From the World Heritage inscription:
Situated in the southern Minas Basin of Nova Scotia, the Grand Pré marshland and archaeological sites constitute a cultural landscape bearing testimony to the development of agricultural farmland using dykes and the aboiteau wooden sluice system, started by the Acadians in the 17th century and further developed and maintained by the Planters and present-day inhabitants. Over 1,300 ha, the cultural landscape encompasses a large expanse of polder farmland and archaeological elements of the towns of Grand Pré and Hortonville, which were built by the Acadians and their successors. The landscape is an exceptional example of the adaptation of the first European settlers to the conditions of the North American Atlantic coast. The site – marked by one of the most extreme tidal ranges in the world, averaging 11.6 m – is also inscribed as a memorial to Acadian way of life and deportation, which started in 1755, known as the Grand Dérangement.
If I you didn’t know the story before hand, you could pass by Grand Pré without every knowing its significance. At first glance it is nothing more than farm land that happens to be on the banks of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. However, there are several things about the site which make it significant.
1) It is the ancestral homeland of the Acadian people. The Acadians were French speaking people who lived in Nova Scotia (which they called Acadie or Acadia). During the French/Indian War (aka the Seven Year’s War) they were asked by the British who controlled Nova Scotia to take an oath of loyalty. Even though they were French speaking, they didn’t consider themselves French and claimed neutrality during the conflict. The British eventually deported the population of Acadians who were set all over the world. Their descendants include the Acadians in New Brunswick and the Cajuns in Louisiana.
2) Grand Pré later became famous as the setting of Longfellow’s famous poem Evangeline. Even though it was fictional, the poem cemented Grand Pré as the focal point for the Acadian diaspora as well as turing it into a tourist destination. Today the poem is still celebrated with an Evangeline statue and an Evangeline trail.
3) The agricultural challenges of growing crops next to the Bay of Fundy, with the world’s highest tides, required a great deal of ingenuity. The farmers of Grand Pré created a system of dikes which allowed them to expand the cultivatable area of the region. Those dikes and drainage controls are still in place today.
It is an interesting and subtle area. It will not jump out at you like other World Heritage sites like the Great Pyramids, but there is plenty here to discover if you are willing to look.
Grand Pré can easily be visited via day trip from Halifax. The visitors center at Grand Pré National Historic Site is open every day in the summer months.
View my complete list of visited UNESCO World Heritage Sites.