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Exploring the Past in Nova Scotia

Archaeology and History Sites in Nova Scotia

Africville

Africville was an area of Halifax settled primarily by Black Canadians, many of whom had fled north to escape enslavement in the United States. Developing in the early 19th century, by the early 20th century it was often regarded as a slum, with a waste-treatment facility established nearby in the 1950s. In the 1960s the government condemned the settlement for demolition. A commemorative monument and museum now mark the heritage of this black-dominant area

Chapel Island

Now part of the Chapel Island First Nation reserve, Chapel Island has long been a meeting place of the indigenous Mi’kmaw people – the Grand Council of the Mi’kmaq still meet here. Various archaeological sites and places of historic interest can be found on the island, including cemeteries, a church, summer cabins, and a boulder associated with the 18th-century Abbé Maillard. The government have classified Chapel Island as a National Historic Site since 2002.

Covenanters’ Church

The Covenanters’ Church in Grand-Pré is the oldest extant Presbyterian church in Canada. It was built between 1804 and 1811, with the tower being added in 1818. Architecturally, it is in the style of the New England meeting house. Many noted local figures are buried in the adjacent cemetery. During the summer months, the church remains actively used for Protestant services. The government have classified it as a National Historic Site since 1976.

Fortress of Louisbourg

A French settlement grew up at the site of the Fortress of Louisbourg in the early 18th century, before surrounding fortifications were built between 1720 and 1740. In 1745 the British seized control of the fortress, part of their push to conquer French-controlled land in what is now Canada. About a quarter of the original fort has now been reconstructed. Reenactors dressed in period costume help visitors immerse themselves in the heritage experience.

Grand-Pré

Grand-Pré in Kings County is a rural village that was a centre for Acadian settlement between 1682 to 1755. The French-speaking Acadians were deemed suspicious to the British authorities and deported between 1755 and 1762. Considered an important place to Acadian communities, Grand-Pré’s fame was enhanced by its inclusion in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Evangeline.” The Landscape of Grand-Pré is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a National Historic Site.

HMCS Sackville

Launched in 1941, the HMCS Sackville was one of the ships utilised by the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. A Flower-class corvette, it was decommissioned following the war, in 1946. It then saw a second lease of life as a research vessel with the Department of Marine and Fisheries, in which capacity it was used until 1982. Now docked in Halifax, the HCMS Sackville serves as a visitor attraction.

Halifax Citadel National Historic Site

The Halifax Citadel National Historic Site is also known as Fort George, named after King George II of Great Britain. The strategic hilltop was chosen for its commanding view over the harbour, so as to best protect the growing town. Although never attacked, the fort played a key role in Anglo-French rivalry in this part of Canada. The first fortifications were constructed in 1749 and rebuilt four times, but the fort on display today has been restored to its Victorian period.

Kejimkujik

Covering an area of 404 square kilometres, Kejimkujik is a National Park that is also recognised as a National Historic Site. Records indicate the presence of Mi’kmaw communities for several centuries, with human activity being indicated by the presence of four petroglyph sites on the eastern side of Kejimikujik Lake, of which only one can be visited. The park also contains the locations of several traditional Mi’kmaw encampments.

Old Burying Ground

Founded in 1749, the Old Burying Ground in Halifax is the city’s oldest cemetery. It was originally non-denominational although in 1793 came under Anglican jurisdiction. In 1844 it was closed. Over the years it fell into a state of disrepair till a renovation project launched in the 1980s. The Old Burying Ground still contains many 18th and 19th century graves and is recognised as a National Historic Site.

Prescott House Museum

Prescott House Museum is at the heart of the Acacia Grove country estate in Starr’s Point. Built between 1812 and 1816, it was designed to serve as the family home of Charles Ramage Prescott, a wealthy merchant and politician. After Prescott’s death ownership was taken on by another family before it was reacquired by the Prescotts in the early 20th century. Since the early 1970s it has operated as a heritage attraction.

York Redoubt

York Redoubt in Ferguson’s Cove is a fort overlooking the entrance to Halifax Harbour. Built in 1793, it had a Martello tower installed here in 1798. It continued to be used for defensive purposes into the 20th century, with troops utilising it during the Second World War. Since 1962, the government have classified the York Redoubt as a National Historic Site of Canada. Open to visitors in the summer months.

