Nova Scotia Archives

'Canada's Ocean Playground'

The Tourism Industry in Nova Scotia, 1870-1970

James H. Morrison, "American Tourism in Nova Scotia, 1871-1940," in Nova Scotia Historical Review, Vol.2, No. 2 (1982), pp. 40-51. Reprinted with the author’s permission.

Wherever possible in the text below, discussion of specific places and activities has been linked directly to corresponding images or digitized travel literature elsewhere on this Website.

American Tourists in Sportsmen's Paradise, 1871-1940

...when they first started. ... people come from the States they'd come by train to Annapolis or somewhere ... come 'n' b'God they'd stay a month ...get there 'n' they'd be happy as Hell, b'God they had an oil lamp 'n' a fireplace 'n' a building out back 'n' some feeding... sit around there 'n' go fishing... hire a guide for two dollars a day at that time 'n' a dollar for his canoe... Up to Keji lodge... they had a richer crowd up there... they was judges 'n' doctors... they'd hire a guide for all summer... 'n' board the guide there, $3 a day... good money for here...1

Tourism in Eastern Canada, more specifically the maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, can be divided into three chronological periods. The first, that of the military tourist, began in the early nineteenth century and lasted until 1871, drawing its clientele almost exclusively from the officer class stationed in the various provincial urban centres. Beamish Murdock noted in his History of Nova Scotia that military officers preferred Halifax to other overseas postings due to the fact that "... the opportunity for sport with the gun and line, or excursions inland, increased their desire to revisit it." 2

The second stage covered a period of some seventy years from 1871 to 1940, and can be generally be considered to be the "elite sport tourist" period; unlike the first stage , which consisted for the most part of British "tourists," this second period included mostly Americans. The difference in interest and attitude was striking, and can best be seen in the comments of an American who visited Halifax in 1889. He described the city as a "quaint, delightful, dirty old town," and it was his hope that "... it would be saved from the doubtful blessing of becoming a popular summer resort with summer hotels overrun by Americans." 3

The invention of the automobile and the consequent mobility of those who could afford such vehicles dashed any hopes that Halifax or indeed Nova Scotia would be saved from such doubtful blessings. By the 1920s the Nova Scotia government was actively encouraging tourism and in 1924 the first Old Home Summer was held. The key to financial success in the industry was the automobile. In 1922, between July and September 2,000 tourist vehicles entered the province. The number of cars increased each year and despite a slight decline during the 1930's, by 1940, almost 50,000 cars entered the province. 4

The third and final period has been one of drastic change. Since 1940 there has been a tourist explosion, due for the most part to economic boom times and the widespread use of the automobile. By 1969, 271, 000 cars entered Nova Scotia, the majority of them for the purpose of tourism. The numbers of people engaged in "touring" had increased enormously and no longer included leisurely stops of one or two months in secluded tourist resorts. The clientele had also changed from a majority of Americans in the second period to a mix of Americans and Canadians.

Tourism has become a business encouraged by government, and the natural beauty of the eastern provinces has long been perceived as another of the region's exploitable resources. Seneca believed that men travelled because "... they are fickle, tire of soft living and always seek after something which eludes them;" all three tourist types — "military", "elite sport" and "mobile" — would no doubt agree with one or more of these postulates. 5

With these three periods securely in place, we shall now proceed to the middle period, and more specifically, to the "elite sport tourists" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Nova Scotia. The commencement year for this period, 1871, has been chosen with some care, since an event which occurred in that year marked the beginning of large scale tourism in Nova Scotia. In July 1871, a large party of some 400 Americans travelled by railroad to Nova Scotia from Boston, 6 becoming the first tourist excursion to travel by rail to the province. By the next summer, rail service was extended to New York, and a 36 hour journey was all that was necessary to travel from the wilds of New York city to the civilized wilderness of Nova Scotia. The transport was available and the woodlands beckoned. All that was needed were some more customers.

