16 Facts about Annapolis Royal for History Geeks


Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, is a town rich in history and unique stories. As one of North America’s oldest European settlements, it boasts fascinating facts, from early horticultural experiments to unexpected royal connections. Discover the hidden gems and intriguing past of this charming town through these fun facts.

Queen Anne Engraving
Queen Anne, namesake of Annapolis Royal
  1. Annapolis Royal has a lot of common history with Annapolis, Maryland and Williamsburg, Virginia. All three were colonial capitals, governed by English Colonial Governor, Francis Nicholson. He was first governor of Maryland from 1694 to 1698, then Virginia from 1698 to 1705 and finally Nova Scotia from 1712 to 1715. Both Annapolis, Maryland and Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia were named by Nicholson after Queen Anne. All three colonial capitals also have principal streets named after Queen Anne’s son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester.
  2. The first apples in the North America were likely grown in Annapolis Royal. We don’t know exactly where or when the first tree was planted, but it was likely around 1607 near what is the Habitation at Port Royal National Historic Site. And it may be more than just apples. When the Scottish expedition arrived in 1629 to begin Nova Scotia, they described that the area was full of fruiting bushes and trees – probably gooseberries, currants, raspberries, plums, pears, etc – introduced by the French about 20 years earlier.
  3. Annapolis Royal, formerly Port Royal, was the oldest feudal estate in North America. The very first Seigneury in New France was created in 1604 for Baron Jean de Biencourt (1557-1615). It lasted until 1733 when the rights were acquired by the British crown. The last Seigneuresse, Dame Marie Saint-Etienne De La Tour de Bellisle, died in 1739
  4. The first European vineyard in North America was at nearby Bear River.  According to various sources, Louis Hébert planted the first European grapes along the Bear River around 1611. In fact, Bear River is a corruption of its previous name, the “Rivière Hébert.” Today, Bear River Vineyards carries on the tradition.
  5. Fort Anne was once so well protected by the French, that in 1710, it took a British force of 2,000 men and 36 ships to capture it. That may not sound like a big military force by today’s standards, but considering that today’s population of Annapolis Royal is only 550 – it was enormous.
  6. Queen Victoria’s half-brother may have been from Annapolis Royal. Although now proven to be unlikely, Sir Fenwick Williams (1800-1883) was rumoured to be the son of Queen Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, and his mistress, Julie de Saint-Laurent. Prince Edward spent time in Nova Scotia, including Annapolis Royal.  Sir Fenwick was never denied the rumour of his Royal lineage. Further, the resemblance between Prince Edward and Sir Fenwick is uncanny and their military and political careers were closely paralleled. Sir Fenwick’s house was built in 1715 and once stood where the Royal Bank of Canada is today. It still exists, however, as it was moved to Saint Anthony Street in the late 1800s and is one of the oldest houses in Canada.
  7. The “Founding Fathers” of New France, Samuel de Champlain and Louis Hébert, first met and worked together at Annapolis Royal. Although Champlain is well known for founding Quebec City in 1608, he started his career in New France as the cartographer to Pierre Dugua. Dugua founded Port Royal, the predecessor of Annapolis Royal, in 1605. In around 1606, Pierre Dugua invited his cousin, Louis Hébert, to join the Port Royal venture. By 1617, Hébert would move with his wife, Marie Rollet, to Quebec City.
  8. Annapolis Royal, formerly Port Royal, was under the sovereignty of French King Henri IV and his descendants until 1714. Some readers may believe that the year “1714” in the previous sentence was a mistake, as Port Royal was ceded to Great Britain in 1712. However, Queen Anne, who died in 1714, was the great-grand-daughter of King Henri IV. Queen Anne was a close cousin of King Louis XIV of France and even visited him in Paris as a young Princess where he presented her with Diamond-set bracelets. They would later become bitter enemies.
  9. Canada’s first tourist may have been Sieur de Dièreville, who visited Annapolis Royal, then Port Royal, in 1699. Some may argue that the first recorded tourist to Canada was Lief Erikson around 1000 AD or John Cabot in 1497, however, those were “business trips” by modern standards. When Dièreville arrived in 1699, he had no intention to make money or settle in Canada. He seems to have simply arrived to travel and write about his voyage, which he did in a book called “Relation du voyage du Port Royal de l’Acadie, ou de la Nouvelle France” in 1708. By 2019, Canada was welcoming over 22 million tourists per year.
