WHO IS BURIED AT McNAB FAMILY CEMETERY?: McNab Island Cemetery...
QUO VADIS, McNABS ISLAND
If you haven't heard anything about the future of McNabs and Lawlor
Islands in the news media lately, you haven't missed any pronouncement
from the provincial or federal governments. We are still waiting for
the release of the Joint Land Use Strategy for the two islands, two
years after members of the public, including the Friends of McNabs
Island Society (FOMIS) presented their desire for a natural park at
On September 16, 1997 a delegation of FOMIS directors met with Kenneth
MacAskill (MLA for Victoria in Cape Breton), the new Minister of Natural
resources in the Russell MacLellan cabinet, responsible for provincial
lands on McNabs Island. He replaced Truro-Bible Hill MLA Eleanor Norrie,
whom we met previously. Mr. MacAskill and His Parks and Recreation
staff reassured us that a draft policy exists, and that any delays
are caused by the federal side. He promised to write to Ms. Sheila
Copps, the federal Minister of Canadian Heritage, who is responsible
for Parks Canada.
Since our meeting, the Parks and Recreation Division has been moved
to the Department of the Environment under Minister Wayne Adams. It
is not clear whether provincial parks will continue to be operated
by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), but planning for them,
and for other protected natural areas, will be done by the Department
of the Environment.
An FOMIS delegation briefed Sackville-Eastern Shore MP Peter Stoffer,
whose federal riding includes the three outer harbour islands, on
September 18 about the land use strategy delay. He
was very supportive of our goals and is hoping to meet in Ottawa with
Minister Sheila Copps' staff.
The Spring Beach Sweep, the Friends of McNabs Island Society's (FOMIS)
seventeenth such event on McNabs Island, took place on June 6. Perfect
weather helped to attract 190 volunteers, who collected 320 bags of
refuse and twenty bags of recyclables. FOMIS started to clean the island
s beaches in 1991, and has collected so far an impressive -or unimpressive,
depending on how you look at it- 6,000 bags of beach litter. The event
is part of a province-wide campaign under the leadership of The Clean
Nova Scotia Foundation, with Moosehead Breweries being the major corporate
The McNabs Island event receives financial support from the Halifax
Defence Complex, a unit of Parks Canada, while Murphy s-on-the-Water
provides a discount on charters of their flagship, the Haligonian
III. The N.S. Department of Natural Resources provided invaluable
material support in the person of David Seaboyer, the island s caretaker,
and boatmen Mike Tilley of McNabs Island Ferry Company and Chris Naugle
and Dave Phelps ferried the bagged garbage to a dumpster, provided
free of charge by waste hauler BF1, on the mainland. A big "thank-you"
to chief organizer Catherine McCarthy and to all sponsors and participants.
BURNING MUNITIONS CARRIER SCUTTLED OFF MAUGERS BEACH
November 3, 1943, started out as an ordinary workday in wartime Halifax
Harbour. One of the many ships in port at that time was the
Volunteer, an aging U.S. freighter of 12 000 tons. It had
arrived the night before, and was about to leave for the Middle East.
On board were 500 tons of light ammunition, 2 000 tons of highly flammable
magnesium, 1 800 tons of heavy ammunition, plus undetermined tonnage
of depth charges and dynamite.
The Volunteer was riding at anchor in Bedford Basin when a small
explosion in the engine room, triggered by a clumsy stoker, ruptured
a fuel line, spewing oil. The fire started at 5:15 AM. The crew were
unable to reach the naval signal station by radio (wrong frequency)
and received no response to light signals (wrong direction).
At 6:50 AM the crew took to lifeboats, abandoning the ship and its
officers. It wasn't until two hours after the fire started that it
was reported to the authorities. The burning ship was surrounded by
fireboats, pumping a fire retardant into its holds. An armed launch
boarded the ship, finding its Master, Chief Officer, and Chief Engineer
intoxicated, following a drunken all-night poker session in the Master's
The American captain wouldn't or couldn't provide a cargo plan, and
apparently none of the ship's officers could remember what was on
board. Moreover, the captain refused to cooperate with Canadian naval
authorities. It wasn't until the arrival of a U.S. Navy liaison officer,
who formally stripped the captain of his authority, that the harbour
authorities could take control of the stricken Volunteer.
