So return with us, dear friends, to early September of 2019, when we explored the pretty and historic village of Annapolis Royal, moseyed down the coast for an exciting day of whale watching, and got chased out of town by a hurricane.
A Brief Stop At Kejimkujik National Park
Leaving Lunenburg, we traveled 85 miles across Nova Scotia to Annapolis Royal on the west coast. Short travel days allow for exploring en route, so we spent a couple of hours at Kejimkujik National Park for a lunch break and short hike.
Why did we not plan to stay here, you ask? We always stay at national parks. But Kejimkujik is famous for hordes of mosquitoes, black flies, horse flies, and deer flies. We do our best to not deliberately make ourselves miserable.
Wouldn’t you know it, we didn’t hear the buzz of even one annoying insect. Maybe because it was September? Seeing all of the bike trails and kayaking opportunities made us wish we had planned to stay for a few days. Next time…(although I still wouldn’t go there in summer).
Moving on, we had two desires for our time in Annapolis Royal and the surrounding area: We wanted to visit the homeland of the Acadian people, and we wanted to see humpback whales in the Bay of Fundy. Oh, and we wanted to eat scallops from Digby, the scallop capital of the world!
In the early 1600s, farmers from southwest France came to North America and settled in the lush, beautiful Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. They farmed the rich tidal lands, established friendly relationships with the Mi’kmaq, and called their new home Acadia, which means “idyllic place.”
The Acadians evolved into a French-speaking culture distinct from their European ancestors, intermarried with the Mi’kmaq, and lived peacefully for 150 years. Then, the British arrived and did very bad things, including exiling the Acadians, splitting up families, and burning Acadian villages. The Acadians were scattered far and wide, with thousands perishing during the deportation.
A few thousand Acadians found refuge in the bayous of south Louisiana, where they adapted to life in the swampland. We’ve spent a lot of time in Cajun Country, and found it fascinating in Nova Scotia to connect the dots of Acadian and Cajun cultures. These are some seriously adaptable people, with a Joie de Vivre that belies their painful history. (If you haven’t been to Cajun Country, here are a couple of posts that might entice you: Roseate Spoonbills and Zydeco and In The Heart of Cajun Country.)
Port-Royal National Historic Site
About nine miles northwest of Annapolis Royal is Port-Royal National Historic Site. Established by French explorer Samuel de Champlain as a fur-trading outpost, it was one of the earliest European settlements in North America. Port-Royal was the capital of Acadia from 1605 to 1710.
Because the French treated the indigenous peoples with respect, the Mi’kmaq, who had lived in the region for thousands of years, welcomed them. They formed a friendship and mutually beneficial alliance.
Our guide was a proud Acadian with family roots that go back nine generations in the Annapolis Valley.
A Day With Humpback Whales
The day after visiting Port Royal, we headed out on an excursion to see humpback whales. Getting there was an adventure involving a 20-mile scenic drive down Digby Neck to Brier Island, which required two short ferry hops and careful timing (meaning, don’t tarry or you’ll miss the ferry!). Good thing Eric is always on time and drags me along.
The rich feeding grounds in southwestern Nova Scotia make the Bay of Fundy one of the world’s best sites for viewing marine mammals, including the humpbacks. These school bus-sized gentle giants are known for their acrobatic maneuvers.
We hoped to see the whales leaping out of the water and performing other spectacular antics, but honestly, we were happy to see them at all. (On our visit to Telegraph Cove a few years ago in British Columbia, we saw lots of orcas, but our only view of the humpbacks was their spouts.)
Despite their gigantic size, humpback whales consume only shrimp-like crustaceans or tiny fish. Instead of teeth, they have special fringed filters in their mouths called baleen. (Baleen is made of keratin, the same stuff our hair and fingernails are made of.) The whales gulp enormous quantities of seawater and filter the water through curtains of baleen to trap their minuscule prey.
The humpback whale gets its common name from the distinctive hump in front of the dorsal fin and from the curvature of their body when they make deep dives. They travel alone or in pods of two or three, and journey about 3,000 miles each year from their breeding grounds in sub-tropical waters to their summer home in colder northern waters.
Looking down at the whales, we could see their long white pectoral fins, which look like wings. The scientific name for humpback whales, Megaptera, translates to “big-winged.”
Tragically, humpback whales were almost hunted to extinction. In the mid-1960s, we finally started protecting these magnificent creatures, and they’ve made a spectacular comeback. Lucky them. Lucky us. Let’s hope that someday we stop pushing creatures and nature to the brink of disaster.
Exploring Annapolis Royal
Annapolis Royal is a pretty, peaceful town of 200 on the Annapolis River. The French established a fort here in 1630, and held onto it for only 80 years before the British defeated them. This marked the conquest of Acadia and began the dominion of the British over Nova Scotia.
Fort Anne is in the center of town, with a grand view of the Annapolis River.
Annapolis Royal is home to many art galleries, a brewery, good restaurants, and a farmers’ market. We had planned to stay a couple more days in the area, but heard rumors of a hurricane heading our way. “Nothing to worry about!” said the locals. However, we thought differently as we saw Hurricane Dorian picking up steam. A hurricane may not be a big deal in a sturdily built home, but it is a big deal in a travel trailer.
Click on photos for a larger image
Where We Stayed
Just look at that waterfront site, with no other campers in view! This is the delight of camping after Labour Day in the Maritimes. Actually, even in high season, we never felt crowded in the Maritimes.