The story of people who 4,000 years ago lived in a wilderness area of rolling hills and placid waterways in present-day Nova Scotia, Canada is told in drumming demonstrations, birch bark canoe building and other activities from the past.
The scene is very different in a nearby village. Some of its French-speaking residents are descendants of the man who founded the community in 1653, and in a number of ways the setting would be at home in Paris.
Many visitors are drawn to Nova Scotia by magnificent handiworks of Mother Nature. The famous Cabot Trail highway winds along the rugged Atlantic coastline, which is pocked by inlets and bays that are overlooked by tiny fishing villages. Further inland, the terrain changes from dense forests to low hills to lake settings.
And that’s just for starters. Visitors to the maritime province also are immersed in a tableau of fascinating history and an intriguing mosaic of cultures.
The story begins with the 4,000 year history of the Mi’kmaq people. Some of their ancestors still live around the village of Bear River. At the Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site, petroglyph rock carvings serve as reminders of their presence, and visitors today may follow ancient paths that lead to former encampment areas and paddle along Mi’kmaq canoe routes.
The first recorded exploration by a European, John Cabot of England in 1497 , was followed by efforts to establish colonies by French explorers and later by settlers from Scotland. The 17th and early 18th centuries were marked by armed conflict between England and France over control of the territory, which finally reverted to Great Britain.
Other influences were added to the mix, each bringing new traditions and cultural touches. Some people who lived in the American colonies and remained loyal to the British Crown were forced to leave during the Revolution. They fled to Nova Scotia where they were greeted as United Empire Loyalists. Among them were Black Loyalists whose descendants still reside in several communities there.
Opportunities abound for visitors to experience each culture. The life of Acadians, descendants of original French colonists, may be explored in villages overlooking St. Mary’s Bay. French is the predominant language there and the Acadian flag adorns many houses. At the Historic Village in West Pubnico, costumed interpreters provide an in-depth introduction to the area and its many stories.
As the Evangeline Trail snakes along the western coast of Nova Scotia, it passes through varied landscapes and some of North America’s earliest European history. The road leads past forts and fishing villages, through the scenic farmlands of the Annapolis Valley, and by the Bay of Fundy, which is famous for having the highest tides in the world, having been recorded to rise as much as 54 feet.
Adventurous souls may opt for a unique tidal bore rafting experience, riding a crest of water created when the incoming tide meets the river outflow to generate 13-foot high waves. During low tide, locals venture out on the exposed mud flats to gather clams for that evening’s dinner.
Clams, along with a variety of other seafood, make Nova Scotia the leading fishing province in Canada, but it’s another mollusk for which it is best known. The town of Digby lays claim to the title “Scallop capital of the world.” It’s home to a large scallop fishing fleet whose haul is famous for having outstanding flavor.
Not surprisingly, many a restaurant menu includes Digby scallops in some form. Among ways I saw them prepared were pan seared, fried, grilled, encased in prosciutto, wrapped in bacon, on pizza, in salad and swimming in chowder.
Other towns in southern Nova Scotia have their own claims to fame. Yarmouth long has been associated with fishing and that tradition continues. A walking tour leads past elaborate homes that were built by ship owners and captains during the late 19th century, when the town’s prosperity reached its peak.
If you can find time to spend a day to stroll through the centuries in Annapolis Royal, do it. The French established the first permanent European settlement there in 1604, then the colony changed hands a number of times as the French and English battled for control of the area. After the final victory by England in 1710, it was named Annapolis Royal in honor of Queen Anne.
St. George Street, which run through the middle of town, is lined by buildings that represent three centuries. Among the oldest are a wooden house constructed in 1708 by a French military officer and the 1710 home of a silversmith which later served as an inn and today houses a small museum.
Fort Anne in Annapolis Royal occupies one of the most hotly contested pieces of land in North America. Several forts were erected on the site beginning in 1629 and the fortress that stands today was built by the British. Visitors may walk earthen walls that date back to 1702, explore a gunpowder magazine and check out the British field officers quarters, which houses an enticing museum.
A very different setting is encountered nearby at the impressive Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens. It encompasses over four centuries of horticultural history, including areas devoted to Mi’kmaq, early Acadian and 17th century English gardening practices and designs. A replica of a 17th-century Acadian home overlooks salt marshes and the dykes that were constructed by farmers to transform them into arable land.
A peek back at the lives of French-speaking settlers is one among many stories that bring the history of Nova Scotia to life. They combine with the area’s colorful cultures and magnificent scenery to offer something-for-everyone variety.
For information about visiting Nova Scotia log onto novascotia.com