THE H FILES: KINGS COUNTY SHIPBUILDING (February 15/02)

I wasn’t exaggerating when I told a friend I probably could write a column a day for several years using information collected by the Kings Historical Society. If anything it was an understatement. The Society’s files in the Old Kings Courthouse Museum contain several centuries of history and a lifetime of column writing couldn’t cover everything in them.

However, since I have a standing invitation to peruse the Society’s files and write about what I find interesting, I’ve decided to do this once or twice a month. Following is the first instalment of an ongoing series from the Society’s history (H) files.

Nova Scotia was once noted as a seafarer’s province and during the age of sail Kings County was well known for shipbuilding. Reading the H files at the Courthouse Museum, I discovered that at one time nearly every seaside community in the county was into shipbuilding. Canning and Kingsport were two of the busiest shipbuilding areas but even ports smaller by comparison had a shipbuilding industry.

Take tiny Scotts Bay, for example. In the H files I discovered that ships were built in Scotts Bay as early as 1895. (And perhaps even earlier according to Scotts Bay residents quoted in the H files). Scotts Bay craftsmen turned out several sailing late in the 19th century. “Three 4-masted barques built in Scotts Bay,” reads the H file “were the Habitant in 1885 in the Jonathan E. Steele yard…. Another was the Scotts Bay, launched in 1885 and captained by George Murray. Also, the Bluebird was built in the Bay.”

Ships were built in Scotts Bay into the 20th century. The H files say that the last ship built in the Bay was a four-masted schooner, the Huntley, which was launched in 1918. According to the H files, an estimated 15 to 20 vessels were built at Scotts Bay.

One would never think that Huntington Point, a few miles up the Bay of Fundy shore from Halls Harbour, would be the site of a shipyard. However, the H files say that at least one sailing ship was constructed at the Point. In 1919, say the H files, “the Bona H was built at Huntington Point by G. B. Hatfield and named for his daughter. This ship was the last to be built in the Halls Harbour area and was lost by fire off the coast of Cuba in 1921.

At least one ship was constructed at Halls Harbour proper, say the H files. This was the 391 ton barque Ella Moore, launched in 1867 and wrecked in Canso 25 years later.

Another unlikely location for a shipyard is the Blomidon shore around so-called Whitewaters and Delhaven. The H files recollections by Cora Woolaver refer to a shipyard “active about 150 years ago” at Mill Creek and said that “there were quite a few ships there.” Ms. Woolaver refers to shipbuilding on the beach and a tugboat being built at Cape Blomidon. Woolaver remembers that the Blomidon shore was an active area and there was a kiln, mill and blacksmith shop.

We usually think only of seaside communities as shipbuilding areas. However, according to the H files, two ships were built on the Cornwallis River at Kentville, which is about half a dozen miles from the ocean. According to the H files, in 1813 a “brig of 200 tons was built by Mr. Handley Chipman on the Cornwallis River near the bridge in Kentville.” Just over three decades later, say the H files, one James Edward DeWolfe built a barque in the same location in 1846. Both ships are mentioned in Eaton’s Kings County history.

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