Moncton   Hopewell Rocks   Cape Enrage   Glace Bay   Digby   Port Royal   Annapolis Royal   Balancing Rock   Bear River   Halifax   Peggy's Cove   Blue Rocks   Lunenburg  

to the story's beginning            back to Glace Bay

In the Fundy region, the tide rises and falls highest at the eastern end of the Minas Basin – nearly 50 feet. This is because of the shape of the valley, which is narrowest there. Digby is near a wider part of the bay, so the tide there "only" rises about 30 feet.

The area is famous for fishing. In particular, Digby scallops have earned world renown. Almost all of the jobs here are in some way related to the water. If you're coming to this part of Nova Scotia from the U.S., you can save six hours of driving by taking the ferry from Saint John, a service that has been in continuous operation for over 200 years.

There is a much larger version of this photo here.

The ferry enters Annapolis Basin through Digby Gut, seen here from our hotel in Smith's Cove, on the south side of the basin. Digby is on the left side in this picture. The hills on either side of Digby Gut are only about 700 feet above sea level, but the slopes are steep. Local people call them mountains. Whatever you call them, they provide shelter for the Annapolis Basin. There are several good harbors in here.

By ratifying the Treaty of Paris, Great Britain acknowledged the independence of the United States of America. About 70 thousand residents of the fledgling country still felt strong ties to the Crown. Uneasy about their new situation, these Loyalists emigrated to other colonies that were still British. Half of them moved to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. When the British evacuated New York City in 1783, Admiral Robert Digby led a group of 1500 to resettle in the port of Conway, Nova Scotia, at the western end of the Annapolis Basin. To recognize Adm. Digby's leadership in transforming what had been a tiny village into a thriving town, the residents renamed the place in his honor when he was recalled to England in 1787.

If you're a golfer with a liberal budget, The Pines would be your destination of choice. Nova Scotia is well-known for golf – after all, it is New Scotland – and The Pines has an excellent course with a view almost as good as you can get from the hotel itself. We're not golfers. Let's just leave it at that.

We're more interested in the seafood and the boats that bring it in. Digby calls itself the "scallop capital of the world" and clearly discriminates against other kinds of fishermen. Also against proper speling.

This lobster's claws are almost a foot long. The sign in the display says they were taken from a 40-pound lobster that was over three feet long. It also explains how they estimated the lobster's age at 163 years. The method is derived from observing captive lobsters and tagged lobsters that have been re-caught. The formula is

{ Age (years) } = 3  +  4 × { Weight (pounds) }

There is a much larger version of this scene here

France's King Henri IV granted Pierre du Gua, Sieur de Mons, a fur trading monopoly for a large area in North America if he would establish colonies. In 1604, du Gua brought a carefully chosen crew in five ships, and settled on St. Croix Island, near St. Andrews in the river that separates Maine from New Brunswick. The first winter was brutal; nearly half of du Gua's men died. The survivors looked for a more suitable location, and re-settled here at Port-Royal.

The flag is the merchant flag of pre-revolutionary France.

This area was within the traditional territory of the Micmac Indians. Their chief, Membertou, befriended the French and helped them to survive in their new home. The alliance he forged with the new settlers survived him by a hundred years.

In 1607, du Gua's monopoly was revoked and the settlers were recalled to France. They left their Habitation in care of Membertou and the Micmac. In 1610, Membertou welcomed Jean de Poutrincourt when he came to Port-Royal. At de Poutrincourt's encouragement, Membertou converted to Catholicism that year, becoming the first native chief to be baptized in Canada.

There were some internal quarrels among the settlers, and other economic problems. Again the French left their Habitation in the care of the Micmac and returned to France. While they were away, an English expedition burned the place to the ground. When the French returned to find their settlement in ruins, the Micmac again helped them to survive a winter. The French left the area once more, not to return until 1630. Then they settled six miles upstream at Annapolis Royal, which they also called Port-Royal. That settlement lasted until 1710, when the British captured it during Queen Anne's War, and renamed it Annapolis Royal in honor of their monarch.

