Annapolis Valley/Evangeline Trail

Overview

Introduction

On the western coast between Windsor and Yarmouth, the Annapolis Valley and Evangeline Trail route covers the area settled by the French Acadians. Stop along the way at the French fishing villages, with their clapboard houses, magnificent churches, bustling shipyards and colorful storefronts. You may want to make a stop at "chez Francois," as the local residents call Frenchy's, a chain of secondhand clothing shops renowned for their excellent prices and interesting finds.

Beginning on the Windsor end, about 40 mi/65 km northwest of Halifax, you'll want to make your first stop at Fort Edward National Historic Site, the oldest fortified blockhouse in Canada and the place from which many of the province's Acadians were deported. A short distance to the northwest is Grand Pre National Historic Site, the setting for the famous Longfellow poem Evangeline, which tells of the deportation of French Acadian settlers by the British. There's a chapel on the grounds with exhibits depicting Acadian history, as well as a statue of the poem's fictional heroine and an interpretive center that tells the Acadians' story. The park itself is set on land that was once part of the largest Acadian settlement in Nova Scotia.

A little farther on, a series of Acadian dikes surrounds Wolfville, which is set in a pretty countryside of orchards, vineyards and horse farms. Wolfville is a small town, the home of Acadia University and also the home of the Randall House Historical Museum. Birders should visit in summer to see the nightly dance of the chimney swifts. Wolfville is one of the towns throughout the Annapolis Valley that hosts the popular Apple Blossom Festival for six days starting in late May.

After Wolfville, you might consider taking Highway 358 out onto Cape Blomidon. At Blomidon Provincial Park, you can follow an 8-mi/13-km hiking trail to Cape Split—the view is breathtaking. Then head out to the coast, along Route 359, to the charming community of Hall's Harbour, where you can sit on the wharf, watching the tide rise or fall, and enjoy a dinner of fresh-cooked lobster.

Continuing west and southwest along the Bay of Fundy coast, you'll reach Annapolis Royal. It was in this area that the French established their earliest settlement. In 1605, Sieur de Monts and Samuel de Champlain founded Port Royal on the north shore of Annapolis Basin (across from Annapolis Royal). The British destroyed the original settlement in 1613. A replica of the site can be visited at the Habitation National Historic Site. Visit this enclosed compound and hear the story of life at the Habitation from a guide in period dress.

In Annapolis Royal, the Fort Anne National Historic Park is another complex of British and French fortifications and ruins dating from the 1630s. If you can, time your visit to be in Annapolis Royal for one of the ghost tours of the historic cemetery that are held on summer evenings.

Dedicated history buffs will also want to walk down Lower St. George Street in Annapolis Royal, where many of the town's historic buildings (there are more than 150) are located. Take time to stroll through the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens (where you can learn the story of the province through flowers and plants). Children will probably insist on a visit to nearby Upper Clements Park—a combination of craft fair and amusement park open mid-June to early September. Nature lovers should head inland to Kejimkujik National Park, with its tranquil lakeside camping sites, Mi'kmaq petroglyphs, rare plants and wildlife. It also has miles/kilometers of backcountry trails and canoe routes.

Digby lies just to the southwest of Annapolis Royal. Home of the enchanting Digby Pines Hotel, the town is a port for a large scallop fleet and ferries to New Brunswick. The town celebrates Scallop Days in August. Whenever you visit, try the fresh, succulent scallops or some Digby Chicks—the smoked herring that was once eaten for Christmas dinner by local fisherfolk instead of turkey or chicken. While you're there, you might want to drive along Digby Neck and take a ferry to Long Island or Brier Island, good places for whale- and seabird-watching. Brier Island has the Balancing Rock trail system, a series of rugged seaside hiking trails.

Swing back through Digby to pick up Highway 101, which takes you to Highway 1 along the French Shore. There you will see the huge churches in Saint Bernard and Church Point. In Meteghan, you'll find La Vieille Maison, a house museum that illustrates 19th-century Acadian life. As you travel south toward Yarmouth, visit one of the many beaches and picnic spots along the shore.

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