Complete Guide to Visiting Fort Anne in Annapolis Royal NS

Nestled in the picturesque town of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, the Fort Anne National Historic Site stands as a testament to the rich and tumultuous history of Canada. As the oldest national historic site in the country, Fort Anne offers a unique glimpse into the colonial past, serving as a beacon for history enthusiasts and casual visitors alike.

The fort grounds are open year round, with the museum open from mid-May to mid-October. The museum is paid admission, but is free if you have a Parks Canada Discovery Pass.

A Historical Overview

Fort Anne’s origins date back to 1629 when Scottish settlers established Charles Fort under the leadership of Sir William Alexander. When the Scottish arrived in that year, they saw the remains of the habitation that the French had built in 1605, but sailed past and built where the fort is today. Claude De La Tour, who was part of the earlier Port Royal settlement, was with them and may have guided them on the best place to build. The fort location may have been the exact place that French settlers planted wheat, rye, barely and other crops in 1606. In fact, the French saw this as a better location to build their 1605 habitation, but chose to be closer to the Digby Gut to more easily defend the Annapolis Basin. When forces from Virginia attacked in 1613, most of the inhabitants of Port Royal were here tending their crops and first knew of the attack by seeing smoke rising from the habitation.

The Fort had 4 major building phases:

1629 – A small pentagon shaped fort, probably made almost entirely of wood, was built in August 1629. It was about 1/4 the size of the current fort and was located at the south-west corner. Virtually nothing was known about the Scottish fort, known as Charles Fort, until a letter surfaced in Scotland in the 1930s with a first-hand written account. No trace of the first fort remains, but an archeological survey in the 1990s unearthed many artifacts, some of which can be found in the museum.

1643 – In 1643, an earthen fort was constructed by French Governor Charles de Menou d’Aulnay to replace the wooden fort. It was slightly bigger than the Scottish fort, but was more or less the same shape.

1689 – In 1689, France was coming to the peak of its power. Although we know now that France would eventually lose North America, in the late 1600s, France was aggressively expanding everywhere – the Low Countries, Germany, the Caribbean, India, and in North America. France hadn’t lost a major battle in almost a hundred years. In 1689, the French completely demolished the old fort and a new one began that was 4 times the size. It wasn’t the exact same shape of the current fort, but was about the same dimensions. The French needed the Fort to ensure their dominance of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Canada. At the same time it enabled the French to easily raid the New England colonies. Unfortunately all work was stopped after about 2 weeks. When English forces arrived in 1690, the unfinished fort quickly fell to them.

1703 – At another peak in French and English hostilities, huge resources were poured into the fort by the French to construct a “vauban” or star-shaped, fort. This is the fort that we see today.  At this time, the American colonies were growing stronger by the year and the French needed to secure Acadia as part of its grand design to establish a North American empire stretching all the way to Louisiana. 

The 1703 fort withstood two attacks during the War of the Spanish Succession, known as Queen Anne’s War in North America. However, British forces, with reinforcements from New England, were determined to take the fort. In 1710, they arrived with an overwhelming force of 2,000 men and 36 ships and were successful. In 1712, when peninsular Nova Scotia was ceded to Great Britain, the French turned their attention to Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island to protect the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Canada.

After 1710, the fort was permanently British, but it, and the newly renamed town of Annapolis Royal, continued to be attacked. The last assault was on 29 August 1781 by American Revolutionaries. In 1749, the capital of Scotia moved to the new settlement of Halifax and the last Garrison left in 1854. By 1883, the United Kingdom turned over responsibility of the fort to the Government of Canada. In 1917, it was made a National Historic Site of Canada and remains the oldest in the Parks Canada system.

The Landscape & Structures

Upon entering Fort Anne, visitors are greeted by the impressive star-shaped earthen fortifications, a classic example of Vauban-style military architecture. These ramparts, which have been meticulously preserved, offer panoramic views of the Annapolis Basin, providing a scenic backdrop to the historical narratives they encase. The low height of the walls made them difficult to hit and were made of earth rather than stone to lessen the damage done by projectiles.