Nova Scotia was fast becoming a favourite spot for professional sportsmen from New England. One of the most influential was Charles Hallock, the first editor of the popular American magazine Forest and Stream, begun in 1873. In that same year, Hallock published The Fishing Tourist: Angler's Guide and Reference Book, and in it he noted that Nova Scotia was unsurpassed as a game country. 7 His was the first of many travel accounts concerning the province. In the years that followed, a variety of writes from Albert Bigelow Paine to Zane Grey would acclaim the pleasures of the Nova Scotian wilds, and would encourage thousands of fellow Americans to follow the Atlantic seaboard north to the province.

In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the tourist trade steadily accelerated, and by 1911, railroad steamers from the United States to Nova Scotia were handling up to 1800 tourists per week. A rather optimistic story in the New Year's edition of the Halifax Herald stated that Nova Scotia might even expect 1,500,000 tourists in 1912. 8 Private and public interests were soon responding to such far fetched possibilities. Already in 1897, the Nova Scotia Tourist Association had been established in Halifax with the stated purpose of bringing visitors to both the city and the province "... by making known the various attractions existing here." 9 Then in 1924, the provincial government entered the picture and a Tourist Investigation Committee was formed to encourage and develop future tourist business. One of its specific recommendations was that provincial hotels should be improved and enlarged accordingly; before the end of the decade, the two railroad companies operating in the province had become involved, and four major hotels (Lakeside Inn (Yarmouth), The Pines (Digby), Cornwallis Inn (Kentville) and Lord Nelson Hotel (Halifax)) were built along the railroad line from Yarmouth on the southern tip of Nova Scotia, where the American tourists arrived by boat from Boston or Maine, to Halifax. 10 A massive promotional campaign was also undertaken by the province, urging Americans to visit the "Land of Evangeline." This was perhaps one of the more successful advertising coups of the time, for what literate American had not read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem detailing the Acadian expulsion and had imagined the mythical romantic figure seeking her lost lover. The advertisers had made the American school curriculum work to their advantage.

By whatever means, mythical or real, American tourists were being drawn to the province, and localities which had once been simple farming communities now became "picturesque rustic settlements sheltered among the green robed senators of the mighty woodlands." 11 Given that this era was what American John Mitchell has called "... the gilded age of the field sports...", 12 such communities could not help but be affected in many ways by the influx of visitors. They were, after all, on the front lines of the invasion.

Let us follow one of these incursions, the "Mooseland Trail," as it was described in a 1924 Nova Scotia gazeteer, and examine a specific area that interested tourists greatly.

70 miles... Annapolis Liverpool. This trail takes one across country from the Annapolis Valley to the South Shore, passing through some of the finest hunting and fishing lands in Nova Scotia ... Caledonia is the gateway to seven hundred and fifty square miles of sporting country, with over a hundred and thirty rivers, lakes and ponds including Lake Rosignol, Kejimkujik Lake, Kejimkujik River and Medway and Mersey Rivers, the former a famous salmon stream. 13

For obvious reasons, these hinterland of Queens and Annapolis Counties were considered by many to be the "paradise of sportmen" and were famous for moose hunting and trout fishing. Early sporting travellers like Hallock had noted the wealth of game in the area and consequently its sporting reputation led to the construction of hunting lodges like Milford House, Pinehurst and Kedge Makooge (Keji) Lodge. These establishments became a great source of pride for the local population, as they not only provided an income but also a feeling of involvement with that greater and opulent world beyond. The village inhabitants became increasingly committed to serving the tourist, and were employed as drivers, cooks, servants, guides, carriers, helpers and "go fers". In such a service industry there was still room for the local farmer to market his produce, the housewife to sell her baked goods and handcrafts, and the craftsman to display his canoes, paddles or back packs. To better appreciate how local people reacted to the tourist, and how they perceived the impact on their community, perhaps it would be best to let them tell part of this story themselves in the following pages.