In 1939-40, when the Historic Sites and Monuments Board decided to reconstruct the Habitation at the original site of Port-Royal, they followed this drawing from Samuel de Champlain's journal. This 1946 aerial photo shows a reproduction that is indeed true to plan. As the first large-scale reconstruction undertaken by the federal government, the Habitation was a milestone in the Canadian preservation movement.

At the time of the reconstruction, the town was called Lower Granville. About then, people started calling the place Port-Royal again, making the name official by legislation in 1950. So there have been three Port-Royals in the area, two of them on the same spot.

We followed the guide, who gave us a little background information and then left us to explore the Habitation on our own.

Although there were guns there, the Habitation was primarily a trading post. For the eight years of the original Habitation's existence, it was France's seat of government in the New World. This place was the Governor's Mansion. Life here reflected that fact, even though the governor didn't spend much time here.

First stop is the forge.

The blacksmith had a good location; he worked right next to the kitchen. The same fire was used in two adjoining rooms, to roast the meat and to bake the bread.

Jessie waits for a meal in the common room. She's about to hang that spoon on her nose.

Winter is long in this place, and darkness comes early. It was commonly believed that idleness caused scurvy, so Champlain founded "l'Ordre de Bon Temps" to promote good health among the settlers. Fifteen men were chosen. Every week one of them would be Steward. He was responsible for food and entertainment. John Quinpool quotes one Murdoch's description in First Things in Acadia: The Birthplace of a Continent.

At the weekly dinner, the steward with napkin on shoulder, staff of office in hand and the splendid embroidered collar of the order round his neck, led the van. The other guests in procession followed, each bearing a dish. After grace in the evening, he resigned the insignia to his successor and they drank to each other in a cup of wine. It was the steward's duty to look to supplies, and he would go hunt or fish a day or two before his turn came, to add some dainty to the ordinary fare. During this winter, they had fowl and game in abundance, supplied by the Indians and by their own exertions. The feasts were often attended by Indians of all ages and both sexes, sometimes 20 or 30 being present. The sagamore or chief, Membertou, the greatest sachem of the land, and other chiefs, when there, were treated as guests and equals.

The lathe uses a simple, ingenious design. The carpenter stands behind the workpiece and operates the treadle. The overhead beam is a spring, so the cord turns the workpiece back and forth. The pieces on the table next to the lathe were made on it. The carpenter could make spoons by turning a piece that looked a bit like a Tootsie Roll pop. Then he would saw it in half lengthwise, and hollow out the bowls of the two spoons he had just made. At the end of his day, he and the other artisans slept upstairs.

Here are two views of the courtyard and well. The first one is from across the yard, looking at the area we've just visited. The second is the artisans' view of the general store and sail loft from their quarters. But we're getting ahead of things here …

The chapel is simple, but adequate. It's not clear whether the original Habitation even had a chapel, but the modern builders decided to include one.

The gentlemen's residences included Louis Hébert's apothecary room. Hébert, Pierre du Gua's cousin, was the first apothecary in Canada. When the settlement was destroyed in 1613, he returned to Paris. Four years later, Champlain needed help to establish a settlement in Québec, and found it easy to persuade Hébert to return to the New World with his family.
The residents here wore wooden shoes, called sabots. 250 years later, workers would throw these shoes into looms to protest the Industrial Revolution. The practice was therefore called sabotage.

Although the governor spent most of his time in France, he had good lodging when he was here. (The electric lamp is a bit of artistic license.) When du Gua left in August 1605, this became the apartment of Gravé du Pont, whom he left in charge.

The docent, a lifelong resident of the Annapolis Valley, spoke to us in three languages: English, French, and Acadian. The Acadian language is distinct from modern French, because people who speak it have not been influenced by the same linguistic evolution that has changed the language in Europe, or even in the rest of Canada. As a result of the same isolation, visitors to Tangier Island, Virginia, can hear a dialect that resembles Elizabethan English more than it does any modern strain of English.

This was a trading post. We've seen animals waiting to be dressed in the kitchen, and furs in the common room. We're about to see more furs in the general store. Before leaving the governor's quarters, Jessie signed the visitors' log: "Too many dead things."

The large general store was well stocked. Remember, this was France's capital in the New World.

The sail loft was upstairs. Although the ships were built elsewhere, they did need repairs while they were in Port-Royal.

The settlers needed a place to keep their wine, too. It was below the general store.

