This national historic site features a reconstruction of early 17th- century buildings representing the former colony of the French who settled for a time along the Nova Scotia coast. Costumed interpreters and period demonstrations help recreate the look and feel of Port-Royal, one of the earliest settlements in North America. Visitors can also take in the panoramic view of the Annapolis River and Basin.
As you enter the Habitation, note the painted standard over the entrance bearing the coat of arms of Henri IV, King of France when the Habitation was built in 1605. The coats of arms of the two governors, Sieur de Mons and Sieur de Poutrincourt, are also above the doorway.
Interpreter at main entrance
Upon entering, we see a series of self-contained working and living areas surrounding an interior courtyard that has a well in the centre. The steep pitched roofs are typical of the Norman architecture of the period. The large fieldstone chimneys draw the smoke from the fireplaces.
Well for the entire habitation
The key to merchant support and economic survival was the fur trade. Beaver felt hats were very popular in France, and as the supply of beaver was dwindling in France, people looked to North America. The Mi’kmaq brought pelts such as beaver, muskrat, otter, fox, wolf and raccoon in return for the trade goods you see displayed behind the counter: iron axes and knives, copper or iron kettles, cloth, beads and iron fish hooks. Would life today change if we could barter and trade rather than exchanging money for goods?
You have explored many rooms and learned part of the story about early French settlement and the French-Mi’kmaq relationship. Other areas remain to be explored: the cannon platform, palisade, wine cellar and gunpowder room. The beautiful view of the Annapolis Basin and river inspires the imagination: a sailing vessel arriving laden with supplies for the coming winter
Trading room detail
Sieur de Mons’ residence
As you enter the well-furnished room, note the coats of arms of Sieurs de Mons and de Poutrincourt as well as the French fleur-de-lis above the large fireplace. Take a look at the decorated smoked moosehide. The Mi’kmaq elders wore similar painted hides and the French admired their work so much they used these hides as murals or tapestries. Be sure to view the model ship for a sense of the type of transportation early colonists used to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The window in the upstairs bedroom looks out over the courtyard. Sieur de Mons’ colony was closely tied to the success of the fur trade. The storeroom and trading room illustrate this economic activity.
Each gentlemen’s dwelling (or room) has bunk beds with draw curtains. There were usually two to four gentlemen per room, and each room is equipped with a fireplace, table and chair, a wardrobe, and a large bench called a settle. Of the four gentlemen’s dwellings, we will visit the apothecary’s. Upon entering, you can see all the herbs that are drying. The apothecary would crush some of them with his mortar and pestle in order to make various remedies. The apothecary jars on the cabinet contain some medicines. Ask the interpreters to explain the various herbs and remedies. The Mi’kmaq taught many herbal remedies to the French.
Detail of beds in gentlemen’s rooms
Detail of exterior of Sieur de Mons residence and Storeroom/Wine Cellar
The smell of herbs, the sight of game such as geese and rabbits hanging from the wall, the presence of a large fireplace with a turnspit for cooking, and a collection of pots, pans, and utensils combine to make the kitchen a very inviting room. Imagine yourself by the fireplace cooking a roast of moose on the spit. Look at the “en colombage” wall construction and ask one of the interpreters to explain this construction method. Food plays an important role in all our lives; this room was therefore essential to the survival of the colonists.
Upon entering the common room, you may be amazed by the huge wooden beams used in the construction. Have one of the interpreters explain the “mortise and tenon” construction method used in the framework of the Habitation. The large wooden tables, well appointed with pewter, suggest that much food and wine was enjoyed within these walls. Samuel de Champlain began a social club called “l’Ordre de Bon Temps” ( The Order of Good Cheer ) to ensure the men at Port-Royal had a proper diet, a source of activity, and a source of entertainment to help pass away the long winter nights. Such delicacies as fricassied beaver tail and boiled moose nose were common fare. The Nova Scotia government has an “Order of Good Times” certificate program; be sure to inquire when you visit our province.