The Annapolis Valley extends from the eastern end of St. Marys Bay in the west to the mouth of the Cornwallis River in the east. It is approximately 128 km long and 3-11 km wide.
Early Fluvian Erosion
The Valley has been carved out by river action and deepened by glacial scouring. When the sandstones were first exposed as the basalt wore away, rivers flowed at right angles across the valley. These rivers rose on South Mountain and flowed north across the present valley and North Mountain before discharging into the centre of a river which flowed down the Bay of Fundy.
The sandstone wore away more quickly than the basalt, and when the ends of the Valley became open to the sea, the drainage was diverted to the west and east, leaving "wind" gaps across North Mountain, for example, the gap north of Melvern Square.
|Grand Pré dyke
Click to enlarge
Sandstone is infrequently exposed within the Valley because it breaks down so readily to form a sandy soil. However, some sandstone can be seen on the slopes of South Mountain in the beds of rivers and resting upon older rocks. Outcrops of the overlying, younger Blomidon Formation that are adjacent to the basalt on the north side of the valley are covered by glacial deposits or scree slopes. At the ends of the valley, where marine erosion has removed the overburden, red cliffs can be seen: along the face of Cape Blomidon (where the lower slope exposes the Blomidon Formation); on the north shore of the Annapolis Basin at Thorne Cove and near Port Wade; and in the bluffs at Rossway. At Kingsport on the Minas Basin, excellent exposures of Triassic Wolfville sandstone occur. These contain fossil plant roots and occasional reptile bones. Because the sandstones lie underneath the basalt and dip northwards, no outcrops are found on the north shore of North Mountain.
As the ice retreated after the last glaciation, the sea level rose and the land surface rebounded from its depressed position. In western Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy area, sea levels rose faster and encroached inland. The beaches, marine deltas, elevated shorelines, sand spits, and bars which formed at that time can now be seen raised well above sea level in many places along the Annapolis-Cornwallis Valley. The average elevation is 15-30 m above present sea level, but beaches are often found at different heights in the same vicinity. These, perhaps, have different ages or represent features established along a temporary shoreline as glacial water was impounded against the coast or in a basin. Raised beaches and terraces are best seen in Digby County at the mouths of rivers and around the lower part of the Annapolis Basin.
Glacial outwash deposits are also preserved in this area and near Kentville. Windblown sand, dunes, and loess, possibly from glacial outwash deposits, are found between Kingston and Greenwood. Kentville lies on the edge of the sand area.
Rising sea levels, during the past 4,000 years or so, drowned the lower reaches of the Annapolis and Cornwallis rivers. During this period, St. Marys Bay formed and the Annapolis Basin was flooded as the sea broke through the river-cut gap at Digby Gut.
Freshwater and Coastal Aquatic Environments
The Annapolis-Cornwallis Valley is drained by two main rivers separated by a secondary watershed divide. The Annapolis flows west and the Cornwallis flows east. Many first- and second-order streams drain in parallel and dentritic patterns off North and South Mountains to feed the Annapolis and Cornwallis. In the lower reaches of both systems, drainage becomes more complex with several tertiary watershed divides. Where the tide influences the rivers, large meanders form at high tide. The water can trickle down to a mere stream at low tide when tidal flats and muddy banks prevail, but these streams can resemble rushing torrents when a tidal bore enters the channels.
Large productive freshwater wetlands occur along both the Annapolis and Cornwallis rivers in their headwater areas between Kingston and Kentville. There are many bogs, swamps, and marshes, and many small areas of wet meadow.
The Annapolis and Cornwallis rivers have developed extensive tidal marshes in their lower reaches. The wide, fertile valley north and east of Kentville that opens onto the Minas Basin was created by five rivers: the Gaspereau, Cornwallis, Canard, Habitant, and Pereaux. The floodplains of these meandering rivers are separated by low ridges and protected from tidal incursions only by the system of dykes originally built by the Acadian farmers, for example, near Port Williams. Grand Pré was probably once a meander in the Cornwallis River, with Long Island Head and Boot Island forming part of the northern bank of the floodplain. At some time, the river swung northwards to form a new meander between Starrs Point and Long Island Head, and the old meander silted up. Rising sea levels have now drowned the lower reaches of this river, forming a wide estuary west of Grand Pré.
