A Couple of Nova Scotia’s Historical Sites

(This post is part of a series about a recent trip the Gnome and I recently made to Nova Scotia. To travel along with us from the beginning, start here.)

In previous posts about our visit to Nova Scotia, I’ve mentioned a couple of sites that deeply moved me, promising to delve into them later. Today, I’m keeping that promise with memories and photos of our visits to Grand Pre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Canadian Museum of Immigration.

A little history is called for here. The Canadian encyclopedia entry about the Acadians of Grand Pré begins this way: “Soldiers rounding up terrified civilians, expelling them from their land, burning their homes and crops ‒ it sounds like a 20th century nightmare in one of the world’s trouble spots, but it describes a scene from Canada’s early history, the Deportation of the Acadians.” The story of the expulsion of Acadians from Grand Pré is painfully evocative of our own Trail of Tears history, when the Cherokee were led on a forced march from the east to Oklahoma.

In French, the forced deportation was known as le grand dérangement. Sounds fitting. Since 1604, Acadians had created a thriving, peaceful community in the Bay of Fundy area. During their 150 years here, they developed an impressive dyke system to control the bay’s high tides, a method still in use today; they developed and maintained a rich agriculture; they created a massive and gorgeous landscape

The arduous task of building earthen dykes to hold back the Bay of Fundy’s high tides

A  typical Acadian farmstead

An image of  an Acadian day in the fields

A portion of the 3200-acre landscape of Grand Pre’

Meanwhile, the British and French were engaged in a long tug of war over Nova Scotia. The Acadians had sworn neutrality in any conflict between the two countries, but that wasn’t enough for the British governor. In 1755, he hatched a plan to surround their churches, threatening entire families with bayonets, while breaching the dykes and burning homes and crops. The first 3,000 deportees were sent to Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Georgia while 7,000 more were shipped to other British colonies, France, and the Caribbean during the next seven years.

Try putting your family in this scene:  panicked flight, trying to stay together, leaving everything–everything–behind forever.

People found themselves left, like Longfellow’s Evangeline, to wander fruitlessly in search of the families they’d been separated from. That, too, sounds all too familiar in today’s troubled times. (Only later did Acadians find their way to Louisiana because of their familiarity with the language. Thus did the Cajun culture become established.)

 

 

Detail of the statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s heroine, Evangeline. It graces the entrance to the memorial church built in the early 20th century which serves as a museum today. It was a church at this approximate location where British soldiers set up headquarters, rounded up the village’s men and boys, and told them their land, livestock, and almost everything they owned were to be forfeited to the Crown, and that their families were to be deported.

By 1764, the British government allowed small groups of Acadians to return, but they didn’t return to their former lands—nothing was left for them there. Instead, those who returned settled on the mainland and in Cape Breton. It was, indeed, as the Acadian Shores restaurant patron we overheard had said, a shameful moment in Nova Scotia’s history.

But Nova Scotia can at least be proud of how it owns up to inglorious historical moments. I was impressed by this trait both here and at the Canadian Museum of Immigration, located in Halifax.

Even before you pay your admission fee to the immigration museum, the Wheel of Conscience almost smacks you in the face with its raw power. A circular steel structure about six feet in diameter, the wheel includes names of the approximately one thousand Jews who were aboard the MS St. Louis in May 1939, the eve of World War II. They were fleeing Nazi Germany, seeking and being refused entry into Canada and other countries, including the United States. With nowhere to go, the ship was forced to return to Germany where a quarter of its passengers ultimately died in concentration camps. 

 The kinetic sculpture also features four rotating, interlocking gears, each one larger than the one before and each emblazoned in red with a single word—from smallest to largest: hatred, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism. As visitors study the sculpture, they can’t help but see their own reflected faces looking back at them.

Inside, the exhibits are equally powerful. The museum is located in the very place, Halifax’s Pier 21, where more than a million immigrants came into Canada between 1928 and 1971. It’s logical that the museum would tell what that experience was like.

But the museum is more than that. It also tells the story of 400 years of immigration to Canada, and it takes an even broader approach, looking at refugee life as a whole, documenting through both visual and oral exhibits the horrors that force people to leave their home countries.

What horrific conditions would cause you to make this kind of journey? For how long? To what unknown future?

 

 

Imagine living in a tent this size with your entire family and all your very limited possessions, buckets for washing yourselves, your food, your dishes, and more. Imagine living here for up to eighteen years–or more? What would have brought you here?

Some of these painful exhibits come with a warning: “Not suitable for some visitors.” I tend to shy away from such stories, but I think we should force ourselves to face them so we can remember—cannot forget—the realities that send people fleeing all they know in hopes of finding a better life, a safer place, for their families. I did not photograph them.

