Shelburne, Nova Scotia

Shelburne, Nova Scotia

Shelburne is a town located in southwestern Nova Scotia, Canada. It is the shire town of Shelburne County.


Shelburne lies at the southwest corner of Nova Scotia, at roughly the same latitude as Portland, Maine. The early settlers had small subsistence farms, but most of the inhabitants' income from that time to the present have been derived from the sea. The first Europeans to make a settlement on these shores were the French. After the French were expelled in 1755, there were no settlers for several decades.

In the spring of 1783, 5000 settlers arrived on the shores of Shelburne Harbour from New York and the Middle Colonies of the Thirteen Colonies. These settlers were Loyalists (referred to in Canada as United Empire Loyalists), Americans who had opposed the Revolution and remained loyal to Britain. Opposition to the Revolution, as well as promises of free land, tools, and provisions lured many to British North America at that time. Four hundred families associated to form a town at Port Roseway, which Governor Parr renamed Shelburne later that year. This group became known as the Port Roseway Associates. The Black Loyalists, who settled at the same time, were allotted land on the northwest arm of Shelburne Harbour. They founded the largest free black settlement in North America, called Birchtown, in honour of General Birch.

In the fall of 1783, a second wave of settlers arrived in Shelburne. By 1784, the population of this new community is estimated to have been at least 10,000, making it one of the largest towns in North America. However the initial prosperity was short-lived as a lack of agricultural land and poor inland transportation links soon curtailed economic growth. The population fell sharply by the 1790s, leaving many abandoned buildings. However the remaining residents gradually developed the harbour potential as a fishing and shipbuilding centre.

Later settlers included Scottish and Irish immigrants. In June 1818, Welsh settlers arrived from Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire in Wales, and founded the Welsh settlement in Canada. They settled on the west side of the Roseway River, in a community they called New Cambria that was later named Welshtown.

Although much smaller today, Shelburne remains the capital of the county which bears its name. It was incorporated as a town on April 4, 1907. The population in 1997 was 2245. Many descendants of the original Loyalists still live in the area today.

Shipbuilding is a historically-significant industry. The first vessel launched at Shelburne was the 181-ton "Roseway", built for MacLean and Bogle in 1786. Commissary Island, now a peninsula, was the area from which supplies of flour, pork, and salt were dispensed to the Loyalists by the Commissary General, Mr. Brinley. Later, this area became the shipyard of Joseph McGill. The Cox family also built their own ships and conducted extensive international trade. The former MacKay shipyard was located in Shelburne at Black's Brook. Donald McKay, famous in the United States for the clippers which he built at Boston, began his shipbuilding career in Shelburne. He was born at Jordan Falls in 1810, and left the area at the age of 16 to apprentice in New York.

Fishing remains a primary industry today. Other economic activities include logging, fish processing, and the manufacture of barrels, institutional furniture, granite monuments, and marine suppliers.

Many of Shelburne's buildings date back to Loyalist times. The Shelburne County Museum is a restored home built in 1787 by David Nairn, a cooper from Scotland. The present day Christ Church (Anglican) is on the site of the original building of the same name which was designed by Loyalist Isaac Hildreth, and consecrated by Bishop Charles Inglis in 1790. The original structure was destroyed by fire in 1971. Tottie's Store is thought to have been built by John Tottie about the year 1800.

Visitors can see dories being built using construction methods of the late 19th century at the J C Williams Dory Shop. This was officially opened in 1983 by Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Ross-Thomson House and store is an authentically-stocked 18th century store and chandlery. By June of 1785, brothers George and Robert Ross, natives of Aberdeen, Scotland, conducted their business from here. The Ross brothers traded Shelburne's pine planks, codfish, ship's knees, spars, and pickled herring for salt from Turks Island, tobacco from the Carolinas and Virginia, flour from New England, rum, molasses, and sugar from the West Indies. dry goods and china from England, and wine from Madiera. Robert Thomson, the Ross brothers' clerk and accountant, was from Aberdeen as well. The store was closed in the 1880s with the death of Robert Ross Thomson, son of the elder Robert Thomson. In 1931, Professor KGT Webster of Harvard University, native of Yarmouth, purchased the house to save it from demolition.

In 1787, government distribution of provisions was terminated. Within a few years, houses were put up for sale, and settlers left for England, New Brunswick, Upper Canada, and the United States. In the 1820s, the population of Shelburne had dwindled to about 300.

The present weekly newspaper, The Coast Guard, is published at the same intersection where newspapers had been published as early as 1784, such as the General Advertiser, the Port Roseway Gazetteer and Shelburne Advertiser, and the Royal American Gazette.

Film production

In 1992, Dock Street was the location for the filming of "Mary Silliman's War", based on a true story depicting Fairfield, Connecticut during the American Revolution. In 1994, Dock Street and area was the location of a major film, ""A" The Scarlet Letter", based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel depicting Puritan New England in the mid 1600s. Some of the buildings on Dock Street still retain the grey-tone paint finishes used for the film. Other movies made in Shelburne were "Virginia's Run" and "Wilby Wonderful". In 2008 an old naval station in the Shelburne area was sold to people who plan to make more movies, at a sound stage located on the old naval station.

Located at 254 Water Street in Shelburne, the McKay Memorial Library is one of the larger branches of the Western Counties Regional Library. It joined the Western Counties Regional Library on June 5, 1969 but it did not have a physical location in Shelburne until the first branch opened on February 15, 1970. The branch relocated to its present site on July 21, 1989.

Nova Scotia Route 203

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"Atlantic Ocean"

Subdivisions of Nova Scotia

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