It’s generally agreed that during the era of sailing ships, Canning and Kingsport were the busiest shipbuilding ports in Kings County. I believe it’s a consensus as well that Canning’s Ebenezar Bigelow and Kingsport’s Ebenezar Cox were the leading shipbuilders.
Bigelow and Cox were mainly active as shipbuilders in the 19th century. However, long before these gentlemen and their families built some of the finest sailing ships in Canada, shipbuilders were active all around Kings County. Provincial archivists W. C. Milner wrote in 1930 that Kings County men were building ships in various ports as early as 1790. In his book on early settlers of Minas Basin, Milner said that “New England settlers” built a ship of some 40 tons at “Town Plot, Cornwallis River, about 1790.”
Milner says that this was the first ship known to be built in Kings County. If so, this would be the first of many sloops, schooners brigs, etc., to come off the ways in Kings County. From 1790 until early in the 20th century Kings County tradesmen built hundreds, possibly even thousands of ships. Amazingly, it seems that besides the main shipbuilding centers of Canning and Kingsport, almost every port along the County’s Minas Basin and Fundy shoreline had facilities for shipbuilding.
The evidence to confirm this is found in lists of ships built in Kings County compiled by G. R. McKean in 1948. McKean accessed several sources for his compilation among them records in the Public Archives in Ottawa, the research work done by Thomas R. DeWolfe in 1866, and a compilation published in 1929 by F. W. Wallace.
One of the compilations by McKean, a list of roughly 300 smaller ships less than 500 tons, tells us “Cornwallis” was the main shipbuilding area. McKean says the reference to Cornwallis is confusing since “in earlier days (it) included all the territory later divided into Canning, Kingsport, Blomidon and Canada Creek.
What is apparent from McKean’s work is that from the very first, Planter communities on the Minas and Fundy Shore (north of the Cornwallis River) was heavily involved in shipbuilding. Scot’s Bay, Halls Harbour, the Blomidon and Pereau shore up to Kingsport, along the Habitant River – you name the port and there were shipbuilders. The Horton area, which took in Wolfville, turned out numerous ships as well. Most of the shipbuilding activity in Cornwallis and Horton persisted late into the 19th century.