My Account

Historical Geography of Lunenburg

18th Century

Lunenburg was established in 1753. It was the first British Colonial settlement in Nova Scotia outside of Halifax and was a deliberate attempt at civilian colonization of what, until that time, had been Acadian territory. In fact, Governor Hopson described the place, then known as Merleguish, as “a harbour about 16 leagues (55.23 miles) to the westward (of Halifax) where there has formerly been a French settlement, by which means there is between three and four hundred acres of cleared land, which is to be equally divided amongst the settlers who consist of upwards to 1600 persons.”

The settlement was overseen by British military forces under Col. Charles Lawrence, but the settlers themselves were Foreign Protestants (Huguenots) who had been recruited from southern and central Germany, Switzerland, and the Montbeliard region of France, and who had been deliberately chosen for their potential loyalty to the British Crown. The settlers were lured from their homelands by the promise of free land in the New World and, shortly after their arrival, were allocated Town Lots, garden lots just to the east of the town site, and 30 acre and 300 farm lots in the hinterlands of what was to be Lunenburg Township.

Layout of Old Town Area The Town itself was sited on a neck of land between the Front and Back Harbours and was laid out in a rectangular grid pattern on the steep hillsides, facing south. The Town Plan consisted of 6 divisions of 8 blocks each [with] each division extending up the hill from the shore. A central core of 4 blocks was reserved for public purposes. Each division was named after a separate prominent figure at the time of the settlement. Zouberbuhler’s and Creighton’s divisions were named after Sebastian Zouberbuhler and John Creighton, the first Justices of the peace; Moreau’s division was named after Jean Baptiste Moreau, the first minister in the settlement; Rudolf’s division was named after Major Rudolf, Col. Lawrence’s second in command; and Strasburg’s and Steinford’s divisions were named after two captains of the military detachment.

Each block was laid out into 14 lots, 40 ft. x 30 ft. The blocks in each division were assigned the letters A-H and could be thus identified; e.g., Strasburg’s Division Block Letter F. Within each block, there were 14 lots, each 40 ft. wide by 60 ft. deep, laid out sequentially as shown in the figure below. The land between the “A” lots and the waterfront was laid out into water lots which at first were associated with the “A” lots, but which later became lots in their own right. A central street, King St., 80 ft. in width, ran from the shore to the central public core of the Town. Other streets running uphill from the harbour were Duke St.  and Prince St., and Cornwallis and Hopson Streets., the latter two named after Governor Hopson and his predecessor, Cornwallis. These streets were 48 ft. wide. The streets parallel to the harbour were named after prominent British parliamentarians of the day and were 40 ft. wide.

The area within this planned grid came to be known as the “Old Town” and its unique flavor and architectural character is still derived strongly from the original plan. 

Map showing part of Lunenburg Township with Town lots, CommonLands and farm lots Immediately surrounding the Old Town were areas of Common Land were administered by a Board of Trustees. Then, beyond the Common, to the east, lay the Garden lots, and to the west, the “Common Range” of 30 acre farm lots. 

Across the harbour were areas of land with small brooks flowing to the shore, which were granted to tanners for the practice of their essential trade. Also across the harbour were two large blocks of land granted respectively to Rev. J.B. Moreau, the first minister, and Col. Patrick Sutherland, who succeed Col. Lawrence in command of the Lunenburg garrison.

19th Century

Over its first 100 years the Town grew steadily becoming the center, the Shire Town, of Lunenburg Township and the focus of a bustling economy based on farming, fishing, ship-building, and ocean based commerce, particularly in the West India Trade. But by the mid 19th century, the Town had grown its old boundaries and, in 1862, parts of the surrounding Common Land were sub-divided to facilitate expansion. Areas immediately to the east and west of the “Old Town” were laid off in building lots and other larger parcels, and an area further west beyond the head of the harbour was subdivided to create the core of what became know as the “New Town.” The new 80 New Town lots created in 1862 were somewhat larger than those in Old Town, each being 70 X 79 ft., laid out with 8 lots to a block, instead of 14. There were two Divisions, “1” and “2.” The streets were 60ft. wide and were named after prominent politicians of the day.

The New Town area quickly became fashionable and impressive new homes were built there by wealthy merchants and professionals. In 1878, a 3rd division of New Town lots was added between Brook St. and Green St.

New Town layout, 1862 Changing technology and a boom in the fishing industry in the 3rd quarter of the 19th century brought rapid change and increased growth to the community. The railway came in the 1870’s and was extended along the waterfront in the 1880’s. E. L. Nash installed the Town’s first electric light plant in 1882. The Town was incorporated in 1888, the boundaries encompassing not the Old Town and New Town, but portions of the remaining Common Lands, the Tanyard, the former Sutherlands Point (by the know as Kaulback’s Head) [Now functions as the Bluenose Golf Course under a lease from the Kaulback family to the Town of Lunenburg.], and portions of the Common Range 30 acre lots as well. Many civic improvements were made including a water system begun in 1893. By the turn of the century, the Town was bustling place of over 4000 souls, considerably more than its present [1984] population of 3000.

20th Century

The expansion of the fishing industry continued into the 20th century and a host of associated businesses flourished along the waterfront. The Age of Sail culminated in the Bluenose Era, the 1920’s and 30’s, when the Town was a hive of activity, the harbour filled with masts and sails and the nearby shores taken up by fish drying racks. In the 1930’s the schooner based salt factory declined in favour of the modern trawler and frozen and processed fish production. This was also the time of prohibition in the United States and the highly romanticized “rum running” era. Ship repairing and outfitting became important activities during the Second World War and, by the 1950’s, Lunenburg was a mature fishing port with prosperous industrial and commercial sectors and a thrifty, hard working population. In this period more land was subdivided and developed in the upper reaches of New Town, on the north side of Creighton St. at the “back of Town,” and on the eastern end of Pelham St.

In more modern times expansion has continued, although at a considerably slower pace in new subdivisions overlooking the Back Harbour (Prince and Hopson Streets Extended) and on the western side of Town on newly developed streets (Centennial Ave., Wolff Ave. and Morash Lane). 

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