McNabs and Lawlor Islands Provincial Park, located
at the mouth of Halifax Harbour, comprises all of Lawlor Island
and most of McNabs Island. Fort McNab National Historic Site of
Canada is operated by Parks Canada and is situated on McNabs Island.
McNabs Island is the larger and more diverse of
the two islands. McNabs is about 5 km long and up to 1.5 km wide.
Its 400 ha (1000 acres) present a combination of historical and
natural features, and recreational and educational opportunities.
The second island, Lawlor, is not open to the public.
McNabs Historical Perspective
A 5000 year-old shell midden (refuse heap) is evidence
of pre-European contact Mi’kmaq use of McNabs Island.
In the 1690s, the French used the island as a fishing
centre and planned to build a fortress similar to
“Louisbourg” on McNabs. In 1713, mainland Nova
Scotia was ceded to the British, and the French built
Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island.
When Edward Cornwallis established a British settlement
in Halifax in 1749, he granted most of McNabs Island to his nephews.
Then in 1782, Peter McNab purchased the island for £1000 from
the Cornwallis family. Under the McNab family, the island was cleared
and tenant farms were established. The McNabs remained a presence
on the island for over 150 years.
Beginning in the 1860s, the British Admiralty bought
large parcels of land from the McNab family and established Ives
Point Battery, Fort McNab and Hugonin Battery to better defend Halifax.
Most of the northern end of the island remained in private hands.
Since the early days of Halifax, McNabs Island has been a popular
recreational destination. During the 19th century, thousands would
leave the city to attend picnics and socials at the island’s
picnic grounds. This
trend continued until the 1920s when Bill Lynch, who had bought
one of the island’s fair grounds, took the fair off the island
and created the Bill Lynch Shows.
During WWI and WWII, the island was largely under
military control. The island played a key role in controlling access
to Halifax Harbour. Searchlights on McNabs Island patrolled the
Harbour and submarine nets were laid between the island and mainland.
In the 1960s, the military transferred most of
their holdings on McNabs to Parks Canada for use as parkland. Then
in 1983, the Province assumed responsibility for assembling a park
on the Halifax Harbour islands. In 2000, Parks Canada transferred
all but Fort McNab National Historic Site of Canada to the Province
for park purposes. Today, less than 1% of McNabs Island is privately
For a more detailed history on the island see Discover
McNabs Island by the Friends of McNabs Island Society.
McNabs Natural History
McNabs comprises nine large drumlins overlaid on
slate and granite bedrock. Drumlins are glaciallyformed deposits
of rocks and earth, and are generally well drained and suited to
The island was originally covered in forest, which
the founders of Halifax were quick to exploit. Over the years, most
of the island was cultivated and the wood lots harvested.
Today, the island’s forests are of various
ages. Older forests date to the 1800s and comprise red maple, beech
and red spruce with an understory of hayscented fern. Old abandoned
fields have become colonized by white spruce.
In the 1880s, Frederick Perrin, who was a keen
gardener, introduced several hundred plant species to his Victorian
estate on the island (near the site of the former teahouse). Many
of the original trees and shrubs are still standing.
The island’s shoreline varies from cobbled
stone to fine sand, with salt marshes in a few sheltered coves.
McNabs Cove became McNabs Pond with the construction of the causeway
to the Maugers Beach Lighthouse. The causeway also caused the formation
of the dune system on Maugers Beach.
Deer, rabbits, coyotes and other animals inhabit
the island. The island is known to birders, who have documented
206 species of birds on the McNabs Island.