Among other displays we visited were life-size replicas of a ship’s cabin, a life raft meant for eight that carried as many as thirty refugees, a child’s trunk, a family’s crate carrying everything they could cram in.

You can read notes handwritten on cardboard luggage tags from previous museum visitors who had immigrated, and you can watch videos of immigrants telling their personal stories. As moving as these exhibits are, what touched me most was finding myself in the company of a number of immigration ‘veterans,’ individuals who had landed at the immigration center in Halifax—at this very site when they were mere children. Other visitors were children of immigrants who had come through the port of Halifax. It was truly humbling to hear their stories, to be in their presence.

We didn’t want our visit to Nova Scotia to be touristy; we didn’t intend to spend much time inside museums. Our trip was meant to be about getting a feel for day-to-day life in the province and getting to know real-life Bluenosers while soaking in the phenomenal natural beauty of this place. But I’m really glad we took time out to visit these two sites. They, too, tell a story about the real Nova Scotia. And the rest of the world, in the past and, unfortunately, the present. They remind us about ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ as well as hope and the possibility of redemption.

This moving piece of public art, “The Emigrant,” near the Immigration Museum, pays tribute to those who have said goodbye to their families, hopefully temporarily, in search of a better life for all of them.

(Check back next time for more of our Nova Scotia travels.)

Annapolis Valley

(I’m sharing my recent visit to Nova Scotia in pictures and words. To make the journey with me from the beginning, click here.)

We weren’t even going to go. We’d been to this region long ago, and compared to the spell Peggy’s Cove and Cape Breton had cast, it was a mere wisp of a memory. But then Haligonian gardening guru Niki Jabbour said, “You simply must see our gorgeous Annapolis Valley” (or words to that effect). She’s a convincing ambassador for her maritime corner of the world, so we spent a few hours rearranging our itinerary. Another decision I’m glad we made. Thanks, Niki.

The Gnome and I scheduled a couple of days in the Annapolis Royal/Granville Ferry area and another in Canning and Wolfville. We spent a wet but happy half-day in the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens—a little rain wasn’t going to dampen our spirits, where we enjoyed waterfalls and ponds and statuary, trees and grasses and shrubs and flowers. So many flowers!. I was amazed at how many plants were still in bloom at the tail end of September!  (Click on individual pics below for larger images and, in some cases, captions.)

 

 

We drove out to Digby Gut (yes, Gut with a G), a narrow channel that connects the Bay of Fundy (highest tides in the world, y’all) and the Annapolis Basin, where we saw this lighthouse and an enlightening marker.

 

Nova Scotia has 150 working lighthouses—one hundred and fifty! Imagine if you tried to take them all in on a lighthouse tour. At fifteen a day, which I imagine is an impossibility, it would take ten days to see them all. This one at Schafner Point near Victoria Beach is not one of them. Though no longer in use, it’s still historic and ever so picturesque.

If you think of Old West cowboys and outlaws when you hear the words Pony Express, you don’t know the whole story. We sure didn’t. Turns out that the way we folks south of the border got news from Europe was through a complex process including dispatches from European ships coming to Halifax, then via Halifax Express riders to Digby Gut (146 miles in eight hours), at which point the news was shipped to the telegraph station in Saint John, New Brunswick, and finally relayed to American seaboard cities, all funded by the Associated Press. How about that!

Wine is pretty much wasted on my unsophisticated palate, so we skipped the tours this fertile region is famed for. But we did make it to the Annapolis Cidery in Wolfville, much more our style. We left with several intriguingly named bottles to enjoy on our travels and back at home. (Factoid: Nova Scotia was one of the first areas in North America to cultivate grapes.)

Wonder how long it takes to cover all those grape vines?

From Wolfville, we took the Evangeline Trail to the Grand Pré National Historic site, another UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the province. You may remember Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem Evangeline, or at least its first stanzas, from high school English class. If you can’t conjure it up right away, perhaps you recall the first words: “This is the forest primeval.”

Longfellow tells the tragic story of the Acadians via his imagined heroine. We knew a bit about the Acadians, but we learned more during our time along the Acadian Shores and Annapolis Valley, and I’ll be devoting more time to this story in a later blog post.

 

At the Blomidon Look Off, we were gawking and snapping the phenomenal views of the valley’s Minas Basin and lush farms when a New Brunswick couple also enjoying the view started up a conversation. We hit it off right away and chatted for at least a half hour, discussing everything from apples to politics. (I told you those Canadians are friendly.) They make the trek from Fredericton every fall to fill their trunk with “the world’s best apples.” And to think we wouldn’t even have known about this phenomenal viewing spot if it hadn’t been for the friendly folks we met on the beach near Mahone Bay a few days before.

