One of the reasons for “Nova Scotia’s past prominence in… shipbuilding lies in her geographical position,” and in upheaval in the North American political scene, Gordon Hansford said in a paper he wrote as his Masters thesis.
Mr. Hansford’s thesis is a history of shipbuilding in Nova Scotia in the period from 1800 to 1900. In his introduction, he says that the province’s lengthy coastline and its great tracts of timber contributed to it becoming a leader in both marine commerce and shipbuilding. Hansford points out that Nova Scotia’s rise to prominence was aided by the American Revolution which led to “withdrawal of the New England States from the West Indies trade.”
I had the privilege of reading Hansford’s 1953 thesis, and I found its exploration of Nova Scotia’s rise to shipbuilding and seafaring fame an excellent historical overview. Of particular interest was the section on shipbuilding in Kings County. It’s amazing how involved this area was in shipbuilding. As I observed in a recent column, it’s a shame that our local museum doesn’t have a permanent exhibit on shipbuilding, celebrating, for example, the famed shipyards of Canning and Kingsport; both shipyards turned out world class craft including some of the largest tonnage sailing ships in Canada.
From Hansford’s thesis we see that shipbuilding in Kings County began as early as 1786 when William Baxter came to Cornwallis. “He was a Doctor of Medicine and later something of a shipbuilder,” Hansford writes. Baxter built a small vessel at Canning and some time after, Joseph Northup, Edward Lockwood, Edward Pineo and Ebenezer Bigelow formed a partnership there and built a 200-ton vessel dubbed the “Sam Slick.”
Hansford’s paper then takes us to 1847 when a shipyard known as the “Wash Bowl” was opened in Canning by Elias and Arnold Burbidge and C. R. Northup. Later, in 1867, Ebenezer Bigelow began building in earnest, becoming perhaps the most productive and best-known shipbuilder and designer of ships on the Minas Basin shore.
When you think of shipbuilding in Kings County usually Ebenezer Bigelow and Ebenezer Cox come to mind. However, Hansford tells us there many other builders, who perhaps while not as well-known as Cox and Bigelow, produced first-rate sailing ships. Among them were W. R. Huntley, C. Lockhart, and D. R. and C. F. Eaton.
Even unlikely shipbuilding areas, such as Kentville were active. Hansford records at least two ships being built inside the Kentville town limits, “near the bridge” in 1813 and 1846. Wolfville had its share of shipbuilders as well, Hansford naming W. D. DeWolfe, W. A. Cox and J. E. Harris among them. Even the tiny port of Hall’s Harbour had a shipyard, turning out several ships including the barque Ella Moore in 1869, which made a record-breaking run from Belfast to Nova Scotia in 1893.