The soils in this Unit have formed on parent materials from various exposed geological strata, and on water-deposited materials. The finest textured strata are uppermost, and on this soft Triassic shale, well-drained soils of the Pelton series have developed on the footslopes of North Mountain. Coarser sandstones from the middle strata exposed on the Valley floor have produced the deep Woodville and Berwick sandy loams. The lowest strata exposed are a fine-grained conglomerate from which the Somerset series (a well-drained loamy sand) has developed. In the centre of the Valley is a complex, water-deposited series of sand flats. Associated well-drained soils are Canning, Cornwallis, and Nictaux, while Debert, Kingsport, and Lawrencetown soils are imperfectly to poorly drained. Alluvial Cumberland soils have developed beside streams and rivers, and imperfectly drained Fash soils have developed on lacustrine or marine clays in the central part of the Annapolis River drainage basin. Along the south slope are numerous beach terraces of slaty gravel origin from which Torbrook and Nictaux soils have developed. On the lower slopes, well-drained Morristown soils have formed from slaty parent materials, while Bridgetown soils have developed from a mixture of Carboniferous sandy loam till brought from the north, and locally weathered granite and quartzite. Organic soils are scattered through the Valley, the most notable example being the large Caribou peat bog located on the watershed divide between the Annapolis and Cornwallis river systems at Aylesford. Some of the Valley floor is wet because of effluent water. In these areas, water-loving vegetation such as alders and larch prevail.
The Annapolis Valley is most obviously an agricultural region. By the late nineteenth century, extensive clearing had restricted forests to more marginal sites. Now, however, large areas are reverting to forest growth. Apple orchards were originally located on the richer tills of the Valley slopes. Sugar Maple, American Beech, Red Spruce, and Eastern Hemlock are typical in later successional stands (H6.3); White Spruce, fir, and pine, with the shade-intolerant hardwoods maple and birch, are found on more recently disturbed sites. On the dry, sandy soils of the Valley floor, which are more prone to drought and frost, the maple, oak, birch association is common. Red Pine, White Pine, and Red Oak are found on the valley-bottom sand plain. Wire Birch, Red Maple, Red Oak, White Birch, and poplar are common post-fire species. Oldfields usually regenerate in White Spruce, except where wetter conditions favour alder and Black Spruce. Black Spruce and larch are the species found in depressional areas or on poorly drained soils.
Non-forest plant communities are very conspicuous in this Unit and include those found in dykelands, oldfields, tidal marshes, and floodplains. Scattered Alleghanian floral habitat is found throughout the Valley.
Wildlife habitats in this Unit are diverse and include agricultural lands, orchards, oldfields, woodlands, and heathlands. Freshwater habitats include only a few lakes but many slow, meandering streams and rivers. Because of the high Fundy tides, coastal habitats consist mainly of extensive intertidal areas - salt marshes and mud flats - and associated dykelands.
Mammals often associated with agricultural areas include a large raccoon population, Red Fox, woodchuck, and increasing numbers of skunk. Muskrat and mink are common. The avifauna also reflects the agricultural character, which provides good habitat for pheasant, snipe, woodcock, and hawks. The crow population is high, and the Valley provides wintering habitat for the Bald Eagle. The dykelands provide good habitat for Gray Partridge (declining) and Short-eared Owl.
The west end of the Minas Basin and the Avon River estuary are nationally important because they support high numbers of shorebirds and waterfowl. Shorebird numbers peak in late summer and early fall, and important sites include Kingsport, Pereaux, and Evangeline beaches. Waterfowl include Black Duck, Canada Goose, Brant, and teal. Boot Island provides nesting areas for gulls, herons, and cormorants and is a crow roost in winter.
At the other end of the Valley, the Annapolis Basin and the Annapolis River are important because they provide migration habitat for concentrations of waterfowl in spring and fall, and because a moderate number of duck remain through the winter. At the head of St. Marys Bay, high numbers of shorebirds occur, primarily in August. Anadromous fish such as American Shad and Atlantic Salmon pass through the Annapolis River estuary to spawn in fresh water further upstream. Striped Bass are also present but do not manage to spawn upstream.
Inland portions of the Annapolis-Cornwallis Valley have moderately high scenic value. The most striking scenic feature is the prominent North Mountain escarpment, which provides a uniform and die-straight edge to the Valley. The South Mountain, though rising to a similar elevation, is much less dramatic and often not visible from the Valley floor. The District rates well in terms of landcover, since most sections have an aesthetically favourable mix of farmland and woodland. At the extremities of the Valley, the Annapolis and Minas basins add interest and even splendour to the visual scene. The Annapolis Basin fills the Valley's trough and is connected to the Bay of Fundy by the faultline cleft of Digby Gut. The Minas Basin has distinctive expanses of red mud at low tide, set against the red cliffs of Cape Blomidon, and its shores have been fashioned into rich dykelands by both Acadians and Planters. Panoramic views of the area are provided from the adjacent hills.
