Saturday, October 6, 2007

Time & Tides in Nova Scotia

For five days (September 29 – October 4) we’ve been rocked in the cradle of Canadian history. At old Port-Royal we saw the reconstruction of a French settlement established in 1605, that opened the way for the coming of immigrants from the south of France.

‘L’Acadie’ was the new home for those whom we know as the ‘Acadians’, primarily French but joined by Basque, Spanish, Portugese, Irish, Scots and native North Americans through marriage. They were skilled farmers, reclaiming the fertile tidal flats by a system of dykes (‘aboiteaux’) made by rocks and mud laced with grass roots. Engineered with unique trap doors on the ends of hallowed out tree trunks, ground water was allowed to drain out the dykes to sea, but sea water couldn’t get back in! We walked several kilometres out the remnants of one of these, to the beach at Advocate, on the Glooscap Trail. Impressive.

(dyke setting out from behind the United Church)
(example of the land reclaimed by dyking)

Later, at the marvellous museum at Grand Pré, we spent time absorbing the fuller Acadian story. What a losing proposition it was for these folks, committed as they were to a pacifist and neutral position, to be caught in the middle between the warring English, French and Mi’Kmaq nations. In truth it was their Catholicism and refusal to take an unconditional oath to the Queen that worried the eventual British Protestant administrators. It was a time when religious adherence was more important than language or ethnicity in determining loyalty.

(Commerative Church at Grand Pre celebrating the Acadians)

And so in 1755 the decision to expel the Acadians led to their deportation. Would you believe it was carried out by 2000 New England troops, who then sent in their own planters to inherit the land made possible by these people? How come this story was not a part of the “American History” I was taught in school back in the U.S.? 10,000 were sent away and many died from shipwreck, disease and starvation.

(painted depiction of families being removed from their lands and taken away in ships)
It’s a tragic tale told poignantly in video and display at this museum. Maybe Peter and I will catch up with some of their ‘Cajun’ descendents later in Louisiana in January.
Annapolis Royal provided wonderful walking tours of the first colonial capital before the founding of Halifax, a bustling Victoria port of trade and commerce. The two oldest wooden homes are still here (1708 & 1709), along with a slew of ‘melt your mouth’ houses, many of which are now bed and breakfast inns. And the historic gardens are not to be missed.

(oldest wooden house in Canada - 1708)

(Sinclair Inn - earliest surving Acadian building in Canada, with halographic "ghosts" in the basement, who tell you the entire history of the building)

(exquisite 200 year old farmhouse with Georgian decor)

(Historic Gardens)

And of course, ship building. The “Great Age of Sail” was well documented at the “Ottawa House (1765) on Partridge Island and in picturesque Lunenburg, at the Fisheries Museum.

Here’s an authentic Nova Scotia tale, one of so many other ship tales, told about a 3 leaf schnooner built at “Spencer’s Island” in 1861. It’s called “The Mystery of the Mary Celeste”
and goes like this:
On November 7, 1872, she set sail from New York City, bound for Genoa, Italy with a cargo consisting of 1100 bottles of pure alcohol. Captain Benjamin Briggs had his wife and daughter aboard, along with a crew of seven men. On December 4th (27 days later) the crew of another ship found her drifting aimlessly off course with no crew at all aboard. There were no signs of piracy. Everything was in place. Coats were hanging up, tobacco lay out on tables ready to smoke, and loose change was about. Everyone had vanished without a trace! Two members of the discovery crew piloted the ship to Gibraltar, where a judicial hearing speculated on murder and betrayal. Yet the disappearance of the captain’s family and crew was never explained, nor were any of them ever seen again.

For 10 more years the ‘Mary Celeste’ continued to sail the North Atlantic, but was plagued with misfortune and had difficulty raising a crew for this now infamous ‘ghost ship’. In 1885 she was lost on a reef in Haiti .. the same fate, by the way, of the most famous competitive schooner in Nova Scotian history”! That’s right, .. the “Bluenose”, 17 time winner of the heralded “Fisherman’s Cup Trophy”, lost on a Haitian reef on January 28, 1946. Bluenose II, an exact replica and symbol of Nova Scotia around the world, does not race, as there is no desire to tamper with the fame and glory won by Bluenose. Peter and I were present in Lunenburg on the last day the crew was putting Bluenose II to bed for the winter
(though, sadly, we missed her last sail).
(painting of the Bluenose, followed by the real thing!)

For your future traveling interest, we packed a lunch for a walk into “The Ovens”, a park out on a peninsula near Lunenburg. We just happened to read about this place while passing by, so decided to give it a try. Wow! It’s a MUST! Well groomed trails take you out to the cliffs and down steps into caves, where the mighty crashing of the tidal waves against the back walls, sounds like the roaring of great lions or the blasting of cannons. These ‘sudden finds’ and the time to explore make this trip so special.


With wonderful Eberhart relatives in Maine, who we visited periodically throughout my youth, I have been well acquainted with tides. But, the Bay of Fundy?! It is not to be believed without seeing. It’s unique funnel shape and position near the 45 degree latitude between north and south, give it the world’s largest tides. Here are a few statistics with pictures to prove. In 6 hours and 13 minutes the tide travels 186 miles up the length of the Bay, rising 1 inch per minute. 100 billion tons of water flow through this channel on each run of the tide. If the full power of this tide could be harnessed, it would be enough to supply the world’s current energy needs three times over.

(same boats at same wharf six hours apart)

We visited the only hydro plant that has attempted to harness Fundy’s tidal power built in 1965 on the causeway between Annapolis Royal and Granville Ferry. It is one of only 3 in the world, and a modest experiment. Prohibitive costs and concern for the environmental impact, have kept future developments of this nature at bay (ha!) Sometimes wisdom does prevail over galloping appetities.

“Farewell to Nova Scotia, the seabound coast.” Perhaps the best way to end this blog entry is with the words that we saw engraved on a memorial in Advocate:

Let it be known to all
That the communities of Advocate, Apple River,
Fraserville, New Salem and Spencers Island, Nova Scotia
Some of the oldest settled communities in our nation,
Named and charted in 1607 by French Explorer,
Samuel de Champlain –
Claimed to be visited in 1398 by
Prince Henry Sinclair
(from the Orkneys when wintering over here)
Are communities wedged between forest and sea
That for generations have lived
By the benefits and dangers of the sea –
Whose present generation wishes to show appreciation of their
Long and proud heritage
Herby dedicate this stone in memorial
To all those seamen who lost their lives
In pursuit of their livelihood.
October 10, 1999

(Advocate United Church which celebrated a 600 year Anniversary, based on the history of Prince Henry Sinclair, alleged to have been here in 1398)