Above the guard shack, we see the pigeon house at one end of the sail loft. This was 400 years before cell phones.

There was a cemetery just outside the Habitation walls, but Parks Canada is silent about what happened to the people who were buried there.

Down by the Annapolis River, Samuel de Champlain watches over the Habitation he helped build, on the land he selected after that disastrous winter on St. Croix Island.

It wasn't all fun and games. In return for taking them to a foreign country, we required the kids to eat ice cream at least once a day. At one of these mandatory feeding stations, Josh proudly displayed the record catch that he didn't catch.

Then we drove over one of the "mountains" to Hillsburn, where Barbara lived for her first six years. If Nova Scotia is really thinking of building a highway here, this road did not pass the test.

Most of this side trip was personal, and the story doesn't really belong here. But we found this building at the end of one little road. It's obviously used as a gathering place for neighborhood picnics and bonfires, but the sign on the shack demands attention: "Ghost of Miss Anderson". There was some information inside, but nothing about poor Miss Anderson.

While researching this story after we got home, I turned up a blog post by Jim Byers of the Toronto Star. Mr. Byers wrote a delightful article, but he didn't shed any light on Miss Anderson or her ghost.

In 2017, Lawrence Powell published Miss Anderson's story in the Annapolis Spectator. Miss Anderson was engaged to marry a fisherman who was lost at sea. She walked the shore looking for him, eventually becoming so tormented that she got into a boat and rowed out to find him. She never came back, either.

A local man, Bobby Longmire, maintained the shed and its little museum. He died in 2017, so it remains to be seen what will become of the place.

Inside the shack, there were several pages from an unidentified book tacked to one wall. These pages told the story of shipbuilding in the immediate vicinity, but they didn't have any information about Miss Anderson. That article is of restricted interest, but I've reproduced it anyway.

This photograph was on a table near the article. The subjects are not identified.

Annapolis Royal is at the second site that was called Port-Royal. We were a little short on time, so we just toured the Historic Gardens. This 17-acre retreat was the perfect place to complete our visit to Nova Scotian Acadia.

Almost 2000 bushes in the Rose Garden represent over 200 varieties. These two pink ones are from the Canadian Artist Series. The climbing rose is named for Felix Leclerc, Québec songwriter and poet. The shorter bush with pink and red blossoms honors Emily Carr, noted for her paintings of Haida people and their life in the West.

The Innovative Garden showcases modern techniques that are appropriate to small gardens. Here are two devices meant to get tomatoes on the table early in the season. Some plants respond better to certain wavelengths of light, exploited by the red plastic mulch to warm the soil and reflect red light onto the plant for better growth. The "Wall o' Water" uses water-filled tubes for insulation to protect young plants. The tomatoes in this bed were planted in April. Their Walls were removed in June when the plants needed more growing room.

The Acadian Cottage is the only archæologically authenticated replica of a pre-deportation Acadian home in the region. It's built on plans derived from digs and other information from about 1671. The potager (kitchen garden) is based on original diary notes from that time.

Part of the oven was outside.

A small Victorian garden overlooks a path down to an area protected by a hand-built dyke. Along the way, the path goes by a piece of "Bay of Fundy driftwood" that was placed here in 2004. This log had spent at least the previous 50 years at Parker's Cove, not far from Miss Anderson's little shack in Hillsburn.

Overlooking that garden is one of many pieces of sculpture that decorate the property:

Onni Nordman
South Bar, N.S.

Not far away, this pair also has a view of the dyked marsh.

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Annapolis
Dawn MacNutt
New Glasgow, N.S.

It wouldn't be a proper garden without a sundial.

This is the Knot Garden, after a style that became popular at the beginning of the 16th century in both England and Italy. Layouts were intricate, and usually bounded by a square. Low plants are planted in an interlacing pattern, or knot. The knot is considered open if paths lead among the plants, or closed if the spaces between them are filled with other plants.

A small plot in the Governor's Garden, based on an 18th century design.

Balancing Rock is beyond the end of Digby Neck. We found this quirk of nature at the end of a trail that appears easy at first. There are swampy sections, but they're covered by a boardwalk. There are a few uprooted trees, but there's room to walk around them. For the most part, the trail is just a walk in the park. Jessie even sang (over and over and over …) a song from a video she likes,

Baby monkey,
Riding on a pig, baby monkey.
Backwards on a pig, baby monkey.

