Have you ever wondered what sort of accommodation that travellers of the past could expect? After a day trundling across Nova Scotia on the train or stagecoach, where could you lay your head for the night? If you happened to catch the tide through the Digby Gut and moor at one of the wharves on the Annapolis Royal waterfront, what sort of place would provide a meal and a warm bed? Well, if you were among the monied classes, the Hillsdale House on Upper St. George Street would have been your destination of choice.
The Hillsdale House was built by Susan Forbes Foster circa 1859. The land where the structure was built had previously been reserved as an exercise ground for the garrison at Fort Anne. When the fort was closed as a military establishment in 1859, these lands became surplus.
Here Susan Foster built a high end inn which she would operate until her death in 1895. She named it Hillsdale for as she said "it had a dale to the front of it and a dale to the back of it". A dale is another word for a broad valley. The property included a large barn with glassed-in henhouse, a piggery, an icehouse and a large orchard.
In 1872, Miss Foster married widower Edwin Ryerson in the double parlour of the house. Evidently, she was a thorough businesswoman; before the wedding Ryerson was required to sign an elaborate pre-nuptial agreement in which Foster retained complete control over her property.
This is the inn which would play host to many illustrious guests over the years, including Prince George of Wales in 1884, later King George V, governors-general Lord Lansdowne in 1880 and Lord Tweedsmuir in 1937, and the Right Honourable W.L. MacKenzie King, prime minister of Canada. If you were among the social elite visiting Annapolis Royal, this was the place to stay.
On the death of Susan Foster, the property then came under the ownership of the Perkins family. Daughter Charlotte Perkins was a chronicler of Annapolis Royal's history in both words and images. Perhaps most famous for her book "The Romance of Old Annapolis Royal", Miss Perkins was also an avid photographer. In an amazing collection of images, she documents how parts of the Hillsdale House looked in 1898; a mere three years after her parents purchased the inn.
Hillsdale House Inn is a Nova Scotia Provincial Registered Heritage Property. The architecture of Hillsdale House Inn is an excellent example of the Italianate style, incorporating bold massing, heavy and sparsely placed decorative features, and round headed windows. The front facade is dominated by a central two storey projecting bay, capped with a large gable dormer. Large double windows are located on either side of the bay.
Second floor windows have label moulds and the ground floor windows have heavy hoods, supported with massive brackets. The wide pilasters at the building corners, deep frieze boards and entrance porch detailing all contribute to the solid, Italianate image. A large ell extends from the back of the house, added circa 1897 to accommodate more guests. The house is set on a spacious, well-manicured lot, set back from the road.