It’s a gorgeous day at Fisherman’s cove in Eastern Passage. I am standing at the dock waiting for Taylor Made Tours to ferry me over to McNabs Island; a place steeped in history and often referred to as the “jewel of the harbour”. I am fortunate enough to have Cathy McCarthy, president of the Friends of McNabs Island Society (founded in 1990) join me to share her knowledge along the way. Even though it feels like it is miles away, McNabs is a mere twenty minutes away from Downtown Halifax. From the water McNabs Island appears to go on forever. Peter McNab purchased its 372 hectares of forested land in 1782 for 1000 pounds. Prior to that the Mi’kmaq lived on the island, and the French used it as a fishing centre.
Weapons From the Past
We arrive at Ives Cove. Walking across the floating dock and up a small hill, I am not anticipating what I see. In front of me is Fort Ives, constructed in the 1860s and reflecting the most modern weapons of that era. Rifled muzzle-loaders are lined in a row and a gun emplacement peers out high above the fort wall. Fort Ives was the lynch pin of the Halifax Harbour defence complex.
The Conrad House
We carry on along Old Military Road. It’s hard to imagine in this quietude that vehicles once traveled along it. Just off the main road lie three of the main homes, which are still standing. Beautiful Lyndon trees line the property near Conrad House, which is lovely to see as Hurricane Juan destroyed 40% of the trees on the island. Conrad House was the summer home of A.J. Davis, who operated a soda pop factory on the island. The other two homes belonged to the Lynch families. Bill Lynch, who resided on the island, was known as the “Midway King”, running a very popular fairground on McNabs. Although the military aspect on the island is extensive, McNabs was also a very popular recreational destination. Thousands of Halifax residents would travel over by boat for picnics and socials, or to enjoy the fair grounds.
We make our way to the now defunct Teahouse. A beautiful stone building surrounded by what once was a Victorian garden. 120 species of trees were introduced here and you can still see the stunning Japanese maple and copper beech standing proud.
“The island is a place to come to for a bit of recreation,” Cathy tells me. “Walk along a trail and you’ll stumble upon history”. We make our way towards Garrison Road, which leads out along the shoreline. I can see the beautiful and sandy Maugers Beach, which is great for swimming and is full of sea-life treasures. Dr. Abraham Gesner used kerosene (his own invention) for the first time to light up the lighthouse near Maugers Beach. People over in Halifax initially thought there was a fire on the island.
Fort McNab National Historic site served as an examination battery during WWI and World War II. It was also the first fortification in Halifax to use breech-loading guns. The view of the Atlantic Ocean from the observation post is awe-inspiring. As we make our way back to the shore to be picked up, Cathy points up at a large osprey nest. This place has captured a piece of my heart and I never want to leave.
The Friends of McNabs Island Society work hard to preserve the history and nature of this unique place, relying on volunteers, members and funding. The beach cleanups they have organized have collected over 10,000 lbs of debris since 1991. A new project that will be-completed this fall is an information kiosk near Garrison Pier. It will have maps, information panels, and cultural/interpretive materials.
The Friends of McNabs Island Society offers year round tours, and one is coming up on Sunday August 18th. In addition fall foliage tours can be arranged on request.