ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, NOVA SCOTIA – It’s a wee challenge getting here from Lunenburg. Well, it is if you try to take a couple lesser-known roads, which I’m wont to do.
The first part of the drive is absolutely lovely as you trace your way from the bay in Lunenburg along cool, gentle waters on your way to Bridgewater, where there are small but impeccably tidy homes looking out over the bays. The land looked impossibly green and soft after a spring rain; as if someone had photoshopped the entire province.
As I drove up into the gentle hills towards the town of New Germany (it may be called Nova Scotia but in these parts the first European settlers were German Lutherans), I passed a white house where a large, black crow was flitting about in a deep green lawn with bright yellow dandelions.
You can drive along through central Nova Scotia and see endless small streams and lakes with nary a cottage or jet ski in sight. Instead of taking Highway (road, really) 10 up to Middleton, I opted to turn off at New Germany and head west to Highway 8 and get to Annapolis that way.
It was a quiet, lovely drive past some real old-time towns. As I approached North Brookfield, a sign told me it’s the home of “Forests, Farms, and Friendly Folks.” In Kempt, I was told they’ve had “A Century of Strawberry Suppers.”
A large sign outside the small fairgrounds in Caledonia was touting a coming day with horse pulls and a pork barbeque, and better than the other way around I reckon.
Everywhere I’ve gone on this trip, I’ve run into folks who’ve made some remarkable real estate deals. A friend of mine recently bought something like an eight acre farm near Truro for what I seem to recall was less than $200,000, including a house.
In Annapolis Royal itself, I spotted a real estate ad for a three-bedroom house on 2.3 acres of waterfront land for $142,800.
“There’s a joke in Newfoundland,” a friend told me the other night in St. John’s. “A guy from the city goes out to the country and sees a sign for some property for $22,000. So he knocks on the door and makes an offer and the guy doing the selling replies, “It’s a firm price, $22,000, but you have to take the house. And the barn. And all the rest of it.”
Annapolis Royal is a hugely historic part of Canada. The French settled in nearby Port Royal way back in 1605; two years before Jamestown, Virginia was created by the English and three years before the founding of Quebec City.
One of the main attractions are the fortified grounds of Fort Anne, said to be the most fought-over piece of land in Canada (it changed hands some seven times, with the English finally taking over for good in 1710 and making Annapolis Royal the capital of Nova Scotia until Halifax came along in 1749). Near the western edge of the fort area is a monument to Sieur de Monts, who came here in 1604 and is described as the “pioneer of civilization in North America,” having founded “the first settlement of Europeans north of the Gulf of Mexico.”
I don’t have the strongest knowledge of Canadian history, but I had never heard of de Monts. And there’s something wrong with that. Maybe those folks who talk about Canadians not knowing their history have a point.
There are a ton of historic structures in Annapolis Royal, including the O’Dell House Museum. It was the former home of Corey O’Dell, who was a member of the Nova Scotia Pony Express.
Yeah, I also had no idea Canada ever had a Pony Express, as I always associate it with the wild west of the United States and riders flying past desert buttes and dodging native American arrows and bullets.
But the Pony Express was a pretty big deal back in the day in and around Annapolis Royal. If you drive out past Port Royal towards Victoria Beach (there are stunning views out of the Bay of Fundy and great sunsets, by the way), you’ll see a plaque honouring the Pony Express, telling you that it ran between February and November in 1849, covering 146 miles from Halifax. News was carried by horses and riders in as little as eight hours on behalf of Associated Press, as there was no telegraph in Halifax in those days.
The information from Halifax came to the Annapolis Royal area, and then was carried by ship over to the telegraph station in Saint John, New Brunswick. From there it was sent to the newspapers along the eastern seaboard of the United States.
More to come next week on lovely Annapolis Royal and what you’ll find in the present day.