and friends,

Steven and I have become big fans of ferries so the chance to take a ferry from the port city of Saint John, New Brunswick, over to Digby, Nova Scotia rather than driving the very long way around as we’d done before was a big lure. It also meant that we’d be able to see far more of the famous Annapolis Valley including historic Fort Anne than if we’d spent the day cooped up in the car. I think the additional ferry cost was far outweighed by a new journey and new sights, especially since in a month or so we’d be driving all the way back through Nova Scotia and past Saint John.

All the best to you and your loved ones, Annie

Steven and I had only spent a couple of nights in New Brunswick as our goal was to head on to neighboring Nova Scotia where we had “people and places to see” as the expression goes. It was rather sad that New Brunswick has become known as the ‘pass-through province,’ i.e. between the more well-known Quebec and Nova Scotia, as we were also following the adage of just going through New Brunswick to get to our ‘real’ destination.

If you know your Canadian geography at all, it’s a long haul to drive from Saint John to the eastern end of the province and then through a huge chunk of Nova Scotia to reach that province’s North Shore. That’s the cheaper alternative by far but we chose instead to take the ferry from Saint John across the Bay of Fundy to Digby, Nova Soctia, as it was just a two-hour ferry ride and we love ferries!  It would also mean we could spend some time touring Nova Scotia’s famous Annapolis Valley located on the North Shore. 

The ferry was called the Fundy Rose, named for Rose Fortune, a Black Loyalist born into slavery who came to Nova Scotia in search of freedom. After starting a delivery service in 1825 for ferryboat passengers, she became the first female police officer in Canada and her great, great, great granddaughter would become Canada’s first Black female mayor. 

While Steven dozed on the ferry ride, I had an illuminating chat with a lobster fisherman from Yarmouth in western Nova Scotia who had 375 traps, the maximum number any fisherman could have. He explained his fishing season lasts about eight months a year and the association of lobster fishermen set the current wholesale price of lobster at $10 a pound. He was bound by a very strict set of rules as to how often he could fish, the size of fish he could catch, etc but it was obviously a very remunerative job.

The Digby Gut led into Digby Bay.

Did you know that Digby is known as the ‘scallop capital of the world’? That was news to us, too!

Fred and Dora’s Diner in tiny Cornwallis was exactly our type of place with simple ‘down home’ food at rock-bottom prices and a great atmosphere. Even though we were obviously well north of the US border, the place had a vintage Route 66 feel that was a hoot to see while we waited for our lunch.

I wondered if these license plates from Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut would be the closest we’d ever travel to these far northern Canadian outposts!  

The current was so strong it blew foam right onto the sidewalk!

Janina: Being a scientist, you would have liked seeing the Annapolis Tidal Generation Plant, a tidal power generating station that operated for 34 years in the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. The only tidal generating station in North America and one of the few in the world was located upstream of Annapolis Royal. 

A causeway on the Annapolis River created a reservoir that powered a water turbine. Sluice gates in the causeway allowed the reservoir to be refilled by the incoming tide, and retain the water in the reservoir when the tide recedes. Power was only generated when the tide was out, for about five hours, twice a day.

Though the station generated about 30 million kilowatt hours per year, it was shut down in the spring of 2019, when it was found the turbine caused substantial fish mortality because a crucial component failed in the generating system.

Late spring was the perfect time to visit this area od you’re a fan of lupines like I am.

Another reason Steven and I chose to take the ferry over to Digby was to visit the town of Annapolis Royal and its Fort Anne National Historic Site, Canada’s first national historic site. One of the most fought-over forts in Canada, it was a battleground in the power struggle between the English and French in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

Considered the key stronghold for possession of Nova Scotia as the British knew the region but as Acadie by the French, the location had importance to both the English and French. The site had been fortified on at least eight different occasions since the Scots built St. Charles in 1629. The earliest French fort was built with a star-shaped layout in 1630.

About 70 Scottish settlers began a colony here in 1629, eight years after King James I granted ‘Nova Scotia’ to Sir William Alexander. Most returned to Great Britain in 1632 after France reacquired the region by treaty. Although it was a short-lived colonization, the province of Nova Scotia or New Scotland owes its name, flag, and coat of arms to this early Scottish settlement. 