By this time a heavy cloud of cordite fumes surrounded the ship,
and a steady pop-pop-pop of exploding small-arms ammunition could
be heard from below decks. The firefighting crew had two alternatives:
sink the ship in Bedford Basin or scuttle it in shallow water off
Since the fire was limited to a single hold and there was a reasonable
chance of saving the ship, the second plan was chosen. The burning
ship was to be towed through the Narrows to McNabs Island.
A naval party severed the anchor cables and another crew put a few
bullets through the overheated barrels of magnesium, causing a controlled
burn rather than an explosion. The ship was then slowly towed past
downtown towards McNabs.
By 3:45 PM it reached a position "off Maugers Beach on the South
end of McNabs", its seacocks were opened, and shortly after 4:00 PM
it had settled to the bottom in shallow water. It had been aground
for an hour when the captain, still drinking, realized that his ship
had been on fire...
The Halifax Chronicle had little to say about the
incident, no doubt due to wartime censorship. On Nov. 4 it had a measly
four paragraphs on page 14 ("Fight Fire on Vessel in Harbour"), stating
that "large billows of smoke caused a great deal of excitement along
the waterfront during the morning" and that "at times flames issuing
from the ship were clearly visible", while giving neither the ship's
name nor its nationality. The next day (Nov. 5), on page 12, it had
an equally short article ("Fire Subsides on Sunken Ship"), informing
its readers that the ship had burned for 18 hours and that a fireboat
stood by all day.
Like the April 1942 intentional sinking in Bedford Basin of the burning
munitions carrier Trongate, there was not a repeat
of the disastrous 1917 Halifax Explosion. There were several injuries
aboard the burning Volunteer, with only one person,
stoker George Shatford of Lunenburg, later succumbing to his injuries.
And what happened eventually to the Volunteer? Terence Robertson's
authoritative article ("The Short Heroic Cruise that Saved Halifax")
in Maclean's Magazine (Feb. 24, 1962, pp.19 and
36-40) does not say. Presumably its cargo was salvaged and it was
SEWAGE TREATMENT AND HALIFAX HARBOUR - WHERE ARE WE NOW?
For 253 years, raw sewage has been dumped into Halifax Harbour.
At the present time the daily amount of sewage is equal to the volume
of about 40 Olympic sized pools, or about 180 million litres.
Many committees, commissions and panels have been appointed to address
this problem over the past century. In 1924, a study identified the
pollution problems related to sewage discharge and recommended a course
Different solutions to the problem have been heralded throughout
the years. The problem, as it stands now, is a harbour with high bacterial
levels, resulting in closure of public beaches and shell fishing grounds,
raised levels of heavy metals, a plethora of visible floatables, and
limited marine life, demonstrating a less-than-healthy harbour.
During the late 1980's, Halifax Harbour Clean-up Inc. (HHCI), was
established to design a regional sewage treatment plan. The final
recommended site for a primary sewage treatment plant was Ives Cove
on McNabs Island. Sewage would be pumped through an undersea pipeline
to an artificial island that would be constructed in Ives Cove by
infilling thirty metres of water and shoreline.
This plan was submitted to a joint federal-provincial environmental
assessment panel. The panel concluded that HHCI choose Ives Cove with
little public involvement. The panel asked HHCI to consider three
alternatives, and assess the sites again. Ives Cove was recommended
again. The final report suggested many recommendations, including
more consideration for alternative sites of the sewage treatment facility.
During this period, the Friends of McNabs Island Society (FOMIS)
joined the Metro Coalition for Harbour Clean-up to protest the selection
of McNabs Island, because of its historical significance and because
it is home to hundreds of species of birds, plants, and other wildlife.
There was then, and still is, an effort afloat to have the island
declared a protected parkland. The Metro Coalition for Harbour Clean-up
also addressed other siting, technology, and economic issues.
The joint environmental assessment panel and the two governments
did finally approve the project, with some conditions. But because
the proposed plan would cost almost double (400 million instead of
200 million) of what was originally estimated, financing for the entire
scheme could not be found before the multi-level government funding
arrangement expired in 1995.
