Nova Scotia Archives

Nova Scotia and the Sea

A culture shaped by the sea — Nova Scotia is a peninsula, almost completely surrounded by the sea; no community in the province is more than sixty kilometres from saltwater. The people who live here have been shaped and defined, over four centuries of European settlement, by this proximity to the ocean. The relationship is a complicated one, filled with the potential for great reward, fuelled by determination and calculated risk-taking, and threatened always by danger, death and immense loss.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Nova Scotia had the fourth largest merchant-shipping fleet in the world. Sail-powered wooden vessels built in Nova Scotia shipyards and crewed by Nova Scotia men were renowned internationally for their strength, speed, elegance of style, seaworthiness and durability. This was the Age of Sail, and in Nova Scotia perhaps no single event better symbolized the era than the launch in 1874, at Maitland, Hants County, of the William D. Lawrence — at 2458 tons, the largest square-rigged vessel ever built in Canada. All this is gone now, swept away by the advent of the Age of Steam, the huge steel vessels of the twentieth century, and the even-larger supertankers and Panamax creations of the twenty-first. 'Nova Scotia and the Sea' is a vast subject, as broad as the ocean itself; this website only begins to explore the rich maritime heritage of a province and a people shaped by the sea.


Footprints in the Sand: Pre-1867 Government Records for Sable Island

Fascinated by Sable Island? Explore 2600 digitized records describing settlement of the Island, 1801-1867.

Schooners: Workhorses of the Sea

A virtual exhibit with over 375 images of Nova Scotian schooners — from photographs taken in the 1880s to snapshots of a few remaining originals still afloat in the 1950s. Because the schooners' working world was not a romantic one, this exhibit also includes a variety of textual records documenting their everyday activities and upkeep.

Where the Land Meets the Sea: Shipwrecks of Nova Scotia

The number of vessels which have foundered on the rocky Nova Scotia coastline over the past four centuries defies calculation. The 'On the Rocks' searchable database presented here provides extensive information for 5000 known wrecks. An accompanying virtual exhibit using historical photographs, documentary artworks, newspaper articles and original records, begins to tell the story of loss and destruction so common in Nova Scotia waters. A special section examines the almost-forgotten wreck of the SS Atlantic in 1873–the world's worst merchant shipwreck known at that time and for many years after.

Brigs and Barques: Images and Artworks from the Age of Sail

A virtual exhibit focusing on the largest of the legendary 'Tall Ships' built in Nova Scotia and sailed around the world. Featuring over 200 period photographs and marine paintings in a searchable database, and complemented by an extensive selection of original letters, diaries and shipping records that tell the story of 'Life at Sea' in the twilight days of the Age of Sail.

William E. deGarthe

In 1977 William E. deGarthe (1907-1983), one of Nova Scotia's best-known marine artists, gifted a collection of his representative paintings to the Province of Nova Scotia. These works are on permanent display at the Public Archives Building in Halifax, but making them accessible on this Web site fulfills the larger intent of deGarthe's gift — to ensure that his legacy is available for all Nova Scotians to experience and enjoy.

Lighthouses of Nova Scotia

This virtual exhibit within 'Nova Scotia and the Sea' contains 775 period photographs and related documents, all telling the story of Nova Scotia's lighthouses and the people who lived and worked in them. Over 400 unique, rarely-seen photographs taken by the Department of Transport in the early 1900s provide the highlight of the exhibit, enabling visitors to experience a world which no longer exists.

W.R. MacAskill

Wallace R. MacAskill is one of Nova Scotia's best-known photographers, famous for his seascapes and images of sailing vessels. Search a database containing over 4600 digitized black-and-white photographs with accompanying item descriptions, and experience MacAskill's saltwater world of the early twentieth century.

Ports and Harbours

Take a time-tour of Nova Scotia's ports and harbours, via photographs, artworks, postcards, sea charts and early government records. Explore at least three centuries of the interface between land and sea, from Mi'kmaq petroglyphs to colour photographs, featuring wharves, shipping piers, shipyards and slipways, customs houses and merchants' stores, fishing fleets, fish plants, ferry services and all manner of related activities carried out at the water's edge.

Spoils of War: Privateering in Nova Scotia

Enter the world of privateering and explore a long-forgotten chapter in Nova Scotia history! Original log-books and documentation from the privateers Charles Mary Wentworth, Nelson and Dart are presented online here for the first time, along with complementary digitized content from Halifax newspapers, 1793-1815. An introductory essay, extensive background information and study guides for further research provide rich context for experiencing Nova Scotia's war-at-sea in the Napoleonic Era.

The Royal Navy in Nova Scotia Waters

A virtual exhibit containing 140 period photographs and documentary artworks, capturing the flavour and essence of naval life in Nova Scotia, 1751 to 1939. The parade of seapower ranges from men-of-war to the steel vessels of the twentieth century; other image selections bring vividly to life the men of the Royal Navy and the everyday world they lived in — from ratings to admirals, to seamen with their pet monkeys.

Bluenose: A Canadian Icon

A tribute to the greatest Nova Scotia schooner of them all. A virtual exhibit featuring over 350 heritage photographs, original documents, charts and miscellaneous items that tell the stories of Bluenose and Bluenose II, the people who sailed them and the times in which they lived.


Nova Scotia Archives —

Crown copyright © 2021, Province of Nova Scotia.