During this period, the Indigenous Mi’kmaq (who were referred to as MicMac Indians when I was growing up in Canada in the 1960s) defended their territory with both diplomacy and armed conflict, usually partnering with the French.

We learned that architectural records have shown that because the ancestors of the Mi’kmaq have been here for more than 11,000 years, every part of their homeland was connected and ‘living’ – the landscape, seascape, animals, and plants, as well as the Mi’kmaq language and way of life.

I read that the Mi’kmaq worldview and ways of life were based on a culture that honored interdependence, reciprocity, and gratitude. By comparison, Europeans of that period relied on their knowledge for survival when they arrived in Canada to trade and live more than 400 years ago. The contrasting worldviews helped to shape the story of Fort Anne.

This one place had many names: to the Mi’kmaq, this place is Nme’juaqnek, the place of bountiful fish. When French explorer Samuel de Champlain first sailed it into the basin, he called it Port-Royal partly because of its huge size. When it was taken over by the British in 1710, it was renamed the Annapolis Basin and the town Annapolis Royal in honor of Queen Anne.

Views from Fort Anne:

When the French settled here in the 1630s, the shores of the then-named Dauphin River, now the Annapolis River, were muddy tidal salt marshes. The French quickly realized they could reclaim this fertile land by building dikes that kept the saltwater out and let snow and rain wash away the remaining salt. Within one generation, the settlers began developing their own culture, including dike building. This area, known as Port-Royal in the 1600s, became the birthplace of Acadian identity.

Many of the dikes that were built along the Bay of Fundy are still maintained by the Nova Scotia government. Acadian dikes used an aboiteau or wooden channel to manage the flow of water and keep salt water from fields. At low tide, fresh water flowing from the fields pushed the channel valve open and escaped. At high tide, the pressure of the seawater forced the valve shut. 

Though it’s unknown if Indigenous horticulture took place on this terrace, there is evidence the French plowed and planted many crops in the 1600s to support their settlement downriver. The French placed more than 600 animals in the fort’s ditches to protect them from attacks by the British. But a French engineer became so annoyed the grazing animals contributed to the fort’s earthworks’ erosion, that he began shooting them!

On the edge of the site were two cemeteries that may have held more than 2,000 graves. However, because wooden markers have long since decayed, the remaining gravestones can only represent a few of the French soldiers, administrators, and their families who were buried here. 

When the British took over in 1710, burials were held in the Church of England cemetery from then until 1940 next to the Acadian cemetery. 

As you might imagine, canons were key to the defense of the fort. Though these were not original to the fort, they represented those that returned fire on attacking ships and siege batteries.

Some of the canons had symbols of rulers on them. “GR” stood for either King George II or III and “VR” represented Queen Victoria. Those with sun and fleur-de-lis were symbols for Louis XIV, the French king.

The fort’s Officers’ Quarters was built in 1797 as part of British plans to upgrade defenses throughout Nova Scotia. The quarters housed officers and hospital facilities in addition to soldiers and their families. 

The fort was surrendered by the French to the British in 1710 for the last time after possession had gone back and forth seven previous times. The grounds were handed over one final time, though, when Britain turned them over to Canada in 1883.

We then strolled around the very small town of Annapolis Royal which was essentially across the street from Fort Anne. With 150 registered historic buildings, the town’s main street had what was described as the “finest collection of pre-1800 buildings in Canada.”

This was the location of the Old Government House, the residence of the Chief Military Officer before it was destroyed by fire in 1833.

Having just learned of the legendary Loyalist on the ferry to Digby, we knew whom the town’s Rose Fortune Plaza was named after.

Annapolis Royal Wharf:

The historic town was just made for strolling and popping into shops.

I was thankful that my good friend Ellen whom we’d be visiting soon had highly recommended we visit the town’s Historic Gardens. Because of a recent downpour and we’d recently seen such spectacular gardens in French Polynesia, Steven was less enthusiastic than I so he was content to wait while I enjoyed them.

