The town of Windsor, Nova Scotia has long been a popular and important destination in the province but it is its status as the birthplace of hockey that has put this Annapolis Valley town on the world map.
History of Windsor, Nova Scotia
Long before it was known as Windsor, the area around the junction of the Avon and St. Croix rivers was known by the Mi’kmaq as Pisiguit, appropriately meaning “Junction of Waters”. The rivers empty into the nearby Minas Basin, which allowed ships to sail from the Atlantic Ocean, up the Bay of Fundy and down into the heart of the province. The fertile headlands around these rivers made for ideal farming and Acadian settlers to the area did just that, erecting mills along the rivers to harness their power.
With the French and English battling over North America, the Acadian settlers became caught in the middle of the conflict. Shortly after settling Halifax in 1749, the British moved into the Pisiguit area and built Fort Edward to watch over the Acadians and discourage further development. Fearing for the safety and resenting the fort’s ominous presence, most Acadians left the area for other parts of the province. It was in 1764 that the township of Windsor was settled by New England Planters, who laid claim to the former Acadian farms and built their own homes and businesses. A year later, the town held its first agricultural fair to celebrate the area’s bountiful harvest – an annual tradition that continues to this day, making it the oldest and longest-running agricultural fair in North America.
The town of Windsor also became an important stop for anyone travelling between Halifax and the Annapolis Valley. Crossing the Avon River with horses and wagons was only possible by fording the mud flats just above the town during low tide, while people could hire a ferry during high tide. By 1837, Windsor was the site of a wooden toll bridge; however, the structure wasn’t able to bear the weight of trains and passengers still needed to disembark, cross the bridge by stagecoach to transfer to another train on the other side.
The Birthplace of Hockey
Much of these historic scenes of life in Windsor, Nova Scotia past were captured by local businessman and judge Thomas Chandler Haliburton. His The Clockmaker books described early 19th century Nova Scotia through the eyes of a wise-cracking New England salesman, Sam Slick, and would make Haliburton Canada’s first international best-selling author. In a another of his writings, Haliburton would describe boys from nearby King’s Collegiate School playing hurley on a frozen pond – the earliest known reference to such a sport and the basis to Windsor’s claim as the birthplace of ice hockey.
Accommodations in Windsor
There is a wide range of accommodations in and around Windsor. The heart of the town includes several bed and breakfasts, while you’ll find a motel and hotel just outside town. There is also camping available in nearby Smiley’s Park.
Places to eat in Windsor
You’ll find everything from authentic English pubs to cafes and fine dining restaurants in downtown Windsor and surrounding communities. Those with kids will appreciate the number of family restaurants throughout the area. Find places to eat in Windsor.
Must see attractions in Windsor
The home of Windsor’s most famous resident and a shrine to the town’s place in hockey history can be found under one roof at the Haliburton House Museum. Located in the heart of Windsor, atop a tree-covered hill, the museum was the home of Thomas Chandler Haliburton between 1836 and 1856. The house was originally called Clifton and offered the author, judge and businessman a sweeping view of the town below, as well as a comfortably elegant home for his family. Visitors to the museum can walk the halls of Clifton and get a sense of both Haliburton and life in mid-19th century Nova Scotia. Well-maintained trails throughout the property will give you the opportunity to appreciate the idyllic setting and appreciate some of Haliburton’s inspiration for writing.
Haliburton House is also the current home to the Windsor Hockey Heritage Centre, showcasing some of the area’s connection to hockey history, including hockey memorabilia, local hockey legends, and hockey jerseys and equipment from the past. The exhibit also features the Starr Trophy and highlights the diversity in hockey, featuring the contributions of women, Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotians to the sport.
Things to do in Windsor
The Hants County Exhibition
In 1765, the New England Planters who had founded the town of Windsor held an agricultural fair to give local farmers the chance to share some of their harvests and proudly display their livestock. Today, the fair continues as the Hants County Exhibition and is the oldest agricultural fair in North America. Every September, crowds gather to enjoy carnival rides, horse and oxen pulls, animal shows, 4H competitions, petting zoos and concerts.
Another reminder of Windsor’s past is Fort Edward, which was built by the British in 1750 to watch over the local Acadian and Mi’kmaq inhabitants. The preserved blockhouse still stands on a hill overlooking the nearby rivers and visitors can stroll the grounds and walk through the fort to imagine life as soldier in Britain’s colonial army.
The Windsor-West Hants Pumpkin Festival
In addition to being considered the birthplace of hockey and home of Sam Slick, Windsor is well known for something even bigger – giant pumpkins. In fact, Windsor’s pumpkins are known to regularly tip the scales at more than 1,000 pounds! Every year, the Windsor-West Hants Pumpkin Festival celebrates all things pumpkin, including recipes, pumpkin weigh-offs and pumpkin painting and carving. But the most fun is had by transforming the giant gourds into somewhat sea-worthy boats. The Pumpkin Regatta draws huge crowds every year in October who cheer on participants as they sit inside their colourful, giant pumpkins and paddle across the lake between Windsor and Falmouth. It’s a one-of-a-kind race that has to be seen to be believed!