Fort McNab beach gun, Mcnabs Island, Nova Scotia - The Other Side TV, Season 6, Episode 11

Extra Research for Season 6 – Episode 11 – If you go into the woods…

Accessible only by boat, McNabs Island in Nova Scotia is about a 20 to 30 minute trip from downtown Halifax and is part of a larger Provincial Park that includes the Lawlor Islands as well. The 400 hectare, 5 kilometer long island is a popular destination for hikers with 18 kilometers of trails, an abandoned Victorian garden and stunning views of the city skyline. Because of its strategic location at the entrance of the Halifax Harbour, it was used as part of the historical Halifax Defense Complex hundreds of years ago and still features Fort McNab, now a National Historic site, and Fort Ives. 

Prior to European settlement, McNabs Island was used as a seasonal spot for hunting and fishing by the Mi’kmaq who lived on the mainland in what is now Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. One archaeological site on the island was dated to the Middle Ceramic period, which took place prior to 1600 BP. When the French and the English began to settle in the area, the island was originally named after Governor Cornwallis and officially became part of the Township of Halifax in 1758.

The McNab family, for which the island is now named, had roots on the island for nearly three centuries. First purchased in 1782 by Peter McNab I, the family would become an integral part in shaping how the island was developed and its various uses over time.

An island seeped in history

Since the mid 1700s, the island was home to many people. Some worked at a fishery on the island, while others took to farming the land. But the island became so much more over time.

In 1866, a ship bound to New York from England suffered an outbreak of cholera and sought refuge in Halifax. However, Port authorities would not let the ship dock within the city and ordered the ship to anchor at McNabs Cove where sick passengers were transported to another nearby ship and those that appeared healthy were initially housed on the island itself. Sadly, as a very virulent and deadly disease a burial site had to be designated at Little Thrum Cap, found at the extreme south of McNabs Island. Additional burial pits were also dug in the vicinity of Hugonins Point by “volunteers” from the city prison. While often considered to be a valuable spot for military defences, the first fortification, Sherbrooke Tower, was constructed on the island in 1815, following the war of 1812. Fort Ives, also known as the Ives Point Battery, was completed in the 1860s and Fort McNab was in the very late 1800s. During WWI, Fort McNab was one of the more important counter-bombardment batteries in the Halifax defense system and large improvements were made to the fort. It was officially closed down in January of 1919 until 1939 when it opened, repaired and eventually became a frontline of defense during WWII.

– Jane Caulfield

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