It is the
landscape that recently won this tiny Nova Scotia farming community a place on
the prestigious Unesco World Heritage List. Grand Pré,
North America’s most recently
inscribed site, at first glance seems like little more than a picturesque
patch of the Annapolis Valley on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. But there is far
more here than so pleasantly meets the eye.
To get to
this rural settlement, take Route 1, also known as the Evangeline Trail, 90km north
from the Nova Scotian capital of Halifax. The road is named for the fictional
character of Evangeline, immortalised in the epic poem Evangeline, A Tale of
Acadie, published in 1847 by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The
story follows an Acadian girl as she searches for her love Gabriel, following
the deportation of their people from these lands.
Acadians were settlers who arrived in what is now Atlantic Canada in 1682, most
from Poitou, a coastal province of France. They settled on the lands around the
Bay of Fundy, known then as Acadia and today as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Marshland farming became the mainstay of the Acadian economy, with locals
hand-digging dykes against some of the world’s highest tides, linking the
island of North Grand Pré to the mainland and forming the east and west shores
of the manmade peninsula.
A peaceful place
dominated by fields of crops and farmsteads, today Grand Pré is home to small wineries
and bustling restaurants. However, the main attraction is the Grand Pré National
Historic Site, several acres of
former farmland containing landmarks and monuments important to Acadian history.
Start your exploration at the modern but unobtrusive visitor centre, where the
epic story of the Acadians, their lives and their deportation is told.
An epic history
years, the French settlers worked hard, building farms on land once covered in
forest and sea – then the Arcadians got caught up in the struggle between
England and France for control of North America. Because
they would not swear allegiance to the British crown, in 1755 the British deported
many Acadian settlements, with Grand Pré becoming the symbol for the
next eight years, le Grand Dérangement, or Great Expulsion, saw
some 11,500 Acadians shipped off across the Bay of
Fundy to neighbouring New England, while British authorities confiscated
their property, divided families and burned their crops and homes. En route,
about a third died of disease and drowning. When peace returned in 1763,
many Acadians left New England for destinations as far flung as the Caribbean,
France and the southern United States, including Louisiana where they became
known as the “Cajuns”, a derivative of the word
“Acadian”. By the following year, the British allowed Acadians to return
to Maritime Canada. Many did, settling in small groups across the region and
founding what is today a string of French-speaking Acadian communities.
Explore the land
Acadians live in contemporary Grand Pré, the area is full of references to its
history. The fields are owned by descendants of the Acadians turned New
Englanders, and the dykes are overseen as they have been for centuries, by the
Marsh Body, a collective of farmers who apprise government of the need for
upkeep and repair.
immersive way to explore these historic and fertile lands is by bicycle; bring
your own or hire one from Freewheeling
Adventures. The first stop is a statue of Longfellow’s heroine outside the visitor
centre, forlornly gazing over her shoulder at the church behind her, an open-to-the public memorial with many commemorative
works of art and fascinating artefacts, including a replica of the ledger that
lists all who were deported.
country roads that run east and west from the visitor centre lead to 9km of
historic dykes, passing through fields of corn, oats, barley and alfalfa. These
crops are planted on deep, fertile soil hard won from the sea. Hard-packed dirt
trails line the tops of the dykes; you can imagine the hard-at-work settlers building
them one shovelful of soil at a time and farming the land they claimed back from
the bay. Flocks of thousands of shorebirds such as plovers and sanderlings fly
in unison, swinging this way and that in waves over the mud flats, attracting
birdwatchers in search of a late summer spectacle.
interesting route is along Grand Pré Road, an easy 3km cycle from the visitor centre
across flat farmland and past farmhouses to Evangeline Beach. Several small
roads with names like Plover Lane, Eagle Lane and Sandpiper Lane lead down to
the brick-coloured sands. At low tide when the water recedes half a kilometre
into the bay, the mud flats shimmer like frosted cakes and become an endless
source of ammunition for good natured mud fights that erupt among groups of
A modern take
Grand Pré is not all about history. Within the past three
decades, vintners have planted grapes on hills around the area, taking
advantage of rich soil, a suitable microclimate and southern-facing slopes. Cycling
along Route 1, stop off at the Muir
Murray Estate Winery, which pays homage to the lore of Grand Pré with wine
names such as 755 Reserve and Fundy Tide. The on-site restaurant, appropriately
named the Perfect Blend,
offers up local fare, including favourites such as seafood chowder and lobster
About 1km east
along Route 1 is the award-winning Le Caveau
Restaurant at the Domaine de Grand Pré
winery, which specialises in grapes such as L’Acadie Blanc, developed
for growing conditions like those in Nova Scotia. Now the grape of choice for
winemaking in this region, the tart whites produced are comparable to a crisp chardonnay.
The winery has quickly racked up a long list of award-winning vintages, taking gold
at the 2012 All Canadian Wine Championships for Tidal Bay, a blend that
includes L’Acadie Blanc and muscat. The result is a bright, fresh, full-bodied
wine, which the vintner claims reflects the coastal breezes and the cool
east along Route 1 is the rustic Tangled
Gardens, a herb and flower garden that specialises in chutneys, vinegars, liqueurs
and jams as well as herb jellies with such inspired flavours as garlic rosemary
or raspberry lavender. With a small onsite art gallery, this is a delightful
place to stop and wander about, drinking in the aromas of the herbs and the
whimsy of the artwork, some of it placed about the gardens. Next door is Just
Us Coffee, the last stop along Route 1 before leaving Grand Pre. This unique coffee shop is Canada’s
first fair trade coffee roaster, where you can learn
about fair trade at the in-store interpretive museum, and try coffees from
countries as diverse as Guatemala, Ethiopia, East Timor and Rwanda.
the roastery, the road rises steeply back toward Halifax. Dismount and look
back, perhaps longingly like the statue of Evangeline you can see down below. It
is as if she is searching in vain for a bygone place and time made of equal
parts persistent human enterprise and epic human tragedy.