There are few places you can go in North America, where you spend the day hearing about things that happened four hundred years ago. The Annapolis Royal area has been visited by Europeans since the early 1600’s. Our visit here began at night, on a candlelight tour of the cemetery. The tour guide was an Acadian man who felt like a walking encyclopedia of what had happened here over the last 400 years. We met his twin brother the next day who also seemed to know it all. We carried lanterns as we walked between the graves and every headstone had an interesting story. Most of the “residents” had short lives; 37 seemed to be the most common age when people died. They had huge families, but it was common to lose all those children before you died yourself. Life was hard in those days.
At Port Royal we toured a restoration of a settlement built here by rich a rich French gentleman, who had gotten a fur trade monopoly from the king on the condition that he establish a colony here. It was amazing how nice the settlement was, considering how long ago it was built. All the interior surfaces were finished; the windows had panes of glass. Even then, being rich meant a more comfortable life on the frontier. The primary trade was with the local Mi'kmaq Indians who brought in beaver pelts. I've heard about beaver hats, but never really understood how they were made. The thick undercoat of the beaver is processed into felt since the fibers readily interlock and then the felt is steamed and pressed into various hat shapes. The outer layer of fur and leather base are discarded. Kind of a waste. Hats that looked like Davy Crockett wore them, weren't in fashion until much, much later.
In 1613, while the settlers were off site, an English expedition from Jamestown looted and burned the compound. When the settlers returned, they were so bummed they returned to France. In the 1920's an American woman visited and felt somewhat guilty for what her countrymen had done here and she spearheaded a restoration project, raising $10,000 from her friends. Ultimately the project was taken over by Parks Canada, and Port Royal became the first national historic site. That's what we saw here today.
Back in town we visited the Historic Gardens; the sign out front invited us to stop and smell the roses. This garden has one of the finest collections of roses I've ever seen. We were surprised to see Easter lilies blooming next to dogwoods next to roses. At homes these plants bloom weeks apart. Here the long hours of daylight and short growing season make everything put on a show at once.
Lastly, we toured Fort Anne, a military facility best seen from above. Since the French and British had their colonial capitals here as ownership of this land went back and forth, they built several forts on site to protect them. The fort is a series of earthwork formations in the shape of a star, so that soldiers inside could fire in all directions. All the living facilities were built behind the earthworks, so that a ship in the harbor could not tell that anyone was there. Inside we learned the four hundred years of history of the town through a tapestry. Current residents of Annapolis Royal spent five years making the tapestry with four panels; each represent a century of history in their town. Whenever possible a descendant worked on a section that represented their forebears. When Queen Elizabeth II visited Canada, she was given gold thread and worked on the depiction of Queen Victoria. This little town is justifiably proud of all that has happened here and will not forget.