Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 16, 2017

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Ordinary magic

Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley deals in simple pleasures and rich connections to history

It was a cool summer’s night in the quiet town of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, and a crisp Bay of Fundy breeze was blowing in through our open bedroom window at the Hillsdale House Inn (tel: 902-532-2345; www.hillsdalehouseinn.ca). We could smell the beautiful bushes that dot the manicured gardens where we had sipped a chilled glass of white wine just a few hours before.

“You do realize we’re sleeping like Kings,” I advised my boyfriend, snuggling deeper under the covers in our bedroom, which, like the rest of the inn, manages to achieve Victorian elegance without feeling oppressive.

“Like one King, anyway,” Chris agreed.

Rumour has it that as a young prince, King George V, stayed in this very same room, a mere 124 years ago. Although we both knew it could just be a tall tale, Chris and I were eager to believe it. It was the last night of our thoroughly undemanding two-day holiday, and we liked the idea of a royal send-off.

Annapolis Royal is the most westerly of a spattering of historic little towns that lie roughly 75 to 200 kilometres northwest of Halifax, along the Bay of Fundy, in the region known as the Annapolis Valley.

The area has two main claims to fame: its rich history (Annapolis Royal itself, once known as Port Royal, is the oldest permanent European settlement in Canada) and its agricultural prowess.

Small as it is, the region boasts seven vineyards, a cheese factory, a variety of market gardens, and enough apple orchards to warrant its own Apple Blossom Festival every spring.

We started our trip by brushing up on history at the tidy Grand Pré National Historic Site (tel: 902-542-3631; www.pc.gc.ca/grandpre). I’m embarrassed to admit that although I had heard of Acadia before, I was never sure exactly where it was. I figured it was located somewhere to the East, but, given that I live in Montreal, that doesn’t show much geographic acumen. A quick stop at the National Historic Site soon dispelled my ignorance.

Although a small patch of New Brunswick located at the gulf of the St. Lawrence seaway now bears the name “Acadian Peninsula,” Acadia actually used to encompass most of what is now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The region was populated in the early 1600s by peace-loving French settlers whose only wish was to build dykes, farm the land and hold the occasional dance party at a neighbour’s house.

The band of pacifists succeeded for over a century; then, in 1755, the English grew frustrated with their refusal to swear allegiance to the British Crown, burned their lovely homes to the ground and deported them all from this spot. That event is now understatedly referred to as “The Great Upheaval.”


Days of Wine and Apples

There seemed no better way to honour the memory of the peace-loving Acadians and their sad history than by having a drink, and, as luck would have it, the Domaine de Grand Pré vineyard (tel: 866-479-4637; www.grandprewines.ns.ca ) was situated just a few kilometres away.

Given their northerly location, Grand Pré and other Nova Scotian vineyards produce a lot of grape varieties that are suited to cool climates, ripening early in the short growing season. These include both reds, like the Leon Millot and the Marechal Foch varieties, as well as whites like the aptly named L’Acadie Blanc. I didn’t know any of them. “Would you like to try?” our hostess asked, lining up glasses on the vineyard’s shiny new wine tasting bar. I nodded vigorously.

Grand Pré’s whites were perfectly respectable, but their Vidal ice wine was really something to write home about. Beating out entries from Ontario heavyweights Peller and Inniskillin, the elixir won Gold at the 2007 All-Canadian Wine Championships. The vineyards’ famous Pomme d’Or was another delightful surprise: this apple dessert wine delivers a sweet burst of flavours that include baked apple, apricot, caramel and cinnamon.

But the best was yet to come. Chris and I had a table booked for dinner that night at the 19th-century Blomidon Inn (tel: 800-565-2291; www.blomidon.ns.ca) in Wolfville, a stone’s throw from Grand Pré and the region’s largest community, home to Acadia University.

Hanging out in the parlour before dinner, I tasted a Nova Scotian white that knocked my socks off: a perfectly balanced 2006 Reisling from nearby Gaspereau Vineyards (tel: 902-542-1455; www.gaspereauwine.com),/i>, which was a Silver Medal winner at the 2007 All-Canadian Wine Championships.

The man who introduced me to the wine was Michael Laceby, the inn’s sommelier and manager. Under his direction, the cellar at the Blomidon earned Nova Scotia’s first Wine Spectator Award in 1999 and has maintained it every year since. Tall and lanky, Laceby has a boyish look that refuses to desert his features even as he strides towards 40. And, like the Annapolis Valley itself, he exuded a quiet, sincere charm.

“So glad you liked the wine,” he said. I could tell that he meant it.

On the menu that night (and every night, it turned out) was a range of dishes incorporating fresh local ingredients from the fields, forests and sea. I chose carefully: crab and lobster cakes, lobster bisque and lobster linguini.

“You’re going to turn into a lobster,” Chris cautioned.

I shrugged. “When in Rome...”


Clawing at Culture

Lobster figured prominently into the next day’s visits as well. Winding our way along the coast, we stopped at the scenic fishing village of Halls Harbour to visit its lobster pound (tel: 902-679-5299; www.hallsharbourlobster.ns.ca) and enjoyed an al fresco lunch. It was low tide, and fishing boats, which would be afloat at high tide, rested on the rocky ground below the wharf, next to seaweed-encrusted piers. The boat houses stood proudly, bright red against the clear blue sky. The smell of the sea filled our noses.

The lobster pound is situated in a building that dates back to the 1820s and has obviously had a hard time deciding what colour its parachute is. At various times over the last two centuries, it has served as a school house, a church and meeting hall, a customs office, a blacksmith’s shop, and an etching studio. Now, it acts as one of the largest lobster holding facilities in Canada, capable of holding up to 29,500 kilograms of lobsters at a time.

Mike Jumelet, the jovial Dutch manager, gave us a behind-the-scenes tour, explaining how they succeed in shipping lobsters as far away as Dubai and Tokyo (it’s all about temperature control) and introducing us to his prized three-kilogram pet lobster Dirty Harry, which made an impressive display of crushing a sea-snail shell in a single claw.

It’s hard to beat an act like Dirty Harry’s, but that night we found one that did. After an afternoon spent visiting the Port-Royal historic site (tel: 902-532-2898; www.pc.gc.ca/portroyal), a fantastic reconstruction of Samuel de Champlain’s first North American fort where everyone dresses in costume and acts like it’s 1604; exploring antique stores filled with curious nautical equipment, and eating yet more seafood, we strolled over to the Annapolis Royal graveyard.

Dressed in 19th-century Victorian mourning attire, heritage interpreter Alan Melanson was preparing a crowd of roughly 40 people for his candlelight graveyard tour (tel: 902-532-3035; www.tourannapolisroyal.com). Melanson has been leading these tours three times weekly for 17 years and in all that time he’s only missed the “graveyard shift” twice (extreme weather conditions forced him to cancel).

By flickering candlelight, we perused the oldest English headstone in Canada, and other spooky sights Melanson described in a booming, dramatic voice worthy of the costume. Chris held on to our lantern. I held on to Chris.

“Not so close,” he joked. “You smell like lobster.”

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