A conference of over 120 representatives of a variety of Halifax
Harbour stakeholders met in Halifax on November 8&9, 1996. Halifax
Regional Municipality (HRM) coordinated this conference, designed
to gather input for a renewed attempt at designing and building a
sewage treatment system.
This summer (97), a source control program was revealed and a stakeholder
advisory committee of representatives from various levels of government,
individuals, environmental groups, and technical representatives was
appointed to provide advice on ways to deal with harbour pollution.
FOMIS remains a member of the Metro Coalition for Harbour Clean-up.
It will continue to assess forthcoming harbour cleanup plans.
For more specifics on the 1996 Halifax Harbour Solution Symposium,
visit the HRM's (HRM) home
A VISIT TO McNABS ISLAND...IN 1816
Editor's note: The following are entries from
the 1816 "journal" of young John E. Fairbanks (1793-1860),later a
prominent Halifax merchant, politician, and owner of Woodside on the
outskirts of Dartmouth. He was a business partner of James McNab,
whose father Peter McNab II was present on the island during the 1816
visit. It was published in the Archives of the Nova Scotia Historical
Society # 90. Spelling of certain words has been somewhat updated.
The diary has been brought to the attention of FOMIS by Jim Simpson.
May 25th Left Halifax in the schooner Minerva, Nathan
Utly (?) master, bound for Yarmouth. Wind at SW. Came to at 6 o'clock
at Major's ( sic ) Beach.
May 26th - Got under way from the Beach. Light wind
at SW. Beat down to the Cape. 12 pm, entirely calm. 6 o'clock, gale
of wind at SE. Stood out all night - very heavy sea and rain but couldn't
weather the Sisters. Daylight found ourselves near Thrum Cap Shoals.
May 27th - Wind at S, heavy sea running. Bore away
for the SE Passage and came to in it about 9 o'clock. Went on shore
with Messrs. Harding and Moody. Passengers remained at Mr. McNab's
all day and night.
May 28th - Came on board the schooner about 10
o'clock and got under way. Stood up the Eastern Passage and came around
the N end of McNabs Island. 6 o'clock the wind at NW to W and stood
out sea of the beating about all night without being able to weather
the light. Were under the mortifying necessity of putting back for
the beach where we arrived about 9 o'clock in the morning of the 29th.
May 29th - Went on shore to Mr. McNab's about 11
o'clock. Found Mr. Peter there who went with me to old Mr. Hawthorn's
where we found Mr. Wentworth Moody and Mr. Harding seated at a comfortable
breakfast provided for them by Mr.Harding's unblushing brass (sic).
We find him an excellent spunger (sponger?) and never dispute the
bread with him when in want of a good meal at a stranger's house.
In fact he is an old traveler and well calculated to make his way
in the world.
Returned to Mr. McNab's and remained there till 11 o'clock at night
when we had the felicity of escorting Misses Hawthorn and Ebsie (?)
across the cove. In point of personal charms the preference is certainly
to be given to the latter though the former is not without animation,
tho' she has the misfortune to have what is called a hickory face.
However, we landed them safe and arrived on board the Minerva about
12 o'clock and found all snoring. Poor Moody, cheated out of his berth
and obliged to turn in with me. However, the narrow space I had to
allow him and the hardness of the mattress very much discomposed him
and he manifested his uneasiness by a continued roaring which but
ended with the rising of the sun.
May 30th - Got under way with the wind at SW and
arrived where we had set out from after a most tedious trial of six
days. Remained at home until 4 o'clock. Embarked once more and set
sail at six. Stood off a SW course all night.
The schooner Minerva finally made it out of Halifax
Harbour and reached LaHave at 8 PM on the following day. On June 1
John E. Fairbanks "wrote to McNab", probably a thank-you note.
BEAVER: A NEW MAMMAL SPECIES ON McNABS ISLAND
Our 1995 guide to the island, Discover McNabs Island,
lists 16 mammal species known to be living on or visiting the island.