What a sight!

It was another misty day, but with such gorgeous views, who cares! Besides, we could hardly begrudge the Nova Scotians a little rain. Due to an extended drought, wells have dried up all over the province. It’s been so dry that the provincial government has dispatched tanker trucks filled with bottled water to some parts. In fact, before we left home, one of our Airbnb hosts called to suggest we make other arrangements for that very reason.

By the way, every one of our eleven Airbnb experiences was delightful and unique, but our Granville Ferry spot may have been the most unusual. Billed as a former bed and breakfast honeymoon suite, it sported a Jacuzzi which filled via this waterfall feature. And in Canning, the resident cat warmed our laps and hearts.

 

Our Airbnb was right on river’s edge in Granville Ferry. This slightly foggy view is from Annapolis Royal across the Annapolis River.

Until next time, as we make our way toward the extravagantly gorgeous Cape Breton Island. You don’t want to miss it!

Yarmouth and the Acadian Shores

(I’m recapping our recent Nova Scotia trip in words and pictures—lots of pictures. If you’d like to follow along from the beginning, you may want to click here.)

We didn’t know it when we settled in at our Lower Argyle Airbnb, but we’d left Nova Scotia’s South Shore for the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores region of the province. Our first clue came at dinner that night. Another table of patrons included a local couple and their guests, possibly from someplace as far-flung as ours.

In response to a question from one of her visitors, their host said, “It was a shameful moment in our history,” and went on to discuss her admiration for Acadians, noting they are a hard-working group of people who strive to maintain their historical identity. We weren’t exactly eavesdropping, but this foursome’s reunion was ebullient; it was hard not to overhear.

The visitor’s question may have been prompted by the flags flying from so many homes in the area, the same ones that would pepper the landscape on our next day’s travels. It definitely wasn’t the Canadian maple leaf nor the Nova Scotia coat-of-arms flag. This one had vertical bars of blue, white, and red. You might think it was the French flag except for the gold star in its blue third. The Gnome knows flags, but he wasn’t familiar with this one.  

 

We came upon this interpretive sign and the picturesque Sainte Anne-du-Ruisseau Church near Rocco Point in Argyle. According to the sign, “The main feature of this church is invisible. After the exile and return of the Acadian people, the church provided hope and spiritual renewal. It became the heartbeat of the community—and remains so today.” (I’ll be writing more about the Acadians and their tragic expulsion in the mid-1700s in a later post.)

We soon found ourselves in Yarmouth, another colorful town and the port where the big CAT ferry brings people and their cars into Canada from Maine. We spent a couple of hours on a self-guided walking tour—blocks of shipowners’ and sea captains’ homes built in the second half of the eighteen-hundreds.

 

Downtown Yarmouth

 

 

It’s the detail I can’t get over.

The Yarmouth area, home of the world’s richest lobster-fishing grounds, is unsurprisingly also home to Atlantic Canada’s largest fishing fleet. It has suffered its own losses at sea.

 

The first launching in Yarmouth County took place at this site, now a memorial to the county’s seafaring folks “who  ‘going down to the sea in ships,’ by their outstanding seamanship and valour, brought undying honour to Yarmouth in every port around the world” according to the memorial’s plaque.

Staff at the Yarmouth visitor center encouraged us to drive out to Cape Forchu, west of Yarmouth. It had been on our list once, but in the interest of time, we’d crossed it off. Back on it went. Cape Forchu, home of the first ‘apple core’ style lighthouse, is surrounded by nineteen acres of beautiful walkable space and has been named one of Canada’s greatest public spaces. I can understand why.

 

At Cape Forchu, we learned about rockweed, that stringy, brownish-green stuff you see in this picture.  Each fall, fishermen fill their deep-bottomed boats with it using handheld cutter rakes. Rockweed is important to the local economy, exported worldwide where it’s used as a stabilizer and thickener in products as varied as salad dressing, lipstick, and ice cream. Think about that the next time you put a spoonful of your favorite frozen dessert in your mouth.

We also learned about dumping day—probably not what you think. Dumping day occurs at different times in different parts of the province. For southwestern Nova Scotia, it comes on the last Monday in November, the day Southwestern Shore fishermen go out in boats to ‘dump’ their lobster traps. In the wee hours, entire communities line the shore to see them off, a blessing of the fleet is recited, and the brightly lit boats head out to sea in a parade of colorful vessels. Now, that’s something I’d like to see.

 

After spending a couple of hours at Cape Forchu, we really did have to mark some things off our list to make it to the Annapolis Valley area before nightfall. More about that next time. Hope you’ll keep traveling with me.