Snakeweed, the name for this pretty plant sadly shortchanged it in my opinion. 

It would be a few weeks before some of the gardens would reach their peak.

As Steven had decided not to join me in the garden, I chose not to take the time to go on the Dike Walk. 

These were called Big Joe Rhododendrons! 

There was just a faint lavender hue to the Purple Gem Rhododendrons.

The end of the Dike Walk:

The recent rain provided a pretty picture.

The Acadian House:

It was interesting to see how many North American Acadians are descendants of those families listed in a census from 1671.

Sprite Peony:

I’ve always loved the name of this plant, Hens and Chicks.

The gardens were far larger than I’d realized initially – one could certainly spend several hours there meandering through the Innovative Garden, the Rose Maze, Elephant Grass Boardwalk, Ornamental Grasses, Middle Ages Hedge Garden, and on and on. I felt a bit guilty leaving Steven so rushed through quicker than I would have otherwise but I was still thrilled at what I saw.

It was likely just as well I didn’t dawdle any longer in the Historic Gardens as we still had a fair piece to drive east across the Annapolis Valley to our final destination of Canning that night. Before we left Annapolis Royal, we caught our last glimpse of the Tidal Station.

The people in the valley were certainly braver with the use of house colors than we were.

Even though we still had a longish drive, we preferred taking the back roads along the Evangeline Trail rather than the busier Trans Canada Highway.

The streets of Bridgetown were lined with grand old homes and, seemingly, a church on every block!

Creative light pole in Bridgetown!

Middletown mural:

Further east in the Annapolis Valley was the agricultural community of Berwick, the site of a large apple orchard. 

Kentville, the commercial heart of the valley was home to Kings County Museum.

Not quite sure what a lighthouse was doing in the middle of the town of Canning but it was charming!

Though it was late when we reached Canning, we were happy to stroll down the main street and see how it showed solidarity with Ukraine and also its artistic bent with various masks on many phone poles.

Next post: Exploring more of the valley including Grand-Pre National Historic Site.

Posted on July 29th, 2022, from Gulf Shores, Alabama, where we’re staying in a large condo for a ridiculously cheap price for 11 nights. It has the perfect combination of two pools in the complex, the lovely ocean beach right across the street, and drop-dead gorgeous views of a canal and fishing docks from our balcony. The downfall and it’s a big one at our ages – the condo is on the second floor so lugging up boxes of groceries, etc up two flights of stairs yesterday was no picnic!


4 thoughts on “5/28/22: Saint John, NB-Canning, NS via Digby Ferry-Annapolis Royal & Valley

  1. I love a ferry ride too, and this one’s namesake, Rose Fortune, sounds quite a woman! I’m glad she’s been honoured and remembered like this. I enjoyed reading all the history around Fort Anne, as this is a part of the world I know very little about beyond the fact that both English and French wanted it!


  2. Rose Fortune was certainly a woman ahead of her time, wasn’t she?

    If ever you have time to visit Atlantic Canada, the Annapolis Valley and Cape Breton should be among your stops. I’ll be curious to see whether you knew anything of the Deportations carried out by the British against the Acadians that you will read in my next post. Thst was all a new chapter in Canada’s early history for me.


  3. Such an interesting journey, Annie, despite what looks like some dodgy weather. There’s so many bits I could comment on here…Route 66 (!!?), British-French disputes (nothing’s changed), lighthouses in the middle of town, Steven being “gardened out”.. indigenous cultures….so much of interest!


  4. Glad you picked up on the small Route 66 sign at the diner in among the other bits in the post. Fun returning to these places now I’m older and seeing them through a different lens. Still gobsmacked by the Deportations of the Acadians by the British I learned about for the first time and which you can read about in the next post if you care to.

    BTW, thanks to your and Sarah’s exciting posts on your recent trips to Costa Rica, Steven and I’ve been busily planning a 7-week trip to Central America beginning next month! Your posts have been a huge inspiration on where we should go although we’re obviously doing a ‘hyped-up’ itinerary compared to you and Michaela.

    Oh, thanks for reading the post, and continued safe travels to you both.


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