Another species, the northern long-eared bat (Myotis lucifugus),
was discovered roosting in the Conrad-Davis House on the island on
July 18, 1996, by a team from Dalhousie's Biology Department during
a study sponsored by Parks Canada.
Discover McNabs Island mentions mammals which do
not occur on the island (e.g. beaver, porcupine, skunk) despite the
presence of suitable habitat, and suggests the possibility that they
may at some time colonize (or re-colonize?)the island.
This is exactly what happened in the case of beaver, first seen on
McNabs Island in McNabs Pond by a party of canoeing FOMIS members
on September 14. We saw a number of fresh alder twigs with foliage
in the water, not seen during previous canoe paddles through the pond.
A careful search of the pond's shoreline resulted in the sighting
of a beaver, aside from discovery of several hardwoods bearing the
unmistakable signs of beaver damage. No lodge was found.
A repeat visit, again by canoe, on October 5, resulted in the discovery
of more 'beaver sticks' in the pond and more grazed alders. The beaver
was seen again, but there was no trace of a beaver lodge in McNabs
A brand-new lodge, with a small pile of fresh twigs nearby for winter
forage, was discovered during the FOMIS Fall Foliage Foray on October
19. By November 23 the lodge grew to a massive size, as did the brush
pile. Curiously, the beaver(s) chose probably the most visible and
accessible portion of the pond's shoreline, near the junction of Garrison
and Lighthouse Roads. The tell-tale signs of their activity are plainly
visible from the most-frequented road on McNabs Island.
The water body known today as McNabs Pond was formerly a saltwater
cove. Peter McNab I built his homestead, including a wharf, near its
head following his purchase of the island in 1782. It appears that
the opening of the cove gradually silted up, but a 1867 survey of
the south end of McNabs Island, made at the time of its purchase by
the Imperial War Department, still shows a wharf near the homestead.
By this time the pond was a lagoon, connected to the sea by a lengthy
The lagoon is still remembered by oldtimers as the perfect place
to swim: warm yet clear. During World War II a road was built along
the sandspit prior to construction of Strawberry Battery and of the
new Mauger's Beach lighthouse, bridging the tidal race. According
to an eyewitness account, reported in John Jenkins' unpublished history
of recreation on McNabs Island, a bulldozer fell through the bridge
in 1955. The bridge was never rebuilt, but rather replaced by a tiny
In the absence of any maintenance, the culvert has long since plugged
up with silt and sand, cutting off the tidal stream. In 1966 and 1985
biological surveys described the pond as "brackish", but no salinity
measurements were made to back up this assertion.
The McNabs Pond of today is a shallow nutrient-rich body of freshwater,
supporting a typically freshwater vegetation, and totally unsuitable
for swimming. It is not known when McNabs Pond became suitable habitat
for beaver, a species restricted to freshwater. The beaver colonization
likely took place naturally, from one of the dozens of freshwater
lakes in the vicinity of Halifax Harbour, but the possibility of an
unauthorized release of captive animals cannot be completely dismissed.
In all likelihood at the present time there is only a single young
individual in McNabs Pond, desperately in need of a mate.
WHO IS BURIED AT McNAB FAMILY CEMETERY
The small cemetery Cemetery 1 , Cemetery 2 at Fort McNab, called by Thomas H. Raddall,
"the world's best defended graveyard", predates the Fort by many decades.
It was part of the original McNab homestead on the island. It contains
thirteen marked graves of the McNabs and their relatives as well as
a number of unmarked graves. Seven of the original stone markers have
been destroyed by vandals.
According to Ron G. Blakeney who visited the island cemetery in
1971 and recorded the inscriptions on the remaining ornate headstones,
the damaged markers were replaced by the Halifax-Dartmouth Regional
Authority which leased a portion of McNabs Island in the 1970's. He
reported nine, small white wooden crosses at the cemetery in 1971,
of which only five remain today. They are in poor condition. It is
not known whose graves they mark. Perhaps those of deceased McNab
tenants, soldiers stationed at the island's forts, unidentified bodies
found on the island's beaches, or victims of the 1866 cholera outbreak?
We may never know.
The following graves still retain their original elaborate headstones.