By the late 1890s, regular steamship service between Boston and Yarmouth had been established. Travellers who arrived in Yarmouth just off the boat in the early morning could then catch the "New Yorker" service of the Dominion Atlantic Railroad and travel on to any point between Yarmouth and Halifax. If the visitors wished to follow the "Mooseland Trail" as described above — and many did — they would stop at the town of Annapolis and wait for transportation to the interior. If it was 1920, it wasn't long in coming, and as likely as not it was Lauchlin (Locky) Freeman who pulled up to the station:

I use to go back and forth between Keji and Annapolis ... I drove the truck five trips a week. The guests would come to the railroad station and I would have to help them get their baggage and their trunks and so on ... cause some would come to stay all summer... 14

After all, this was no passing visit, no momentary stay; tourists came for the duration and packed accordingly. Walter Sheffer explains:

You'd be surprised the load of stuff people'd bring. They rode out here in a buckboard wagon from Annapolis ... the first people ... they would bring great big suitcases ... great big trunks ... some bringing three trunks of books ... and stayed the summer ... They would come in May and stay 'til the cold weather drove them out ... 15

Once seated in the Ford half ton or the buckboard, perhaps the most difficult part of the summer began — the thirty mile trip to the holiday lodges. As the vehicles went deeper into the interior, the travellers were surrounded by the green impenetrable forest. Paine, in his colourful book The Tent Dwellers, described the view most vividly — albeit somewhat inaccurately:

Bleak, unsightly, unproductive, mangled and distorted out of all shape and form of loveliness, yet with a fierce, wild fascination in it that amounts almost to beauty — that is the Nova Scotia woods. 16

Many perhaps were more fascinated by the distorted road or lack thereof, over which they were travelling. Again Lauchlin Freeman comments,

Great big granite rocks on the road then — even then, 1920, there were rocks that high [4 feet] ... couldn't get around them. If you met a car you had to back up to a pull off spot ... could get stuck in the grass if you weren't careful ... 17

If the tourists survived this passage, they were soon safely ensconced in the accommodation

of their choice, be it Kedge Makogee Lodge, Milford House, or Minard's Cabins, all of which were centered in the vast lakeland area of south western Nova Scotia. In the months to come, they would fish, hunt, play lawn games, eat exceedingly well, be eaten in turn by the insect life, and enjoy the idle pleasures and comforts their wealth had brought them. Hunting and fishing guides were also available at very short notice from the lodge management, and to them it was never altogether clear as to why this rich crowd would want to spend $10 a week for board just to sit around an oil lamp in the wilds of Nova Scotia. 18

Some regular visitors involved themselves directly with local life. Mrs. Maud Longmire, whose husband was a guide, was particularly impressed by the friendliness of certain tourists:

Americans used to like going 'round house to house and get acquainted with all the people in the place ... . They'd sing in the church and come to our Sunday morning service ... . They used to put on big plays an cabarets ... raised money and sometimes raised money for the church ... 19

Many would come back summer after summer and be well known by the community. The arrival of these regulars was also of interest to the local press, in this case The Gold Hunter, which was published weekly in nearby Caledonia. The issue for 14 October 1921 noted that

We were pleased to have a call from A. Byron McLeod and E.W. Preston on Monday. Mr. Preston is a member of the editorial staff of the Boston Herald, and has been enjoying a vacation at Pinehurst. He is greatly impressed with the country and hopes to come again next year. 20

And again on 19 June 1931,

We were pleased to have a call from Dr. Fridenberg on Wednesday. The doctor, and his wife, have been guests of the Rod & Gun club, Kejimkujik, for eighteen consecutive years. He is so well pleased with this part of Nova Scotia, and our people, he would like to reside here permanently. 21

The regulars and the famous were always of note. Mrs. Longmire tells of a visit by the "Floor shams you know the shoe people" and also of a Lord "Tangy" who come from England to Keji complete with his manservant "... a real old Englishman but he was a good one." 22

The presence of the famous invariably produced anecdotes and some of these tales bear re telling. Maurice Scott recounts the story of one of the more famous tourists who visited Caledonia on a camping trip in the early part of the century.

