Traditional summer tourist destinations in these parts are 18th or 19th century fortifications, like the Citadel in Halifax or, my favourite, Fort Anne in Annapolis Royal. A drive-by fortification, that you may never have stopped to enjoy, is Fort Beausejour, symbolically defending the New Brunswick border at Aulac.
The original fortifications were built by the French in 1751 to demonstrate their sovereignty over territory to the west. The British had already built a fort close to the present day Nova Scotia Welcome Centre (sort of a You’re Not Welcome Centre). And, of course, at that moment Halifax was being established as a British stronghold to irritate Cape Breton (Louisbourg). That has endured.
A stop at Beausejour is rewarded with a view over vast fields, originally dyked by Acadian farmers, with Chignecto Bay and the Amherst highlands in the distance.
Standing on the earthen ramparts of Fort Beausejour today, you are challenged, Don Quixote-like, by a troop of wind turbines.
In the gate and the view back out the gate.
Parks Canada operates the attraction that was one of the first designated historic sites in Canada. A substantial museum building is about 70 years old and designed in a vaguely “French” style that was popular for Parks’ buildings.
A joy of many Parks Canada fort sites are the hectares of well-mowed earthworks and lawns, to run over and roll down (if you are young of age or of heart). At Beausejour, along with the lawns come unceasing winds. The park has several picnic pavilions that provide shelter and are outstanding objects in the landscape.
The hexagonal picnic pavilion provides a panoramic view while you eat a sandwich out of the gale.
My Summer Job
We stopped at Fort Beausejour because in 1968 (that would be 50 years ago), I had a summer job here working on an archaeological excavation and had not made a real visit since.
I was responsible for excavating a subterranean, wooden storage building buried inside one of the bastions of the star-shaped fort. The 200-year-old collapsed structure was very well-preserved because it had been covered with several meters of damp clay. This photo series shows the roof exposed, the floor, and support beams.
The highlight of my visit was to stand inside the reconstruction of the building I had excavated. I had always imagined it would have been a dreary space. Got that right.
The fort was originally surrounded by a wooden palisade. When the fortifications were improved, these wooden walls were buried in massive earthworks that preserved the bottom meter or so of the posts. You can also see angle braces that supported the palisade.
There was a large crew, and 1968 was the end of a multiyear project. Many of the excavators were Acadian, and perhaps some of their ancestors had built the original earthworks they were removing.
- When you visit Beausejour, allow time to savour the museum and its quirky collections that were assembled in the first half of the last century. A couple of highlights for me are an engraving of the nearby Chignecto Ship Railway;
And this beautiful illustration of a CNR rail car called the Fort Beausejour, that went into service in 1950.
- The professional crew for the excavation all lived in a big, old farm house outside of Sackville. Most folks were from Ottawa, and I was the only one from this region (just right of centre in the photo).Today the fort is alone in an open landscape at the end of a road. In the 1960s and 70s, this was also a destination for fine dining at a surprising restaurant called the Drury Lane Steakhouse, located just across the road from the entrance to the museum. I assume the peculiar, half-timbered designs on the building were intended to evoke the houses of the Acadians who had lived nearby in the 18th century. Their village was burned and now all traces of the restaurant have also been removed.