Fort Anne National Historic Site



Detail of Fort Anne Heritage Tapestry Detail of Fort Anne Heritage Tapestry
© Parks Canada/Landmark Designs Ltd.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Annapolis River (formerly the Dauphin River) in southwestern Nova Scotia became a centre of the European colonization of North America. For more than 3,000 years, the Mi’kmaq and their ancestors had used the river as part of an important overland route to the south shore of Nova Scotia. In 1605, fifteen years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, three years before the founding of Quebec, and two years before founding of Jamestown in Virginia, French explorers established a settlement on the shores of where the river meets the basin. Because of its expanse and beauty, they named the basin Port-Royal.

With the aid of the Mi’kmaq, the settlers set out to establish a fur trading post and an agricultural colony. They cleared land upriver at the present locations of Annapolis Royal and Fort Anne National Historic Site, where they grew wheat and other crops. To grind grain from the site, they constructed a grist mill on the Allain River. Despite financial and other hardships, the small colony developed important ties with the Mi’kmaq and set about introducing French culture in this territory they called Acadia.

In 1613, an English expedition from Jamestown, led by [Captain] Samuel Argall, appeared in Port-Royal to find the Habitation undefended. They raided and burned most of the settlement to the ground, killed livestock and destroyed crops. This episode marked the beginning of a 150-year conflict between Britain and France.

It is at this juncture where the story of Fort Anne National Historic Site begins.


The French Legacy

After the colony was returned to France, French colonists replaced the Scots. Their leader, Charles de Menou d’Aulnay and his wife, Jeanne Motin, were committed to building a thriving colony. The settlers who had come with d’Aulnay spread out along the shores of the Rivière Dauphin (later named the Annapolis River). They brought with them a distinctive form of agriculture that remains in use today. By building dykes and engineering sluices, or aboiteaux, along the tidal flats, the settlers kept the marshes from being flooded by sea waters. Over a two to three year period, rainfall washed the salt from the soil in dyked areas. This process turned marshes into productive farmland. This group of French settlers evolved into the Acadian people. 

Aerial of star-shaped fort Aerial of star-shaped fort 
© Parks Canada/J. D’Entremont


Beginning in the 1630s, Port-Royal was the name of the village that encompassed the area from the basin to several kilometres upriver beyond present-day Annapolis Royal. By the early 1700s, approximately 600 Acadians were living at Port-Royal. Other settlements had been established by Acadians from Port-Royal on the upper Bay of Fundy. 

Under d’Aulnay, the fort began a period of expansion. D’Aulnay built the first of four French forts, possibly incorporating parts of the Scots’ fort. Two makeshift forts succeeded d’Aulnay’s fort. Then, in 1702, the French began constructing a fort at the junction of the Annapolis and Allain rivers. Pierre-Paul de Labat, a French officer, designed and supervised the construction. Trained under the great military engineer of European fortifications, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, de Labat created a star-shaped fort consisting of four bastions connected by curtain walls, with a ravelin and seaward battery facing the Annapolis River. The ruins of this Vauban-styled fort are known as Fort Anne National Historic Site of Canada. 

For much of the 17th century, until 1710, the colony of Acadia was governed from this location. It was home to the French Governor, his officials and garrison. Several families as well as carpenters and tradesman also lived at the fort. 


War and the Great Upheaval

In the 1740s the French launched several separate attacks to regain Acadia. The first attack, in 1744, was led by Captain François du Pont Duvivier of Louisbourg. For about a month, French soldiers and First Nations warriors attacked the fort at night. The fort’s commandant, Paul Mascarene, held the enemy at a distance until reinforcements arrived from New England and the attackers retreated. The French also launched expeditions in 1745 and 1746. Officials at the fort continued to govern the Mi’kmaq, Acadian and small British population of Nova Scotia until 1749 when Halifax was founded as the new capital.