The centrepiece of the site is the Officers’ Quarters Museum. This 1797 building houses a wealth of artifacts, including military uniforms, weaponry, and personal items that paint a vivid picture of life at the fort. One of the most notable exhibits is the Heritage Tapestry, a stunning piece of needlework that chronicles 400 years of local history in intricate detail. This is one of the last remaining of the buildings that were originally inside the star of the fort.

Another building to explore is the 1708 powder magazine. This is the oldest military building in Canada and the oldest building managed by parks Canada.

Officer’s Quarters Museum

Within the Officers’ Quarters Museum at Fort Anne National Historic Site, visitors are treated to a meticulously curated collection of artifacts and exhibits. Display cases showcase a diverse array of artifacts, including muskets, cannonballs, and personal items belonging to officers and soldiers who once inhabited the fort. Interactive displays offer hands-on experiences, allowing visitors to touch replica uniforms and handle period tools, providing a tactile connection to the past. Each exhibit is accompanied by detailed explanations, enriching the visitor’s understanding of the fort’s strategic significance and the daily challenges faced by its inhabitants. Whether marvelling at the craftsmanship of a meticulously restored piece of armor or studying the intricacies of a centuries-old map, the museum at Fort Anne offers a captivating journey through time that brings history alive in vivid detail.

Engaging Activitues & Tours

Fort Anne offers a variety of activities designed to engage visitors of all ages. Guided tours provide in-depth insights into the fort’s history and significance. Knowledgeable guides recount tales of battles, daily life, and the fort’s strategic importance in the struggle for control of North America.

For those interested in a more immersive experience, the site occasionally hosts reenactments of historical events, complete with period costumes and live demonstrations. These reenactments bring the past to life, offering a dynamic way to understand the complexities of colonial warfare and settlement.

Natural Beauty & Recreation

The natural beauty surrounding Fort Anne enhances the visitor experience. The site’s well-maintained grounds are perfect for leisurely walks, picnics, and nature photography. The Annapolis River and the surrounding landscapes provide a serene setting that contrasts with the fort’s storied past. The population of Annapolis Royal is around 500 people and has barely changed in about 350 years. Look at the vistas around you and imagine that the cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore all had fewer people than Annapolis Royal at one point – they are now sprawling metropolises with streets and skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, but Annapolis Royal remains virtually unchanged.

Educational Programs

Fort Anne also plays a significant role in education. The site offers a range of educational programs for school groups and visitors, emphasizing hands-on learning. These programs cover various aspects of the site’s history, from its strategic military importance to the daily lives of its inhabitants.

A Place of Refelection

Beyond its military history, Fort Anne is also a place of reflection and remembrance. The Garrison Cemetery, one of the oldest English graveyards in Canada, is the final resting place of soldiers, settlers, and notable figures from the area’s past. The headstones, some dating back to the 17th century, tell their own stories, adding another layer to the site’s historical tapestry. In fact, the oldest gravestone in Canada, that of Batthiah Douglas, was buried here in 1720. Her husband lived at the property that is now the Bailey House Inn.

Stay Nearby While Visiting Fort Anne

The Bailey House Inn is just a short walk from Fort Anne, precisely 2,000 feet away. Despite its own impressive 250-year history, the inn is situated on the former manor of the Seigniory of Port Royal, with its story intricately linked to that of Fort Anne. A stay at the inn offers the chance to uncover numerous tales that span centuries. The inn is only open to overnight guests and event participants.

A visit to Fort Anne National Historic Site is more than just a journey into the past; it’s an exploration of the roots of Canadian identity. The fort stands as a symbol of resilience and change, embodying the spirit of a nation forged through conflict and cooperation. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or a curious traveler, Fort Anne promises a memorable and enlightening experience.

As you walk through its storied grounds, you’ll not only witness the remnants of colonial conflicts but also gain a deeper appreciation for the diverse heritage that shapes Canada today. So, step back in time and discover the rich legacy of Fort Anne – a cornerstone of Canadian history.

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 •  150 Saint George Street, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia

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RYA-2023-24-04111104470229963-150

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Bailey House Inn
150 Saint George Street,
Annapolis Royal, NS B0S 1A0

RYA-2023-24-04111104470229963-150
2024 Bailey House Inn