ANNAPOLIS ROYAL - Jeff Cantwell drove 110 kilometres through history Wednesday.
The Wolfville mayor didn’t take the road. He biked from Annapolis Royal to Grand Pré along the Harvest Moon Trailway that he says connects not only two national historic sites, but the past to the present.
Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald was at the trailhead by 9 a.m. -- near the old train station -- to welcome Cantwell and eight other riders and send them off on their day-long cultural journey. A few hundred metres away was Fort Anne and all around them were some of the oldest European-settled communities and agriculture land in North America.
Cantwell said that culturally, and from a tourism and economic development perspective, the trail is important.
“I see this trail, especially for Mayor MacDonald’s area from Annapolis Royal where the French arrived, to Grand Pré, the other National Historic Site where they were interred and deported, is culturally significant,” Cantwell said. “We’ve kind of informally been referring to this as the Acadian Camino de Santiago.”
The reference to the Spanish network of pilgrims’ ways has been made several times before in regards to Harvest Moon. And Cantwell can see the walk or ride through the historic Annapolis Valley as a reflective and meditative journey.
Cantwell said that at the opening of the eastern leg of the trail recently there was talk of making the 110-kilometre ride.
“We decided we were going to do that ride from Annapolis Royal to Grand Pré, from one National Historic Site to the other – and make that ride before the year ended, so we chose today,” Cantwell said before starting the ride Nov. 1. “Mayor MacDonald caught on to that and sent me an email ‘I hear you’re coming down, I’d like to meet you and send you off.’ Anyway, we’re here with a crowd of us – eight of us -- to do that ride.”
It turned out there were nine, including Wolville’s Deputy Mayor Carl Oldham, and Berwick Councillor Mike Trinacty who in his former life as a provincial employee helped develop the trail.
He said the transition of terrain from the river in Annapolis County to the pines in the Kingston area, and up through the farm lands in Kings County was impressive, the new bridges were beautiful, and for the most part it was easy passage.
“The weather was wonderful,” he said, “a sunny day and it showed the trail really, really well.”
He loved how the old rail bed wound through the towns and along the farms, peat bogs, cranberry bogs, and blueberries. “It’s a beautiful showcase of the Valley.”
They met walkers, ATVers, people on horseback. They stopped in Bridgetown. Some stopped at the Green Elephant in Kingston, and the riders pulled off the trail for lunch at Mike and Brenda Trinacty’s home in Berwick.
Redden likes the concept of connecting a region from one end to another, not just recreationally, but from an economic perspective.
“It’s going to attract people from all over the world,” he said. “This trail is giving back to the Valley what the (Highway) 101 took away.”
He said there’s the Avonport missing link, but when that bridge is replaced it will extend the trail to Windsor, connecting even more communities.
Cantwell bikes a fair bit, and when he does, he thinks about things.
“You do a lot of that when you’re on your bike for a long ride,” he said. “You tend to do a lot of reflection and thinking about what you’re doing. I think it’s going to help draw both of our communities (Annapolis Royal and Wolfville) more tightly together and allow people to experience the cultural significance of the entire Valley area.”
He admits that while he might think of snow clearing, traffic lights, and recreational opportunities while he rides, he thinks more broadly too.
“Most of my thinking is how can we help develop this area,” he said, “and when I talk about that I usually talk about Wolfville in the greater scheme of things – certainly Kings County if not West Hants to Annapolis.”
He believes the trail’s potential is big and agrees with Redden that it will give back what the highway took away. He believes it can bring back new life to the Annapolis Valley. He said it’s important to get people locally to recognize what they have, and welcome people to their communities.
He talked about wine tours already happening on the trail in the burgeoning wine country, food festivals such as Devour, and all the things linked by the trail.
“We’re going to explode,” he said. “We going to bring more people to the area.”
And he described that growth as organic and lasting – like the land and its people.
The Next Day
“What a fantastic day,” Cantwell said from his office in Wolfville the next day. “To be truthful, it exceeded my expectations.”
He described it as a no brainer for development, especially trail side, with bike shops, B&Bs, and other businesses that could cater to the trail walkers and riders.
Next year he’s going to do the trip again, but this time as a tourist, from Grand Pré to Annapolis Royal but staying at an inn or B&B half way. Then the next day bike the rest of the way and stay overnight in Annapolis Royal to catch the tiny town’s famous Farmer’s and Trader’s Market in the morning before putting the bikes on the bike rack and driving home.
“I bet I know two dozen people who are going to do that next year,” Cantwell said. “It’s going to be huge. This thing is going to help lift us up, one of those pieces in the infrastructure, a cog, that’s going to make this area just take off.”
Mayor MacDonald likes that, and in the meantime, expect Annapolis Royal to develop its trailhead area to better accommodate all those visitors.