British Soldiers defending the fort, 1744

British Soldiers defending the fort, 1744 

© Parks Canada/H. MacDonald

British-French warfare broke out yet again in the 1750s, this time with tragic consequences for the Acadians. In 1755, Acadians refused to sign an unconditional oath of allegiance to the British King, insisting on their neutrality. Twice in July, Acadian representatives refused. Their resistance led to a resolution by the Nova Scotia Council to deport them from the colony. Military officials in New England would facilitate the process. On August 11, Governor Charles Lawrence decreed that the Acadians were to be forced on to ships and dispersed among the British colonies south of Nova Scotia. The Great Upheaval of the Acadian people began in the upper Bay of Fundy and dragged on through the autumn. Annapolis Royal was a port of call for ships involved in the deportation. 

For a short span of time, the Acadians living along the Annapolis basin and river remained at liberty. The garrison at Annapolis Royal had co-existed with the nearby Acadian villages for years. Acadians had worked on repairs to the fort at Annapolis and Acadian deputies had represented their communities in dealings with the governing council. Nevertheless, in December 1755, as had happened with other Acadians in the Chignecto, Grand-Pré and Pigiguit areas a few months earlier, British officials oversaw the round-up of Acadians from the greater Annapolis area. Those people, numbering 1,664, were transported to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and South Carolina. The homes and outbuildings they left behind were destroyed. Some 232 Acadians, however, the ones aboard the Pembroke destined for North Carolina, were able to take over the vessel and sail it to the Saint John River. All 232 escaped. Most made their way to Quebec, but some returned to the Annapolis area to live in the shadows. All told, the Acadian Deportation lasted from 1755 to 1762 and resulted in the forcible removal of about 10,000 Acadians. Another 4,000 escaped before they were apprehended, fleeing to what are now New Brunswick, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island. The first Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, brought an end to the war between Great Britain and France. France transfered control of all French lands in North America to Britain, except for the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon which provided a base for the French fishery. The Treaty allowed the Acadians to live openly and resettle, but by then, thousands of settlers from New England had taken over their fertile farmlands. Despite their losses, as well as the poverty and discrimination they faced, Acadian communities persisted and began a long process of rebuilding their unique culture. Today their descendants comprise more than 300,000 of the population of the Atlantic provinces.


Nova Scotia is Born

In spite of their great losses, some of the settlers from the Port-Royal Habitation remained in the region for many years to come. One of the settlers, Charles de Saint-Etienne de La Tour, eventually established a trading base at Cape Sable. 

Meanwhile, the Scots became the next settlers to establish a foothold in the region. In 1621, King James I of England granted a charter to Sir William Alexander, a Scottish nobleman, to set up a Scottish colony in North America, in what are now the Canadian Maritime provinces and the Gaspé Peninsula. Under the charter, this proposed colony was named Nova Scotia, the Latin name for New Scotland.


Nova Scotia’s Coat of Arms

Nova Scotia’s Coat of Arms


It took eight years to stimulate interest and financial backing for the proposed settlement. Success came in 1629, when around 70 Scottish colonists, led by Alexander’s son, Sir William Alexander the Younger, came ashore several kilometres upriver from the former Port-Royal Habitation, at the site of where Fort Anne National Historic Site now stands.

According to the diary of one settler, the newcomers found the site “… fortified by sea and by land…rising (above) one of the main rivers, having on the east…a small river… (where) we found a ruined water mill built by the French.” Protected on both sides of the river by hills and containing an abundance of seafood and game, they christened the fort Charles Fort in honour of the Stuart ruler, Charles I. They took the name of their settlement from the basin, Port-Royal. 

Nevertheless, the conflict between France and England over control of the region continued. In an attempt to appease France, King Charles ordered Sir William Alexander to remove his settlers from Port-Royal. A year later, in 1632, only three years after Alexander’s party set ashore, the colony was ceded to France under the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. 

Although the Scots’ settlement was short lived, it left an enduring legacy. The name, flag and coat-of-arms of Nova Scotia are all derived from this venture. 