The actual inscriptions are given in bold italics, whereas brief biographical
notes, using information gleaned from the personal genealogical collection
of Donald Ross, follow in regular type:
- Erected/ in memory of/ Lewis Gibbens/ youngest son
of/ James and Harriet McNab/ who died 24th August 1845/ aged 8 years
and 6 months The youngest of eleven children of the
above, born in 1837. The notorious Peter McNab IV (1834-1874) was
his older brother.
- Erected/ in memory of/ The Honourable Peter McNab/
died 1st June 1847/ aged 80 years Peter McNab II (1767-1847),
oldest son of Peter McNab I (1735- 1799), inherited the entire island
from his father.
- This stone/ is erected/ to the memory of/ Mrs. Joanna
McNab/ wife of Peter McNab Esq./ who departed this life/ 20th May
1827, aged 61/ and John Henry/ son of Peter and Joanna McNab/ who
departed this life/ June 1817, aged 18 years Wife
and young son of Peter McNab II.
- In memory of/ Mary Susan/ daughter of Thomas and
Ann Gibbs/ born 19 October 1808/ died 7th July 1809
Ann Gibbs, born Ann McNab in 1781, was a daughter of Peter McNab
I. She later remarried and was known as Ann Hunter. This is the
oldest grave in the cemetery.
- Sacred/ to the memory of Sarah Ann/ wife of Lewis
H. Jacobs/ and only daughter of/ William D. and Ann Hunter/ departed
this life 19 August 1846/ aged 31 years Another daughter
of Ann McNab Gibbs Hunter.
- Sacred/ to the memory of Mrs. Sarah Culliton/ who
died 4th February 1833/ aged 78 years/ also/ Mr. Thomas Culliton/
died 12 December 1837/ aged 72 years Parents of Joanna
Culliton and parents-in-law of Peter McNab II.
In addition, seven graves are marked by identical slabs of concrete.
It is not entirely clear who is responsible for replacing the vandalized
original markers. Sources other than Ron Blakeney's manuscript, located
in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia (call number MG5, vol.5, #30,
microfilm reel 15075), suggest the late Mrs. Gladys Conrad (nee Lynch),
the military, and Parks Canada.
- Sacred/ to the memory of/ Roderick Hugonin/ died
June 28, 1863/ aged 8 years Son of Captain Roderick
Hugonin and Harriet McNab (1829-xxxx), younger daughter of James
- James John Hugonin/ died February 27, 1852/ aged
4 months Older brother of Roderick Hugonin.
- In memory of/ Mary Anne McNab/ died November 4 1855/
aged 49 years Twin sister of Sophia Louise McNab
and younger sister of Peter McNab III (1793-1856).
- In memory of/ Edwin C. McNab Younger
son of Peter McNab III, born in 1828.
- In memory of/ Ellen McNab/ aged 91 years
Miss Ellen McNab (1843-1934) was a daughter of Peter McNab III and
his second wife, Anne Elizabeth Wade. She was the last of her family
to own land on McNabs Island and the last person to be buried at
the family cemetery.
- In memory of/ Charles E. McNab Young
Charles (1826- 1831) was a son of Peter McNab III.
- In memory of/ Peter McNab Sr./ died/ October 6, 1856/
aged 63 years Peter McNab III, owner of northern
end of the island.
The internments range from 1809 to 1863, in addition to the 1934
grave of Ellen McNab. One of the original headstones, that of Sarah
Ann Jacobs, recently broke in two. It has since been repaired by Parks
Canada staff. The entire cemetery is fenced off and the gate locked.
The Friends of McNabs Island Society, through and agreement with Parks
Canada, maintain the cemetery.
A review of Parks Canada documents relating to its holdings on McNabs
Island reveals several cryptic references to an agreement between
His Majesty King Edward VII (ie: the Imperial War Department) and
McNab descendant Alan Cassels (on behalf of the McNab family), dated
16 April 1904, stating that "the conditions of sale or transfer of
the area know as Fort McNab must include right of access and egress
and use of the cemetery by the living members of the McNab family"
The exact text of the entire agreement is not known, and the document
itself has been misplaced. Most likely it remains in force to this
day, long after the departure of the British Garrison from Fort McNab