top logo bar

McNabs and Lawlor Islands

prepared by Nova Scotia Natural Resources and Canadian Heritage, Parks Canada
Contents | Previous Section | Next Section

A Personal Account

Reprinted from the September 1986 issue of the Griffin, a publication of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia

A Walk Through an Old English Garden on McNab's Island

by Doris Butters

No matter how many times I visit McNabs Island I always discover something new (new to me, that is). A late August trip with a group led by Alex Wilson of the Nova Scotia Museum on a bright, sunny Saturday morning was no exception. This time it was to look at the sadly overgrown remains of the Old English garden on the Hugonin estate. Owned and farmed from 1849 by Capt. Hugonin, the property was sold in 1885 to Frederick Perrin who created a garden after the style of those he had left behind in England.

On arrival and before starting our walk, Alex touched briefly on the colourful history of the Island. In the 1600s fishermen dried their catch on the flakes at Maugher Beach and ships took on water from a clear brook at the head of Findlay's Cove. The period of greatest activity was throughout the 1800s when about 180 acres was under cultivation, pleasure and picnic grounds catered to the enjoyment of visiting Haligonians and a small factory bottled "McNab's Best" soda pop. But perhaps the most important function of the island was military.

The island had been in the McNab family since about 1775, but during the latter part of the 19th century the military purchased part of the island to defend Halifax against possible attack from the French. A Martello tower was built on the tongue of land where the lighthouse now stands and forts raised at three strategic points.

Then in 1849 Capt. Hugonin acquired the middle section of the island where he built a home on the side of the hill overlooking the harbour. He farmed the land until his retirement in 1865 and in 1885 Frederick Perrin bought the property and started to develop his Old English garden. A very attractive garden it must have been, judging from the remains.

An old photograph and a small sketch map which Alex passed around showed the Hugonin-Perrin house above a neat, terraced lawn surrounded by native and exotic plantings. Linden, European elm and horse chestnut have now reached majestic proportions, their rich massed green offset by a shapely, wide-spreading copper beech and two unusually large red Japanese maples on either side of the lawn. Native red pine, hemlock and cedar were also planted and now stand straight and tall. Alongside the path up the hill are black locust, and nearby the remains of an old cherry and apple orchard. Near the top of the rise Virginia creeper has wound its way up to a considerable height and formed a dense tangle on several tree trunks.

A variety of roses, mock orange, common and large-flowered Japanese barberry, English hawthorn, lilacs and other shrubs are now almost buried beneath a wild growth of weeds, spruce and alder. At one point we had to push our way through a huge thicket of Japanese knotweed. Wrinkled rose thrives in the salt air near the beach and the open hillside is thick with raspberry, blackberry and blueberry.

We digressed to check the foundation of the "pop factory" - finding a few odd shards of broken bottles - and to look at the burned out ruin of the old Findlay home which still shows the extra-wide boards of the wall sheathing. From the top of the hill, there is a good overview of the Hugonin-Perrin garden and a magnificent panorama across the harbour to Halifax.

Now that McNab's has been designated as a park, perhaps the Old English garden could one day be cleared and maintained in its former elegant state.

McNabs and Lawlor Islands
Contents | Previous Section | Next Section

The tabloid McNabs and Lawlor Islands prepared by the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resouces and Parks Canada of Canadian Heritage in support of their Fall 1995 public consultation process.

This Internet version was prepared with permission by the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists (FNSN) and the Friends of McNabs Island Society (FOMIS).