Popular Walking and Sightseeing Tours in Nova Scotia

Museums in Nova Scotia

Admiral Digby Museum

The Admiral Digby Museum delves into the heritage of Nova Scotia’s Digby County. Located in the town of Digby, the museum occupies one of the oldest buildings in the settlement. In the late 1960s, the building became Digby’s first library before transforming into a museum in the early 1980s. The museum takes its name from Robert Digby, an admiral who brought United Empire Loyalists settlers to the town from New York in 1783.

Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site

The Scotsman Alexander Graham Bell, best known as the inventor of the telephone, spent several years in Nova Scotia, where he established a laboratory at Baddeck. Today, the area is a National Historic Site with a museum devoted to Bell and his inventions. Among the displays are the hull of his HD-4 hydrofoil boat and the AEA Silver Dart which succeeded in becoming the first controlled heavier-than-air craft to be flown on British territory.

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is housed in the historic Dominion Building, built in 1865. The largest art gallery on Atlantic Canada, there are over 17,000 works of art in the gallery’s permanent collection. This is a varied collection that ranges from Inuit stone carvings to folk art from Nova Scotia, as well as paintings, photographs and other objects by artists with strong ties to Nova Scotia and the Atlantic provinces – many of which depict imagery of local significance.

Baile nan Gàidheal

The Baile nan Gàidheal or Highland Village in Iona is an open-air museum focusing on the heritage of Scottish Gaelic settlers in Nova Scotia. Part of the broader Nova Scotia Museum system, Baile nan Gàidheal brings together a range of historic buildings spread over 43 acres of land. Reenactors dressed in period costume help ensure that visitors enjoy a more immersive living history experience. Special events take place throughout the year, including performances of traditional Scottish music.

Black Loyalist Heritage Centre

Opened in 2015, the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre near Shelburne focuses on the heritage of the Black Canadian community, especially as it exists in Nova Scotia. It takes its name from the African Americans who had supported the British Loyalist cause during the American Revolutionary War and headed north after the victory of pro-independence forces. Multimedia presentations make visits a more interactive experience. A heritage trail and pit-house are also found here.

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax occupies an immigration shed used between 1928 to 1971. As the last of these features to survive in Canada, efforts to preserve the site led to the establishment of the museum in 1999. It covers four centuries of history, from the arrival of the earliest Europeans through to recent occurrences. A range of temporary exhibitions and special events take place throughout the year.

Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum

The Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum near Halifax explores the agricultural history of this area. It is the creation of the Cole Harbour Rural Heritage Society, formed to protect something of Cole Harbour’s rural character amid growing suburbanisation in the 1970s. Several old buildings have been moved to the museum, which is also home to a tearoom and a range of livestock, ensuring its farmyard ambience. Open during the summer months.

Fisherman’s Life Museum

The Fisherman’s Life Museum in Jeddore Oyster Ponds preserves a timber house dating from the early 20th century. It was originally home to the fisherman Ervine Myers, along with his wife Ethelda and their 13 daughters. It seeks to educate visitors on the life of fishing communities during the 19th and early 20th century as they once existed along much of eastern Canada. The museum is also surrounded by an attractive garden.

Fort Point Museum

The Fort Point Museum in LaHave explores the heritage of this area, which is a National Historic Site of Canada. It was here that the first capital of New France was established in 1632, with it becoming a significant location in the heritage of the Francophone Acadian population. The museum itself occupies a building that was formerly home to a lighthouse keeper; the lighthouse itself is now gone.

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

With over 30,000 objects and established in 1948, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in the harbour waterfront of Halifax is both the largest and oldest maritime museum in Canada. Permanent displays include shipwrecks of Nova Scotia, the sinking of the RMS Titanic and the role played by Nova Scotia in the rescue, as well as a World War II exhibit about the Battle of the Atlantic. There is also 70 small craft and a 180-foot steamship, the CSS Acadia, for visitors to explore.

Nova Scotia Museum of Industry

Opened to the public in 1995, the Nova Scotia Museum of Industry is of one various sites across the province that falls under the auspices of the Nova Scotia Museum. Its displays cover technological developments and how these impacted the lifestyles of Nova Scotians throughout history. The museum is located in Stellarton, an area of the province with a long heritage linking it to coal mining, manufacturing, and the ship-building industry.

Sherbrooke Village

Sherbrooke Village is one of the museums operated under the broader auspices of the Nova Scotia Museum. An open-air museum, it brings together a range of historic buildings from around the province to give the impression of a settlement dating from the late 19th or early 20th century. Visitors are able to interact with reenactors dressed in period costume, giving them a better impression of Nova Scotia life in days gone by.

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