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Destination: Nova Scotia : The Cradle of Canada : The 200-mile Evangeline Trail, the province's Main Street, offers a long look at nation's past


ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, Nova Scotia — One of the longest Main Streets in Canada runs almost 200 miles, from Yarmouth clear to the outskirts of Halifax. It seems to roll halfway across the world, from France and Scotland to Colonial America.

Tooling along its two-lane blacktop, you'll pass Gargantuan wooden churches built by faithful French settlers, stockaded fortresses almost 400 years old, pastoral valleys stippled with fruit-heavy trees, mile after mile of rugged and rocky seacoast, bays packed with fishing boats, and villages that put even the prettiest of postcards to shame.

They call it the Evangeline Trail, a route named for the tragic heroine of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem about the expulsion of the first European settlers of Nova Scotia, the French. The settlers were driven from their adopted homeland in 1755, victims of the long struggle between France and England for mastery of the New World.

Nova Scotia's French settlers scattered throughout the British colonies from Massachusetts to Louisiana, where an isolated group of French-speaking Americans came to be known as the Cajuns.

Cajun came from l'Acadie, or Acadia, as the French called their stretch of Nova Scotia coastline. It was a place of rural peace, a pastoral paradise. And as increasing numbers of visitors are discovering, it still is.

The historic heart of old Acadia is Annapolis Royal, the cradle of Canada. For Canadians, it's Jamestown, Plymouth Rock and Philadelphia rolled into one.

Ironically, the town looks as if it might have been transplanted from New England's rocky soil. In a sense it was. British loyalists fleeing the American Revolution flocked to Nova Scotia, and many settled in the area around the Annapolis River. More settled around the rim of the Annapolis Basin, a handsome estuary linked to the Bay of Fundy by Digby Gut channel.

Annapolis Royal has more than its share of historic landmarks. Nearby there's Port Royal National Historic Park, marked by a faithful replica of Canada's first settlement--the stockaded trading post founded by French adventurers Samuel de Champlain and Pierre Sieur de Monts in 1605. The post-and-beam extravaganza, reconstructed by the last of the region's old-time shipwrights, is a wonder of craftsmanship.

In town, the Ft. Anne National Historic Park belongs to a later era. This is the fourth fort built to defend the town, which seesawed between the French and the English during 100 years of struggle for control of the region. The first fort was built in 1643, when the French-ruled town was known as Port Royal. When the English finally assumed dominion in 1710, they dubbed the place Annapolis Royal, after Queen Anne.

Today, visitors can ramble over massive earthworks surrounding the fortress and can sight down ancient cannons still aimed downriver.

Less than a cannonball's flight distant, Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens display garden styles from Canada's past. Within its 10 manicured acres are formal Victorian arrangements, European-style knot gardens and a re-created Acadian cottage and adjoining vegetable plot. The gardens overlook a salt marsh veined with dikes built by the Acadians to turn marsh into farmland.

Back downtown, you can take in the sights on a self-guided walking tour. The free "Footprints With Footnotes" brochures that guide the way are widely available around town.

Like many Nova Scotian towns, Annapolis Royal has fallen on hard times, and the windows of once elegant shops now advertise used clothing for sale. But there's still a chic shop or two in town, not to mention a few fine restaurants and plenty of historic buildings, so it's a delightful place for strolling.

Most explorers are drawn to the waterfront, where docks reach out into the Annapolis River. Across the waterway lie the picturesque white steeples and snug frame houses of Granville Ferry, one of the most photographed towns in the Canadian Maritimes.

The river, rushing out of the orchard-filled Annapolis Valley, is just the place to appreciate the quicksilver tidal changes for which the Bay of Fundy is famed. The tide rises and falls so quickly, you can literally watch it. A marker on one of the piers charts tidal changes of about a foot every 15 minutes.

The moving water's power is harnessed by the Annapolis Royal Tidal Power Project, where the whooshing tides churn huge turbines to generate electric power. The facility is open for tours.

The next stop southbound on Nova Scotia's Main Street is Digby, home port for one of the world's biggest scallop fishing fleets. The town is also known for its smoked herrings, dubbed Digby Chicks after a stark Christmas Day when the locals had nothing else to eat.

Fanning out across the base of a low hill, Digby is an inviting place for a walk, especially when morning fog blankets the basin, the fleet is in and clouds of gulls whirl through the skies.

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