... had a few billionaires here ... big shots from New York, Boston, Cleveland, they used to come down here too, great place ... . John D. Rockefeller was up here twice, John junior the second John. He was over at Alton House. John D., went by the name John Davidson. There was an old guide with him. He was middle aged. He looked like a big statesman. He was only a guide, see. He had a big handlebar. He used to be quite particular about his clothes... . Anyway Byron Kempton ran this hotel and was over to the post office and the postmaster said, 'You've got a millionaire over there ...' He said, 'You know, I never seen a millionaire.' 'Well,' said Byron, 'come on over and see him.'

So MacAdam the postmaster went over to the hotel and went in and set down. Saw them sittin' there with a big moustache, handsome man and sitting back. Watched him awhile then bye 'n' bye he got up and went upstairs. MacAdam came back home. The next day he was talking to Byron, 'You know there is something funny about a man with money like that, a millionaire,' he said. 'You know he don't look like anybody else. He looks different. Even the skin on this hands, on his face, his moustache, hair. He looks different than the kind of people we have around here.'

Byron says, 'Sure!! ... . What do you mean about that moustache?' 'Well,' he says, 'he's got a big rolling moustache, you know.' Bryon says, "That wasn't Rockefeller.' He says, It wasn't?' 'No! That was old John MacVicar Munroe. That's one of the guides.'23

One is rightly suspicious of such an anecdote. Did Rockefeller actually visit this distant and secluded part of Canada far from the hustle and bustle of his billions? The Gold Hunter of 27 October 1916 lays the matter to rest: "John D. Rockefeller Jr. moose hunting with John Truesdel as guide. His third trip. Returned to New York." 24 Although Rockefeller was in Caledonia, hunted there, and visited at least three times, the story is nevertheless not about him! It was in reality a comment on guides, and the man mistaken for Rockefeller, John McVicar Munroe, represented the typical guide in that area.

Guides were, in effect, the most important component of the tourist industry during this period, since it was their job to serve and satisfy every whim of the visitor. Paine succinctly described the enthusiasm and frustration of the beginner putting up with the hardships of the wilds:

"There were trout here and I could catch them. That was enough." 25 The skilled guide ensured that both the beginner and the more experienced regular got what they paid for, be it trout, deer, moose or photographs — all after a reasonable amount of suspense. The guides were experienced professionals who had to pack, lug, carry and cook. For example, Paine recounted the time when he had bedded down for the night and his guide brought him a drink of water: "I wasn't used to being waited on in that way, but it was pleasant." 26 Walter Sheffer, who guided for over forty years, remembers his experience:

You have a packsack, tents, bedding, supplies and you had to know enough to put that pack up — once I was out seventeen days without coming out of the woods ... . They [the tourist] carried at least their personal things and sometimes they carried luggage besides. Sometimes maybe a man would want to carry a canoe ... [but I'd] set up camp, do the dishes ... anything and everything ... . People on such trips were on their best behaviour. I don't know what they was like when it came to doing business with them... . They were probably shrewd as Hell. 27

Often the guides became as famous as those they guided. Local stories abound of the strength, endurance and more frequently the tricks they played on each other and the visitors. One example of the latter was immortalized by the press. On 11 November 1928, the Boston Herald carried a photo page on a character it called "Another famous Will Rogers, one of the best known guides in Nova Scotia." Rogers was a guide at Kedge Makogee Lodge, and beside the photograph of him was another of a somewhat shadowy "moose" frozen by a stationary camera and night flash. Joe Rogers, Will's nephew, tells the real story.

I was in South Saskatchewan at the time. A sheep farmer came over and said, 'Joe, what's your father's name?' I said, 'Fred.' 'Oh, I thought it might have been your father. Three or four sheets in the paper about Canada's famous Will Rogers from Nova Scotia.' 'Oh, I have an uncle Will.'

