504 - Lunenburg Academie, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Extra Research for Season 5 – Episode 4 – Etched in Time

The tiny little harbour of Lunenburg, in what is now known as Nova Scotia, was chosen by the British to resettle 1,453 “foreign protestants,” travelling from all over Europe, in 1753. Each settler was granted a plot of land by lottery and using a plan developed back in England, the town quickly took shape with a high palisade fence, forts and defensible barracks called blockhouses.

While the majority of settlers were farmers back at home, they quickly adapted to their new coastal home and began farming fish from the sea. This led to a flourishing cod fishing industry in the early 19th century – one that still exists in the town today. The success of the thriving industry and resulting trade with the West Indies led to the construction of dozens of ornate wooden houses, many of which featured something known as the “Lunenburg Bump.” This distinctive architecture feature is described as a large overhanging five-sided dormer traditionally placed in the centre of the front façade.


A towering academy

After the original school, which was located near the town hall, was destroyed by a fire in 1893, H.H. Mott, a well-known architect from Saint John, NB, was contracted to provide plans for a new one. Construction began in the fall of 1894 and took just over a year to complete for a total cost of $30,000. An entirely wood structure, the academy featured a large central frontispiece flanked by four towers, one of which was (and still is) home to a 600 pound iron bell.

The massive, three-storey building stands looming over the brightly coloured town atop a hill known as Gallows Hill – a name it received for being where the gallows were found in the early days of the settlement. It’s also found in the middle of a centuries old cemetery. It may seem like a strange place to build a massive school, but as a prominent castle-like structure, rich in Gothic Revival influences, it could be seen for miles around, signalling Lunenburg’s prosperity.


A castle in a cemetery

The academy is found in the middle of what is known as Hillcrest Cemetery. Starting from the intersection of Kaulbach and Townsend Streets, the cemetery winds all the way up the hill and around the academy. Still in use today, the earliest known marker is from 1761.

Perhaps the most notable grave in Hillcrest may be one of a 14-year-old girl named Sophie McLachlan. According to legend, Sophie was unjustly accused of stealing $10.00 from her employer and that no one believed she was innocent, including her parents. A sort while after the accusation was made, she died from what has been described as ‘a paralyzed heart.’ Sadly, only a few months after her death, her employer’s son confessed to the theft. The inscription on the original marker on her grave permanently entombs the sadness of this tale with the phrase, “Falsely accused she died of a broken heart.”


Into the future

The Lunenburg Academy is listed as a National Historic Site, while the town of Lunenburg itself has been listed as a UNESCO heritage site since 1995. Preserving the heritage and historic value of the academy honours the development of Nova Scotia’s and Canada’s educational system. Aside from a missing towner and a new cedar shingle roof, the exterior remains intact. In fact, it is the only intact 19th century Academy Building surviving in Nova Scotia.

Currently home to The Lunenburg Academy of Music, the Academy is remains a cultural hub for the quaint fishing village.


– Jane Caulfield


Photo Credit: Lunenburg Academie, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

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