  10. Canada’s first political assassination may have been Edward How, Member of the Nova Scotia Council for Annapolis Royal. In October 1750, How was on a diplomatic mission to Fort Beauséjour, with the aim to relieve the tensions between the British and Acadians in the lead up to the Expulsion of the Acadians. The circumstances surrounding his death are not clear, but harm was definitely intended. How was married to Marie-Madeleine Winniett, a member of a prominent Acadian family. After How’s death, Marie-Madeleine continued to live on the property that would become the Bailey House Inn. However, many of her relations were part of the forced expulsion at Port Royal in 1755.
  11. When Annapolis Royal lost its status as capital of Nova Scotia in 1749, the colony of Nova Scotia was the second most populous of the lands that would become Canada. By 1825, the future province of Ontario, then Upper Canada, eclipsed Nova Scotia in population. Ontario now has about 15 times more people than Nova Scotia.
  12. Fort Anne is probably the oldest extant European structure in Canada. Although the fort has had four major building phases since its founding in 1629, it has been continuously occupied and its location and purpose has never changed. Fort Anne also contains the oldest military building in Canada and the oldest building managed by Parks Canada, the 1708 Powder magazine. Fort Anne became Canada’s first National Historic Site in 1917.
  13. In the late 1600s, there were two Port Royals; each were havens for Atlantic pirates. Walt Disney made the former capital of Jamaica famous with its series of movies on “Pirates of the Caribbean”. That Port Royal, which was also the capital of Jamaica was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692. However, the more northerly Port Royal, the capital of Acadia, was a haven for French pirates that mostly preyed on ships coming into and out of New England. It was captured by the British in 1710 and re-named Annapolis Royal.
  14. Two of New France’s early leaders, Claude De La Tour (1570-1636), and his son Charles De La Tour (1593-1666), were also Baronets of Nova Scotia. Claude De La Tour readily switched sides to the Scottish when it was in his favour, and joined the Nova Scotia colony of Charles Fort in 1629. He had originally been at that same location in 1610, when it was called Port Royal under the French. We don’t know his role in the early days of Nova Scotia, but he had significant rights to lands in the area and may have been the equivalent of a Seigneur. Although his father secured him the title, Charles De La Tour initially refused to be recognized as a Baronet of Nova Scotia. However, he changed his mind while in captivity in England. Oliver Cromwell would only meet with him if he was presented at court as a Scottish Baronet and not as the former French Governor of Acadia. The meeting of Cromwell and La Tour was successful and La Tour was granted his release. He later moved back to Port Royal.
  15. Religion was a greater factor in the slow start for Port Royal in the 1600s than its suitability for trade and farming. Pierre Dugua, the main patron and founder of Port Royal in 1605 was a protestant, as were many of his Port Royal compatriots, including the La Tours. Although protestants were generally tolerated in those years in France, they were not in favour and generally held with suspicion. With the assassination of “good” King Henri IV in 1610 by a Catholic zealot, the power dynamics in France changed significantly. By around 1629, Protestants were barred entirely from immigrating to New France. With the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by King Louis XIV in 1685, at least 150,000 French Protestants fled France for fear of their lives. None were officially allowed to move to New France – around 2,000 of them settled in the American colonies instead.
  16. The first known recipe from Acadia was for spruce beer, written by Sieur de Dièreville in 1699 during a visit to Port Royal. Although the First Nations of Canada were aware of the health properties of  spruce trees, it is not known they ever used it to make beer. Where spruce beer or “bière d’épinette” was first created is unknown, but there is no earlier recipe than the description Dièreville wrote in 1699 at Port Royal. He notes that it was made of fir tops, yeast and molasses. It was left to ferment for two or three days and then a clear liquid was decocted. A modern version of the recipe can be found on the Park Canada website.

Annapolis Royal’s captivating history and unique stories make it a fascinating destination for anyone interested in exploring the past. From its early days as one of North America’s oldest European settlements to its surprising royal connections and pioneering horticultural efforts, the town offers a wealth of intriguing facts. Whether you’re a history buff or simply curious, discovering Annapolis Royal’s hidden gems is a rewarding experience that highlights the rich heritage of this charming Nova Scotian town.

Beer making
The first known Acadian recipe was for Spruce Beer
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Bailey House Inn
150 Saint George Street,
Annapolis Royal, NS B0S 1A0

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