It had been years since I was last at Grand Pre National Historic Site, my how things had changed. Oh everything I remembered was still there, but there was a new interpretive center building and the grounds were even more remarkable than what I had remembered.
But before I tell you about our trip there I will give you a little background history to the area.
Early in the 1600's Pierre Melanson & Marguerite Mius d’Entremont with their children moved from Port Royal to an area near the Minas Basin. It was not long before others followed him to this fertile rich marshland.
They worked together and built miles of dykes and claimed the marshland as their farmland. So many came that between the years 1682 - 1755 this area became the center of the Acadian settlements.
Although most of the Acadians took a neutral stand, the government of Nova Scotia became nervous of their allegiance in the wake of another war. They decided to force the Acadians to sign an oath of allegiance, and deport those who refused to sign.
As a result over 6000 Acadians were deported, 2,200 from the Minas Basin area. In 1760 the British authorities granted the rich Acadian lands to the New England Planters who moved up from the eastern states. By the time the Acadians were allowed to come back in 1764, their former lands were not Available and they had to settle elsewhere.
This area around the Minas Basin became identified for the fluent Acadian settlements that had been there and as the main Deportation center. This was largely due to a very detailed journal written by Lieutenant Colonel John Winslow about the deportation.
It is also the site that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow chose as a setting for his famous poem "Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie", published in 1847.
In 1907 John Frederic Herbin bought the land the church and graveyard stood on. He erected a stone cross to mark the graveyard and donated the land as a memorial to the Acadian people.
He sold the land to the Dominion Atlantic Railroad in 1917 who also kept it as a memorial park. They did some landscaping and erected a statue of the fabled Evangeline.
The DAR deeded some of the land to The Societe Mutuelle de'Assomption, for an Acadian Memorial. With funds gathered from Acadian people across the country they built the present church in the park. In 1957 the Canadian Government became involved and declared it a National Historic Site in 1961.
The day my sister, Judy and I decided to travel to Grand Pre was a very hot July day. The last few times we had gone adventuring it had been overcast days, so it was nice to have the sun out for taking pictures.
The first thing I noticed as I drove into the park was the new interpretive Center. This building was opened in 2003 and houses a gift shop, a theatre, an exhibit hall, a multipurpose room, an administration area and public washrooms.
We were welcomed in by very pleasant staff as we walked through the door. They explained what was located in this building, informed us of the time the next movie would be starting in the theatre and asked if we had any questions.
We said not at this time and decided to start in the gift shop for a look around. They have a nice selection of Acadian, Nova Scotia and Grand Pre souvenirs in there.
Next we went into a large exhibit room and had a look around. In the center of the floor was a large glassed-in miniature display of a typical Acadian farm. This was really neat. On the other side of this was a large display of a dyke complete with an aboiteau and an Acadian working on it. It is a really nice display.
All around the perimeter of the room are more exhibits and displays, lots with pictures and some with short video clips and sound clips. You could easily spend a couple hours in here looking over everything.
I noticed the time and seen it was time for the movie to start so we walked across to the Multi Media Theater. There were quite a few people seated already and it was not long before it started.
This turned out to be an interactive theater and we felt we were right there in the middle of everything while we watched and learned about the Acadians of Grand Pre. It was very well done and we enjoyed it.
When the movie finished we headed over to the Memorial Church. It is a short walk to get there on a very nice trail. Along the way we passed the sculpture "Deportation" off in the field to our left. As we made the turn we were taken aback by the first view of the statue of Evangeline with the Memorial Church behind, it was breath-taking.
The bronze Statue of Evangeline was made by a Canadian sculptor, Philippe Hebert, who unfortunately died before it was finished. His son Henri finished it and the statue was erected at Grand Pre in 1920 by the Dominion Atlantic Railway, who owned the land at the time.
The statue depicts the heroine Evangeline from the famous Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie. The poem was about the story of the Deportation and le Grand Derangement, the great uprooting.
After the poem was published in 1847 many American Tourist came to see this place where she had been born. But at that time there was not much to see as there was not much left of the village, only the dyke lands and a row of willows.
We continued on up the path to the Memorial Church. Upon acquiring a piece of land from the DAR, the Societe Nationale l'Assomption, managed by Acadians, raised money to erect a memorial church museum at Grand Pre.