The resource potential of the Valley's land and wildlife have long shaped human settlement patterns here. In 1604 the French established a post at Port Royal, laying territorial claims to the New World,
with the fur trade and fishery serving as economic catalysts for their interest in Acadia. Good relations between the Mi'kmaq and the French secured trade relations and political alliances. Acadians soon migrated to other areas outside the vicinity of Port Royal and began dyking tidal marshlands along the Minas Basin, with the largest Acadian settlement at Grand Pré. Thus the coastline underwent radical change as dyke building transformed these estuarine salt-marshes into fertile agricultural lands. With their own food needs met, Acadians traded surplus grain to the Boston States before their own deportation by the British in 1755 - an act which a century later would serve as subject matter for one of America's most celebrated poets. Longfellow's poem quot;Evangeline," published in 1847, was immensely popular for a hundred years. Many Americans travelled here in search of Evangeline's mythical Acadian paradise, attracted in part by the promotion of the Dominion Atlantic Railway, which transported tourists from the Yarmouth Steamship to Grand Pré on its "Land of Evangeline" route, one of the first tourism ventures in the province. Today the Grand Pré National Historic Site commemorates Acadian history. As well, the Annapolis Royal Historical Gardens features a replica of an eighteenth-century Acadian house and garden, and a stand of Elephant Grass, a circumboreal plant species that the Acadians grew in Nova Scotia for use as roof-thatching material.
|Grand Pré dyke and farmlands
Click to enlarge
The first apple trees in Nova Scotia were planted by the French at the beginning of the seventeenth century. By 1698 a French census showed 1,584 apple trees distributed among 54 Acadian families at Port Royal alone. The fertile Acadian farmlands and orchards vacated by the deportation were inherited by successive waves of settlers. First came the New England Planters, then the Loyalists, and others followed. Tidal mills to grind grain or saw lumber were established at various points around the Minas Basin; an 1845 record indicates a tidal mill around Canning. Today, the Annapolis Tidal Power Station on the Annapolis River is one of the first such plants in the world and generates 20 MW of electricity for 12,500 homes. However, it has also changed river currents, caused river erosion upstream, and detrimentally affected some fish populations. Hydroelectric generating stations have harnessed the power of waterways at Lequille, Paradise, Nictaux, Hells Gate, Lumsden Lake, Hollow Bridge, and Methals. Mixed farming characterizes much of Valley land use, including the highest production of hay, tree fruits, vegetables, beef cattle, hogs, and chickens in the province. As a consequence, many secondary industries related to agriculture, such as processing and packing, are established here. In Aylesford, a peat-harvesting operation marks the first commercial exploitation of peat in the province. Several sand and gravel deposits in the valley are exploited by large commercial producers. In some areas, such as Del haven, fishing takes place. Bay of Fundy stopovers during annual bird migrations attract bird-watchers to many areas, particularly Evangeline Beach, Wolfville Sewage Ponds and Canard Pond.
Sites of Special Interest
- North of Melvern Square - wind gap
- Cape Blomidon - red sandstone underneath basalt
- Thorne Cove, Port Wade, Rossway - red cliffs and bluffs
- Annapolis Basin - gravel terraces at river mouths; for example, east of the mouth of Bear River are sands (Torbrook soils) 30 m above sea level
- Smiths Cove - point covered with fine sand, 30 m above sea level
- North of Digby - obscure beach deposit 27-30 m above sea level
- Deep Cove - gravel deposits 42 m above sea level
- Upper Granville - U-shaped sand bar
- North of Wolfville - raised beaches
- Woodside - series of sandy mounds extend for 4 km near Pereau River, 25 m above sea level; the easterly ones are curved like a spit
- West end of Kentville - small lake amongst sand hills is a kettle hole surrounded by kames
- Kingston to Greenwood - kames and esker-like ridges
- Avonport Mountain - view from highway across valley
- Kingsport - excellent exposures of Triassic sandstone with fossil plant roots and rare dinosaur bones and tracks
- Kentville Ravine (IBP Proposed Ecological Site 64) - old-growth hemlock stand, and river floodplain with rich herbaceous flora
- National Wildlife Area - Boot Island
- Provincial Wildlife Management Areas - Dewey Creek, Minas Basin
- Kentville Migratory Bird Sanctuary
- Aylesford Bog (Caribou Bog)
- Near Kingston - sand barrens
Provincial Parks and Park Reserves
- Upper Clements
- Upper Clements West
- Joggins Bridge
- The Lookoff (panoramic view looking south over District 610)
- Grand Pré National Historic Park (views over dykeland towards Cape Blomidon)
- Kentville Agricultural Research Station (Elderkin Brook trail)
- Fort Anne National Historic Park, Annapolis Royal
- Digby (views of Annapolis Basin)
- Smiths Cove (views of Annapolis Basin)
The Triassic Basalts and Continental Rifting||
Terrestrial Glacial Deposits and Landscape Features
Post-glacial Colonization by Plants
Successional Trends in Vegetation
Forest and Edge-habitat Birds
Birds of Prey
(Maple, Oak, Birch Association)
|H6.2 Softwood Forest
|912 Outer Fundy|
|913a Minas Basin|