They pulled off the damndest stunts. It was in the summer time, no moose around. They told a great story in the paper of how they set the camera with a string across the moose's path and how the moose came and took his own picture ... . Well Charles Minard had a great big moosehead in his cabin over there and came over across the lake and took it in the woods and his shoulders was hidden ... and that flash camera took the picture in the dark ya know... and that's what the man got. 28

These guides, quaint character or not, did well financially for the summer and usually made much more than if they had stayed home on their farms or engaged in woods work at a dollar a day. The better guides were reimbursed handsomely for their efforts and sizeable tips were occasionally given. Again Maud Longmire:

Tips were very important and after one two week trip guides would often get $5.00 gold pieces from American tourists. I saved enough of them to buy a second hand kitchen range stove, paid $20 for the stove and $5 for buckboard transport ... that stove was like gold to me. 29

The communities as a whole benefitted as well, as Mrs. Longmire remembers:

Milford House gave employment to most of the people around here ... a good many worked at the lodge itself and others worked in other ways for it ... a ready market for anything you have to sell ... most people's cash income came through Milford House. 30

Summer in central Nova Scotia brought the rich, the near rich, or simply the famous to enjoy the "primitive" and serene beauty that this area had to offer. The bulk of these travellers were American, and generally it can be stated that it was not until the Second World War and after that the trend began to change, as more Canadians, and especially Nova Scotians, were participating fully in the "age of the automobile," Unfortunately, the guest registers for tourist accommodations on Kejimkujik Lake are not available. However, perhaps the Milford House statistics can serve equally well as an indication of the point of origin for tourists in this area, since both Milford House and Kedge Makogee appealed to a similar clientele. In 1930, almost 70 per cent of the guests at Milford House were from the United States. No doubt it was higher than this in the earlier decades. During the period from 1930 to 1940, the yearly percentage of Americans never went below 50 per cent. 31 Thus, within the period of this study, the American tourist accounted for the majority of visitors and an enormous influx of cash, not to speak of the less obvious importation of the fashions and tastes of American culture.

As Maud Longmire noted, the influx of tourists touched the community as a whole, for there was a constant demand by the sporting lodges for commodities which the locality had to offer — the farmer's products, the housewives' culinary talents, or the whole population's knowledge of its own backyard. The community store benefitted, as did the local church, and the residual living memory of this period is very positive towards the tourists, for it is believed that they contributed much to the community's economic stability. At the same time, the lodges themselves were owned by "locals" and the income they gained stayed in the community. Thus the early tourist industry in this part of Nova Scotia distributed income directly and indirectly to a very large number of people in the rural area, with virtually no intermediary; it would, however, be virtually impossible to quantify the amounts.

Cultural influences are also difficult to measure, but a brief qualitative analysis is in order. American fashions and fads were evident in the local newspapers and were many times copied by the young, as each tried to outdo the other on the latest styles from Boston. The films and plays that were shown or performed tended to reflect an American influence, although again, to what extent this was due to the tourist trade is not clear.

Lois Turner and John Ash have noted in their study, The Golden Hordes, that the search for simplicity and the rustic ends in accelerated social change for the place visited: thus, "the pursuit of the exotic and diverse ends in uniformity." 32 In the case of the area under study, this move to uniformity — if such can be said to exist — was more probably brought about by those inhabitants who migrated to more cosmopolitan American centres and who, like all good emigrants, proved their success by flaunting their urban acquisitions when they came home. The tourist trade may have encourage this emigration, but it cannot be held accountable for the natural movement of a people escaping economic hard times in Eastern Canada. Perhaps this is why the area maintained its rustic nature and simplicity, for it was losing its younger and more adventurous population, to be replaced by summer transients from the United States.