The new church was built on top of the ruins John Frederick Herbin had uncovered which he believed to be the ruins of Saint-Charles-des-Mines Church. The construction began in the spring of 1922 and was completed and opened in time for the 175th anniversary of the Deportation in 1930.
The interior of the church is beautiful with it's statue, pulpits, pictures and displays. Adding greatly to this is the magnificent stained glass windows found in the front over the entrance. This empowering touch fulfilled the dreams of the Acadian community for a memorial stained glass window to enhance the front of the church. Funding for this project came from the Homburg foundation of Halifax and from Acadians throughout Nova Scotia.
It was designed by artist Terry Smith-Lamothe, who has a connection with the Louisiana Cadiens. It was installed in 1985. He captured a scene of desperation, confusion and heart break as families were separated and loaded onto the British ships to be taken away to lands unknown. It is a truly beautiful piece of work.
At the back of the church is another exhibit including a verbal story portraying the great fear and confusion of the Acadian children during the deportation. There are two children featured in this display telling their side of the story. The whole story of the Deportation is a heart breaking one and I feel a true dark side to our Nova Scotia history.
Back outside we walked past some dig sites from the archaeology research being carried out at Grand Pre. The Grand Pre Archaeological Field School Project was started in 2001 to rediscover any traces of the Acadian village and the Saint-Charles-des-Mines Church. The project is a partnership between the Societe Promotion Grand Pre, Parks Canada and Saint Mary's University and is headed up by archaeologist Jonathan Fowler.
It was first thought that the Memorial Church had been built on top of the old foundation of the old Saint-Charles-des-Mines Church but new research has questioned this. Through their many digs the group has been recovering many artifacts and learning a lot. They have a very good web site telling about the archaeology digs going on here, showing what they have found and where.
Our next stop was at the old well. This well was discovered in the late 1800's and it is presumed that it was used by the Acadians for watering their livestock. It was named Evangeline's well sometime in the early 1900s in reference to Longfellow's poem Evangeline.
Running along side of the well is a row of French willows. These willows are offshoots from the original French willows which according to oral history were here during the time of the Acadian village.
A little farther down the path we come to The Longfellow Monument. It is a copy bust of one made by Sir Thomas Brock which was placed in the Westminster Abby. This one was given to the park from the Province of Nova Scotia to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Acadian Deportation. Grand Pre has lots to thank Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for as his poem about Evangeline generated massive interest to this area, the Acadians and the Deportation.
Another person greatly responsible for Grand Pre National Historic Park was John Frederic Herbin. He realized the heritage value of the land and purchased it in 1907 to start a memorial park. In 1917 he sold the area to the Dominion Atlantic Railroad with the condition that the presumed piece of land where the Saint-Charles-des-Mines church was, be deeded to the Acadian people for a memorial.
One of the many things John Herbin did while he owned the land was to erect a memorial cross on the area of the old Acadian graveyard. He built the cross around 1909 and he made it using stones he found from the old Acadian foundations in the area. On the cross today is a plaque dedicated to John Frederic Herbin recognizing his vision for the area.
This area was confirmed as the old burying ground after two local people found a couple of coffins in the late 1800s. The old parish records were not complete but listed 170 Acadian burials here. It is thought that there may be up to 400 buried here. These were mostly Acadians but there could have been some French and Mi'Kmaq also.
From here we turn back and admire the lovely grounds in the park as we walk back. There is a big duck pond surrounded by gorgeous big willow trees, flowering shrubs and bushes. The lawns were so nice and green and the gardens were very colourful. All this is also greatly enhanced by the fantastic view of Cape Blomidon, the lush green farmlands and the Minas Basin.
We continued past the Church and down towards the other end of the park. Here we found the Kitchen Garden and the Blacksmith Shop. Inside the blacksmith shop you will see some of the old tools used in this trade including the very big bellows used to stoke the fire. I was intrigued with the stall in there where they would put the horses while being shod. You could defiantly tell many a horse and ox had used this stall.
It had been a very interesting day at the Grand Pre National Historic Park. I had learned so much and really enjoyed the walk around the park. There was just one more stop I wanted to make while I was here. I wanted to find the Planter's Monument at Horton Landing again. That is where my ancestors had first landed on Nova Scotian soil.
If you are interested in more information about Grand Pre National Historic Site you may call them at 902 542 3631 or toll free 1 866 542 3631. You can also email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to them at PO Box 150; Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, Canada, B0P 1M0. You may also visit their website by clicking here .
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