It was entertaining, for a minute or two.

There had obviously been a great storm here. One of the crippled trees now serves as a crooked sign post.

After half a mile of easy going, we learned the true price to see the Balancing Rock. At the end of the level trail, there are 248 steps down to the platform where we viewed the rock. On the way out, there are 2•4•8 s•t•e•p•s back up again. We all slept well that night.

It was worth it. Here is the Balancing Rock, just where it has been for the past 200 million years – since the Bay of Fundy was formed when the supercontinent Pangæa broke up into the Americas, Africa, and the Atlantic Ocean. This basalt column is about four feet wide and twenty feet tall.

To get to the Balancing Rock, we had to ride the ferry across Petit Passage from Digby Neck to Long Island. While we waited, we saw signs of a contentious local issue, fish farming.

They even invite everyone to join their Facebook group, where you can get at least one side of the story. The problem is that fish farms are very concentrated areas where food is introduced but not all of it is eaten by the fish. There is also the obvious result from the other end of the alimentary canal, which most folks consider a serious pollutant.

Opponents say the pollution ruins other kinds of fishing, such as lobsters and scallops, and causes other serious environmental damage. Those in favor say that the pollution claims are vastly overstated, but that the farms produce good fish and create jobs. It's not popular for a politician to turn down new jobs, even if they're fictitious; so fish farms are gaining a foothold in Nova Scotia. This one is near the ferry dock in Digby.

There is a much larger version of the first scene below, here.

Bear River (the town) is a delightful village, a popular artists' colony. Surrounded by hills, it's also called the "Switzerland of Nova Scotia". Bear River (the river) feeds the Annapolis Basin, so it's tidal. The commercial buildings in town are built on stilts to accommodate those high tides, giving Bear River its other claim to fame. It's mid-tide in these pictures. The stilts of the buildings near the center are not completely exposed, but they will be in a couple of hours.

The first building across the street in the Bear River panorama is the home of Flight of Fancy. It's a collective store run by Rob Buckland-Nicks, whose studio is upstairs.
If you want to make a rough rock smooth, you tumble it with other rocks in an abrasive slurry. That's exactly what the tide has been doing on the bottom of the Bay of Fundy for two hundred million years. There are plenty of smooth stones to be found at low tide. Rob finds them and paints birds on them, with very fine detail.
He didn't explain the face in the window upstairs.

The eclectic store Oddacity Designs was rightfully called the most colorful building in Bear River. (The first picture is from our last visit, nine years ago.) The chalkboard sign in front of it warned, "Come in before it's too late." That sign was too prophetic. The building was condemned because of structural problems, and the proprietor moved her vintage clothing business to another location in 2006. The new owners hoped to save the building, but the cost of repairs would be too great. So, it was demolished in 2008. The site is now occupied by Camp Redneck, which looks like a Boy Scout camp gone wrong. The sign on the shack advertises "Spittin’ Contests • Mud Wrestlin’ • Skinny Dippin’". The old building is gone, but the spirit remains.

At Digby, the FBO is similar to most smalltown-USA airport FBOs; but it's attended around the clock, seven days a week. This is because the building is also the dispatch center for emergency services (call 911) in the Digby Municipal District. They have paved tiedowns, but you have to push back into them. There is no parking fee, and avgas costs $1.80 / liter.

On our last day in Digby, there was a problem with the computer network at our hotel. So I skimped on my flight planning and missed a significant NOTAM. Once a year, the Digby airport closes so a group of car enthusiasts in the region can use its runway for an AutoSlalom event. That's right, our departure day. Imagine my surprise when I drove up to find the airport full of racing cars. But the event manager had a kind heart. He arranged a brief window in the action, got the runway cleared (dozens of cones!), and let us leave despite the airport closure. And so we moved on to Halifax.

on to Halifax

Moncton   Hopewell Rocks   Cape Enrage   Glace Bay   Digby   Port Royal   Annapolis Royal   Balancing Rock   Bear River   Halifax   Peggy's Cove   Blue Rocks   Lunenburg