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 theGrand Dérangement.
The nominated property consists of 1323 hectares of dykelands, known elsewhere as polders, and uplands on the southern edge of the Minas Basin, an eastern arm of the Bay of Fundy in western mainland Nova Scotia. It is bordered by the Gaspereau River to the east, the Cornwallis River to the west, Long Island to the north, and parts of the communities of Grand Pré, Hortonville, and Lower Wolfville to the south. Dominating the distant background, beyond the nominated property, Cape Blomidon extends into the basin as an instantly recognizable landmark. The nominated property includes the dykeland area that the Acadians created in the 17th century, which successive generations of farmers have expanded. It also includes distinctive representative sections of the Acadian settlement and of the current agricultural community, as well as the entire planned settlement for the New England Planters, a British town grid. No clear historical record marks the boundaries of the 17th and 18th century community of Grand Pré. In fact, historical accounts and maps alternately use the names Grand-Pré and Les Mines to refer to the general area next to the Minas Basin and to the reclaimed marsh between the Rivière-aux-Canards (Canard River) and the Rivière Gaspareau (Gaspereau River). Even so, other records attest to the presence of the Acadian settlement on the uplands portion of the nominated property. The heart of the Acadian settlement is now defi ned by a concentration of archaeological remains of houses, fi eld patterns, the cemetery, the traditional location of the remains of the parish church of Saint-Charles-des-Mines, and the intersection of main roads. The southeast corner of the nominated property includes the surviving evidence of the planned British town grid in Hortonville. The grid is defi ned by Railway Street, King Street, and Middle Street running east–west and by Horton Cross Road, Wharf Road, and Patterson Street running north–south. Today, the agricultural community surrounds the dykelands and extends over the hills to the Gaspereau River. The nominated property includes the heart of the Acadian settlement and the British town grid. Since the time of the fi rst Acadian settlement in the 17th century, people have continuously worked these dykelands. The property also includes parts of the hamlet of Grand Pré, which hosts provincially and municipally designated heritage properties and some local services, plus farms on the hills and an expanse of fi elds and pastures. At the heart of both the nominated property and the Acadian settlement lies Grand-Pré National Historic Site of Canada. The national historic site consists of the commemorative gardens, the Memorial Church, cemeteries, and many other memorials to the Acadian Deportation. Through tangible and intangible evidence, this exceptional landscape illustrates the harsh environment, the genius of the dyking system, the productivity of the farmland, and its symbolic reclamation by the Acadian people.
Since the 1680s, when a small group of Acadian settlers first arrived in the area and called the vast wetlands la grand pré, the human history of Grand Pré has been linked to its natural setting and the exceptional fertility of this land by the sea. The earliest settlers were isolated. They were a long way from home and were mostly ignored by the various French and British authorities who administered the area. The settlers developed close relations with the local Mi’kmaq, the indigenous people of Nova Scotia – not just at Grand Pré but elsewhere in Acadie – as they came to grips with the natural setting and began to claim fertile land from the sea by building dykes. All of these factors contributed to their developing a new and distinct identity. Though French by birth, over the course of the second half of the 17th century they came to see themselves as belonging to l’Acadie, as being Acadiens and Acadiennes. During the roughly 70 years before their forcible removal in 1755, the Acadian community of Grand Pré introduced an environmental management approach that had been applied elsewhere in Acadie. Acadians took European practices, developed for wetlands and saltpans, and adapted them to the much different environment in Acadie. Faced with the highest recorded tides in the world, the Acadians at Grand Pré worked for three generations to transform over 1300 hectares of tidal marsh into farmland. The farmland was then – and remains today – some of the finest farmland in North America. In 1760, fi ve years after the Acadians were fi rst deported from Grand Pré and dispersed throughout the world, a contingent of New England Planters was settled at Grand Pré to take over the lands. Then, as now, the transformed marsh was the primary focus for the area’s inhabitants. Like the Acadians before them, the New England Planters in the Grand Pré area developed their own strong connections to the land and their rural way of life. The Grand Pré dykeland remains highly fertile today, and the most important features of the original dyked area remain in place. Then, beginning in the late 19th century and continuing until today, Grand Pré developed as the most important lieu de mémoire of the Acadian people. Memorials and commemorative gardens were created adjacent to the transformed marsh to mark the ancient Acadian settlement, commemorate the removal of the people in 1755, and celebrate the vitality of the Acadian community. This last transformation completed the symbolic reclamation by the Acadians of an agricultural land from which they had been forcibly removed.