The Annapolis Heritage Society dates back to 1967 when a number of local residents organized under the name Historic Restoration Enterprises for the purpose of “acquiring for preservation and display to the general public fine examples of the historic past of Nova Scotia.” The group’s focus was one of the oldest streets in Canada, a section of Lower St. George Street in downtown Annapolis Royal.
It all began with a large Victorian building at 136 St. George Street, the former home and store built in 1869 by local merchant Corey O’Dell, originally from Saint John, New Brunswick, who had operated an inn next door for several years. The property remained in the O’Dell family until 1958, when it was sold and converted to apartments. It came on the market again in 1967 and was purchased by Ralph and Marguerite Wagner who began to restore it back to its original condition. The Wagners together with others – including Ruth Eisenhauer; Dr. Barry Moody, a Parks Canada student guide at the time; and Robert P. Patterson, the groups’ first president – came up with the idea of preserving the streetscape. Appeals went out to the public for objects and materials to display in what was to become a community museum. These items were the genesis of the extensive collections of artifacts and archival materials currently held by the Society. The fully restored O’Dell house opened its doors as the O’Dell Museum on July 19, 1969.
While the intent remained the same, the name of the Society was changed in 1977 to the Historic Restoration Society of Annapolis County. As time went on, the Society preserved additional properties on Lower St. George Street, including the late 18th century Robertson, Bonnett and Murray houses and the Victorian Pickels and Mills ships’ chandlery. Apart from the O’Dell House Museum, those properties are now privately owned. In the late 1970s, the Society entered an agreement with Nova Scotia Museum to operate the North Hills Museum in Granville Ferry, the former home of Robert P. Patterson. Then in the 1980s, the Society purchased the former Farmers’ Hotel at 230 St. George Street, parts of which date back to the time when the area was still Port Royal. Restored and renamed the Sinclair Inn Museum, it is now a designated National Historic Site.
Recognizing the wealth of heritage resources resulting from 400 years of European settlement and the Mi’kmaq presence before that, the Society has continued to broaden its activities and now includes artifacts, genealogical and archival holdings, photo and costume collections, and heritage programming. The O’Dell House Museum is the flagship property of the Society, showcasing rooms from the Victorian period and innovative exhibits, as well as housing the Research & Genealogy Centre, a small gift shop, and the Society’s office. It is also the site of its signature event, Victorian Christmas, held on two weekends close to Christmas.
In 2004, in recognition that the Society was engaged in a range of activities far beyond the ownership and restoration of buildings, the name was changed once more — to the Annapolis Heritage Society.