The British Return

Painting of a ship
© Parks Canada/D. Kadlec

Port-Royal’s period as the French capital of Acadia ended in the fall of 1710, when a large expedition led by Francis Nicholson, a British officer, took control of the fort after a week-long siege. Nicholson’s fleet of 35 ships and 2000 British and New England troops vastly outnumbered the French forces. On October 16, Governor Daniel D’Auger de Subercase surrendered the fort and an area of five kilometres around the village. The British renamed Port-Royal, Annapolis Royal, and once again, Acadia became Nova Scotia.

The Treaty of Utrecht confirmed British sovereignty over Acadia in 1713, and Annapolis Royal became the capital of Nova Scotia. Still, territorial boundaries of Acadia remained ambiguous. France had ceded Acadia with “its ancient limits” to the British, yet those limits were never defined. Great Britain may have had gained control over Acadia, but the war was not over. Under the agreement, France retained its colonies of Canada (an area along the St. Lawrence River), Ile Royale (Cape Breton Island) and Ile Saint Jean (Prince Edward Island). The French also retained their ambitions of one day regaining control of Annapolis Royal and re-establishing Acadia.

For the Acadians, the next 30 years was a time of remarkable population growth with settlements expanding up the Bay of Fundy. At the same time, there was much uncertainty. Since 1713, the region had changed administrations between the French and British numerous times, leading the Acadians to think the French might once again gain control. Subsequently, the Acadians were not eager to commit to one imperial regime or another. They instead preferred to remain neutral. To communicate with the Acadians in the various villages dispersed around the region, the British administration in Annapolis Royal, headquartered in what today is known as Fort Anne, initiated a partially representative government. Under this scheme, each of the major Acadian communities elected deputies, who acted on behalf of their villages with the British officials. From time to time the British pressured the deputies to commit completely to the British side, something the Acadians continued to resist.

In 1729-30 a compromise was found at the local level when Governor Richard Philipps and the Acadians agreed to a modified oath that was accompanied by a verbal promise stating that the Acadians would not be obligated to bear arms against the French or the Mi’kmaq. British officials in London and later in Halifax, after it was founded in 1749, would not accept any such modification. Thus the loyalty issue was an ongoing worry for both sides.

Image from, “The Micmac and How Their Ancestors Lived Five Hundred Years Ago” Image from, “The Micmac and How Their Ancestors Lived Five Hundred Years Ago”
© Parks Canada/K. Kaulbach

The Mi’kmaq, who just over a century earlier had solely occupied the entire region, were not happy with the increased British presence in Nova Scotia. On the other hand, they were generally friendly with the French, with some of whom they shared a common religious faith and family ties. Outright violence between the Mi’kmaq and the British broke out in the 1720s. The Mi’kmaq captured numerous trading and fishing vessels from New England. There was even a battle near Annapolis. The conflict ended in 1726, when Mi’kmaq and other First Nations chiefs in the northeast came to the fort in Annapolis to ratify a peace treaty signed the year before in Boston.


Canada’s Oldest National Historic Site


Unveiling of commemorative plaque at Fort Anne, 1921 Unveiling of commemorative plaque at Fort Anne, 1921
© Parks Canada

With Halifax as the new capital and military stronghold, the role of the fort at Annapolis Royal diminished in importance. In subsequent hostilities, such as the American Revolution and the War of 1812, it served as an outpost, defending the town against invaders. The last time the fort was involved in an actual combat was in 1781 when it was attacked by American privateers. The British constructed a new Field Officers’ Quarters in the late 1790s. In the early 1800s, the old fort became known as Fort Anne. In 1854, the British withdrew the garrison from Annapolis Royal and the grounds and buildings gradually deteriorated.

Preservation efforts

During the 1800s the town of Annapolis Royal prospered from the growth of the shipping and ship-building industry. To the Victorian romantics of the late 19th century, the fort ruins evoked a long and heroic past. When the fort’s blockhouse was demolished without informing the people of Annapolis Royal, a group of outraged citizens successfully petitioned the Government of Canada to have the site preserved and maintained for future generations. Their efforts brought about a series of works aimed at improving the site. In 1917, Fort Anne became Canada’s first administered national historic site.

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