IN NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA
I've often posted abandoned properties around the world. Well, here is another one.
On a recent trip to Nova Scotia, Canada to investigate the cemetery where many of the victims of the Titanic were buried, a chance conversation in a bar in Halifax, brought up a fascinating island lying abandoned just in the harbour, called McNabs Island. It’s said that this island was home to the some of the most enchanting collection of ruins you could wish for; a cove of shipwrecks, abandoned forts, the ghosts of old fairgrounds, the remnants of a soda factory, slowly decaying Victorian houses and their once grand gardens, potters fields filled with the victims of a cholera epidemic, and a place simply and beguilingly know as Hangman’s Beach. To add to the mystery, local legends tell of forgotten mines filled with gold. Does anything capture the imagination as much as deserted island full of such ruins?
One of the first things to strike you about McNabs is its peaceful tranquility. Left abandoned for many decades know, nature has slowly reclaimed the man-made structures there. It looks much as it must have done, when the first Europeans landed their boats here centuries ago.
In 1787, one such adventurer, a British officer called William Dyott, landed on McNab’s Island, in much the same spot. He wrote in his diary, “a most beautiful small island entirely covered with spruce fir to the water’s edge…formed altogether a most beautiful prospect. I never spent a more pleasant day.”
The second thing to strike you about the island is it’s close proximity to Nova Scotia’s principal city, Halifax. It makes it all the more curious why it was abandoned.
But it wasn’t always so. McNabs Island is just under 400 hectares in size. It was once popular hunting and fishing grounds for the Mi’kmaq First Nations. In 1749, Colonel Edward Cornwallis landed, beginning a long, military presence on the island that would span for two centuries. For many years, McNabs was known as Cornwallis Island, and was of vital, strategic importance, guarding the approaches to Halifax from enemy ships.
The coastal defences on McNabs were once a forbidding deterrent to naval invasion, one contemporary historian noting, “an enemy attempting to reach the inner harbour would have a devastating broadside.” A standing force was stationed on the island during the two World Wars, but the advent of long range bombers and ballistic missiles saw the island’s military usefulness recede, and eventually come to an end; any threat to Canada would come from the skies and not the sea.
Venturing further northwest, you reach the former home and graveyard of the family that gives the island it’s name; the McNabs.
Peter McNab bought the island in 1782, building houses to farm the island. Later McNabs were successful merchants, trading in port and madeira wines, sugar, spices, tea and coffee. Ellen McNab was the last of the family to live on the island. She sold off the last few remaining acres, and died in 1930.
Up until the 1950s, there were as many as sixty to a hundred people living still on the island, but all have long since gone.
Like many of the old buildings on the island, the old McNab family home has gone. But the remnants which have survived, have done so largely to a dedicated group of volunteers, who since 1990 have worked tirelessly to preserve and promote this special place, that for decades has been in danger of being permanently ruined.
Due to its location in the Halifax harbour, mixed with dangerous shoals, McNab’s Island is surrounded by deadly, treacherous waters. The Cove might be one of the highest concentrations of shipwrecks to be found in Nova Scotia. Ferry boats, tugs, schooners and trawler have all met their fates here, the landscape marked with exposed and weathered keels, masts, ribs and hulks. Dan Conlin, writing for the Friends of McNabs Island Society, remarks, “evocative old timbers and rusty fittings still have secrets to reveal and secrets to tell.”
Amongst the ships to wreck here include the HMS Tribune, 1797, with just 12 survivors from a crew of 250; HMS Mars, 64 guns, sank without a trace in 1755. The Gertrude de Costa disappeared into the depths in less than a minute in 1950, just six escaping.
But for all the eeriness of the empty island, it is also a place of beauty, a wildlife sanctuary of the first class, especially for birds. Loons, ospreys, falcons, grebes, cormorants and herons are just some of the to be found in this abandoned birdwatchers paradise. It was the natural beauty of the island that saw it become a wildly popular picnicking destination in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Clancy's comment: Yet, another interesting location abandoned.