Heritage Communities: Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Imagine living in a town filled with heritage buildings–whose authenticity has been verified by no less a body than the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

While this may sound like a fantasy to most Heritage Home readers, it is a reality for the 2,000 residents of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

With its colourful wooden homes built on a hill, Lunenburg might be mistaken for the Hollywood set of a swashbuckling high-seas adventure film. It is, however, entirely authentic.

The seaside community’s history dates back to the late 17th century, when it was little more than a hamlet with a mixture of Acadian, indigenous and Metis residents. The town transformed under British rule, with the arrival of more than 1,400 protestant migrants. Like many of the oldest communities built on the East Coast during the early days of British rule, these new Nova Scotians were forced to build up their community quickly if they hoped to survive the next winter.

Over the course of a few months, the Lunenburg we know today emerged. Migrant workers–using wooden pieces prefabricated in the U.K.–worked together to raise family blockhouses.

They also build an enormous protective barrier–a palisade–which no longer stands. Though built with the intention of protecting the settlers from the indigenous and Acadian people already living in Nova Scotia, it would be the British who the residents of Lunenburg would first come into conflict with. Upset by the failure of the British Government to provide industrial gear promised to the migrants, many members of the community joined in a rebellion against the crown.

Over the next fifty years, the citizens of Lunenburg found themselves the victims of military raids orchestrated by the American revolutionaries, Acadian rebels and indigenous groups. In fact, as the northern leg of a complicated trade network between Britain, the West Indies and Nova Scotia, Lunenburg was also victimized by roving bands of pirates–even as some of the pirates called the town home.

Piracy is not, however, the town’s claim to fame. For two centuries, the shipwrights of Lunenburg built a name for themselves around the world. In 1921, it was Lunenburg workers who built the Bluenose–perhaps the most famous schooner ever built.

The majority of buildings in the “Tortuga of the North-West” still date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, leading UNESCO to declare the whole town to be a World Heritage site in 1995.


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