Council of Nova Scotia Archives

DesBrisay Museum, Bridgewater

bridgewater - 201732206

Bridgewater: A Pictorial History

Bridgewater is situated on the beautiful LaHave River in Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia, and is a well-known community on the South Shore. This album offers a glimpse into our town's history through a series of original images and documents. Starting with the Anti-confederation movement of 1867, including the great fire of 1899 which spurred on incorporation, touching on the steady growth into a viable commercial town, this site ends with the opening of the DesBrisay Museum in 1967. The album takes a look at how Bridgewater emerged from a small settlement spanning both sides of the LaHave River and also features some of the more prominent people who built their businesses which provided employment to the townspeople. We also look at various activities that the citizens participated in, including sports, horse racing, boating, weddings, and recreation. This album includes how people in the town lived and worked on a daily basis, as well as how we celebrated with special events such as the Water Carnival and South Shore Exhibition — all helping to shape the town we now know.

In 1765, Colonel Joseph Pernette received 22,400 acres of land on the west side of the LaHave River and was required to settle the land with Protestant settlers, one for every three hundred acres. Beginning at Cook's Falls and moving south along the LaHave River for seventeen kilometers, this land grant included the area that was to become Bridgewater.

As early as 1812, houses were being built in Bridgewater and the village developed slowly until the population had a growth in 1850 with a little over 300 people in town. In 1865, Bridgewater experienced a big leap in its population growth with the founding of the E.D. Davison & Sons Limited lumber manufacturers, which were located on the northeast side of Bridgewater. At this time, Bridgewater was well-known for its industrial area called Sebastopol located on Victoria Road, which was the site of various operations using water power. Wile Carding Mill, Hunter Foundry, Whitman Grist Mill and the Waterman Tannery all used the water of Wile's brook to power their productions. The early settlers also built many fine churches to meet their need to worship. There was a Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist church in town.

In 1867 Confederation supporters were vocal throughout Nova Scotia. However, the South Shore region was one area which strongly rejected Confederation. Economic factors were decisive in influencing the feeling of the anti-Confederates, or the Anties as they were called. This Anti-confederation movement was especially active in Lunenburg County. The results of the 1867 election show that in Lunenburg County, as a whole, the Anties had 63.5% of the anti-confederate vote and 62.5% of that anti-confederate support was in the Bridgewater area. With this in mind, it is not surprising that there was an anti-Confederation parade held in Bridgewater in 1867.

A devastating fire on January 12th 1899 brought the community together to rebuild their main commercial street. It was not until February 13, 1899 however that Bridgewater achieved incorporation. Following this event, the first mayor and council were elected on February 28, 1899. By 1900 Bridgewater had reached a population of 2,200 people. In January 1902, the Town purchased the Bridgewater Electric, Light, Water and Power Company making it a public utility which provided more reliable services to be available to businesses and citizens. The Acadia Gas Engines Company was founded in 1908 and W.T. Ritcey's operation employed 100 employees, manufacturing marine engines. By 1918 his south King Street foundry and warehouses employed 130 men and was also considered an asset to the war effort. Medical doctors also set up practice in Bridgewater following the opening of the Dawson Memorial Hospital in 1920.

The two world wars rallied Bridgewater citizens to get behind their young men by holding fundraisers to raise money for the war effort and by making and sending care packages to the soldiers. After World War II, the Town grew steadily in the 1950s as soldiers returned home, married, and started families. Monuments were erected and parks and buildings were built in memory of their service. The Michelin Tire Company announced the building of a tire plant in Bridgewater's industrial park in 1969. This new industry brought many new families to town which spurred on a growth in housing and commercial businesses. Shopping malls and new retail shops also sprang up on both sides of the LaHave River in the mid-1970s, drawing more residents from surrounding communities into Bridgewater to work and shop. The town has continued to grow and develop its downtown waterfront with a revitalization of a portion of King Street set to open in 2017. We have come a long way from a small village into a thriving town we can be proud of! We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into Bridgewater's past.

DesBrisay Museum cares for Canada's fifth oldest history collection, having been started by Judge Mather Byles DesBrisay (1828-1900), a County Court judge, MLA for Lunenburg County, coroner, and historian who lived and worked in Bridgewater. Judge DesBrisay began his small collection in 1870 and collected artifacts from both Lunenburg County and all over the world. Following his death in April 1900, his widow Ada DesBrisay sold the remainder of the Judge's collection to the newly formed Town of Bridgewater government to be operated as a public museum. After housing the museum collection in a number of different locations, including the courthouse and Women's Institute building in town, a purpose-built museum was finally constructed on Jubilee Road as one of Canada's Centennial projects. An official opening was held on June 7, 1967.

The mission of the DesBrisay Museum is to tell Bridgewater's story by enriching the experiences of its visitors and citizens, thus instilling pride in our past and present way of life. Operating year round, the museum offers a changing exhibit schedule, children and adult programs and interactive exhibits, a variety of public events, as well as a gift shop and research centre.

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For more information about DesBrisay Museum's exhibits, programs and events, please visit our website.


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