Gone now is the era of oxcarts and Model T Fords manoeuvering around granite rocks that blocked the road, and gone are the American tourists who stayed for three or four months at a time, The simpler, slower time is past, but the tourist industry lives on as one of the most underrated employers in the province. For over 100 years it has brought money, ideas, fashions, fads and excitement to the small communities of Nova Scotia and has distributed income more widely, more quickly and more equitably than if the inhabitants of these communities had owned shares in a tourist corporation. It provided and still provides to an economically depressed region of the nation what George Minard calls " ... good money for here..." 33


1.     Interview with George Minard, New Grafton, Queens County, 3 March 1977.

2.     Beamish Murdock, A History of Nova Scotia or Acadie (Halifax, 1867), Vol 3, p. 444.

3.     Phyllis Blakely, Glimpses of Halifax (Belleville, Ontario, 1972) p. 212

4.    Department of Tourism, Nova Scotia, Annual Reports, 1970, p. 27

5.     Lois Turner and John Ash,The Golden Hordes: International Tourism and the Pleasure Periphery (New York, 1976), p. 28.

6.     Marguerite Woodworth, History of the Dominion Atlantic Railway (Kentville, 1936), p. 80

7.     Charles Hallock, The Fishing Tourist: Angler’s Guide and Reference Book (New York, 1873), p. 114

8.     This was reported in The Gold Hunter (Caledonia), 12 January 1912, p.3.

9.     Halifax Nova Scotia (1903). A travel brochure issued by the Tourist Association.

10.     These hotels were Lakeside Inn (Yarmouth), The Pines (Digby), Cornwallis Inn (Kentville) and Lord Nelson Hotel (Halifax).

11.     R.R. McLeod, Pinehurst or Glimpses of Nova Scotia Fairyland (1908), p.100.

12.     John G. Mitchell, “Gentlemen Afield,” American Heritage, Vol. 29, No. 6 (Oct./Nov. 1978) p.100.

13.     Gazeteer and Road Map of Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1924), p. 11

14.     Lauchlin Freeman, Kejimkujik Oral History (hereafter KOH), No, 80, Tape 42, Side 2, 6 July 1977. This tape is part of a collection held by Parks Canada.

15.     Walter Sheffer, KOH No. 15, Tape 7, Side 1, 2 March 1977.

16.     Albert Bigelow Paine, The Tent Dwellers (New York, 1980), p. 33

17.     Freeman, op. cit.

18.     John Leefe, James Morrison, Eric Mullen, Millie Evans, Kejimkujik National Park: A Guide (Halifax, 1981), p.11

19.     Maud Longmire, KOH No. 39, Tape 27, Side 1, 6 April 1977.

20.     The Gold Hunter, 14 October 1921, p.3

21.     Ibid, 19 June 1931, p. 3

22.     Longmire, op. cit.

23.     Maurice Scot, KOH No. 51, Tape 30, Side 2, 28 April 1977.

24.     The Gold Hunter, 27 October 1916, p. 3

25.     Paine, op. cit., p. 44

26.     Ibid, p. 55

27.     Sheffer, op. cit.

28.     Joe Rogers, KOH No. 16, Tape 8, Side 2, 2 March 1977.

29.     Longmire, op. cit.

30.     Ibid.

31.     A study of when these tourist came would be of interest in itself. For example, in 1930, 68 per cent of the visitors to Milford House were from the United States; then the Depression hit. In 1931, 50 per cent were Americans; 1932 - 50 percent; 1933 - 48 per cent; and 1934 - 51 per cent. Then came the recovery; 1935 - 57 per cent; 1936 - 51 per cent; 1937 - 64 per cent; 1938 62 per cent; and a high water mark of 68 per cent in 1939; Generally speaking, 50 percent of the American tourists came for the states of New York and Massachusetts. By 1944 only 16 per cent of the tourists were from the United States, due no doubt to the disruption of World War II.

32.     Turner and Ash, op. cit. p.292

33.     George Minard, KOH No. 19, Tape 13, Side 1, 3 March 1977.



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