Protecting Fort Anne – One of Canada’s First Parks

By Vasanthi Pendakur

Fort Anne National Historic Site in Annapolis Royal sits at the edge of the Annapolis and Allain Rivers in Nova Scotia. The park, established 100 years ago, is Canada’s first federally administered national historic site (Fort Howe in New Brunswick is the first historic site). This designation is thanks to the efforts of Annapolis Royal residents to protect the fort for future generations and the desire of the federal Parks Branch to create national parks.

Black-and-white photograph of a stone archway and the view through it showing a large fenced building in the background with land in front. A woman and five children are pictured in the centre, seated on the ground.

View of arch connecting outside works of Fort Anne, Annapolis, N.S. with magazine and showing Officers’ Quarters in the distance (MIKAN 3305260)

Fort Anne is significant for its role in the French and British wars during the early settlement of Europeans. Both the French and the British gained control over the land at different times before the French built their fort at Port Royal in 1702. Pierre-Paul de Labat, an engineer and lieutenant in the French navy, designed the fort located at the edge of the Annapolis and Allain Rivers.

A map showing the location and shape of the Annapolis Royal area.

A general plan of Annapolis Royal surveyed by Capt. John Hamilton in 1753 (MIKAN 4128803)

Both the French garrison and government were stationed at the fort. However, the British soon took and maintained control of the fort, renaming the settlement Annapolis Royal. Attempts by the French to retake the fort led to wars involving the Mi’kmaq (their allies) and the eventual expulsion of the Acadians in the 1750s.

Despite its complex history, Fort Anne is also known for its role in the national parks movement. When the British moved the capital of Nova Scotia to Halifax, Fort Anne lost its status and began to deteriorate. In 1916, a group of Annapolis Royal residents sent a letter to the new Parks Branch asking for the fort to be preserved for the community and future generations. Their requests focused on preserving the fort, guaranteeing public access to it, and establishing a library and museum on site. Their demands fit perfectly with the Parks Branch’s goal to create national parks. The residents succeeded in their efforts and the site was declared a national historic site. The park has since offered exhibitions, research and genealogy services, lectures, and even shelter, once during a fire in Annapolis Royal. Fort Anne’s association with the beginning of the parks movement is a valuable aspect of its history. It shows the mutual desire of the town and the federal government to preserve the local heritage and provide parks for the nation.

The front page of this Fort Anne National Historic Park leaflet has a photo of the park showing the guard house behind a tree and the fort walls in the distance, along with a quote from Joseph Howe written underneath.

Fort Anne National Historic Park leaflet (MIKAN 838843)

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds files that document every part of the site’s journey from active fort to tourist destination. There are photos like the one above; letters from the active fort; maps and plans of the construction and restoration of the fort; leaflets for tourists; paintings that depict the fort and its town; and documents that detail the establishment and administration of the park. LAC holds documents like these not only for Fort Anne but for the rest of Canada’s parks as well.

Related Resources


Vasanthi Pendakur is an exhibitions assistant in the Exhibitions and Online Division of Library and Archives Canada.

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