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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada

Proceedings of the Conference ~ Cape Breton in Transition: Economic Diversification and Prospects for Tourism

edited by William A. O'Shea ,
Carol Corbin and Eric Krause
(October 20-21, 1998)


A Comparison of Tourism Development in

Two Coastal Communities in Nova Scotia

Donald F. Chard

Tourism has long been touted as an economic boon to Canada, and the country's historic sites and national parks have played a significant part in the effort to reap economic benefits from tourism. This paper is a comparative study of two coastal communities in Nova Scotia - Canso and Lunenburg - in an effort to determine why one community has prospered from tourism while the other has languished, comparatively, despite heroic lobbying by the community for the establishment and development of a national historic site, and a considerable investment of money by the federal government.

To understand the emphasis placed on historic sites and national parks as components of Canada's tourist industry, it might be useful to look briefly at the history of national parks and sites in Canada, particularly in Atlantic Canada. Canada's first national park, Banff National Park in Alberta, started with the reservation for public use in 1885 of mineral hot springs at Banff. Although Banff grew quickly and became a significant means of protecting the flora and fauna of the area, tourism was an important motive of the Canadian government in establishing this and other national parks in the Rocky Mountains. The Rocky Mountain Parks Act of 1887 defined the first parks as "public park and pleasure grounds for the benefit, advantage, and enjoyment of the people of Canada".1

The National Parks Act of 1988 elaborates on the Rocky Mountain Parks Act in stating that Canada's national parks

are hereby dedicated to the people of Canada for their benefit, education and enjoyment ..., and the National Parks shall be maintained and made use of so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.2

The mandate of Canada's national historic sites is similar. As Parks Canada's Guiding Principles and Operational Policies document states: "While Parks Canada does not have a direct mandate for tourism, it does have a part to play in recognizing and supporting tourism's place in presenting an image of Canada to visitors, in helping to maintain a sound and prosperous economy, and in fostering sustainable development that benefits local communities".3

In Atlantic Canada the federal government established a number of parks and sites to stimulate the economy. Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the first national park in Atlantic Canada, was established in 1936 to boost the economy of Cape Breton Island during the depression of the 1930s. The park's management plan claims that the park, in conjunction with the Cabot Trail, the major highway of the area, "has become a major tourist attraction in Atlantic Canada, and plays an important role in sustaining the tourism industry of northern Cape Breton Island".4 More recently,the federal government created Gros Morne National Park on Newfoundland's west coast as a tool for economic development. Jean Chrétien, then Minister of the Environment in the federal government, stated in 1973 that:

employment created by park development together with employment in providing services to park visitors represents the kind of economic opportunity for them which I have always considered a major factor in the establishment of Gros Morne National Park.5

In Nova Scotia the 1930s were, as historian Ian McKay has noted, a period when "the encouragement of tourism became a central consideration of state policy under Premier Angus L. Macdonald".6 Thus, historic sites such as Grand Pré and Louisbourg were also exploited for their economic benefits, and Nova Scotia officials did their best to foster a Scottish mystique for Cape Breton Highlands National Park.7

That the establishment of national parks and national historic sites has resulted in considerable financial benefits is beyond dispute, but what is less clear is whether the benefits have always outweighed the costs. In the case of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, at the same time that the Cabot Trail and park facilities were being used to lure tourists to the area, there was also land being taken out of production for uses such as forestry, and land being expropriated for a pittance, in the views of landowners, some of whom recalled the expropriation of their land with bitterness some 40 years later.8

Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada the economic and social impacts of park establishment have been thoroughly documented. In the case of Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick there is a wealth of information about the impact of the park and related development. A Special Inquiry into the park, commissioned in 1980, produced voluminous information on the impacts of the park's establishment.

According to the report of the inquiry, "one of the major reasons for creating the Park was to improve the economic situation of Kent County ...".9 At the time of the report, some $7.5 million had been spent on compensation and re-location of former residents. Also, between 1969 and 1979 Parks Canada made capital expenditures of approximately $16 million on the park. In addition "since the beginning of the Park, $4.6 million have been paid" for the park's operation and maintenance.10

Kent County as a whole registered important gains in the period, although it remained behind the rest of the province of New Brunswick economically.11 In the period from 1971 to 1977 "the average rate of yearly income in the county increased by 24.3% as compared with an 18.1% increase for the province as a whole". This improvement occurred in a period when agriculture in the area was declining, and forestry and fishing were creating little additional employment. The major change was the establishment of the park.

In terms of employment, the park has had mixed results. In 1979 the park created 74 jobs directly, and during the tourist season generated another 44 jobs. But at the time of the inquiry almost 90% of the former residents of the park, whose land was expropriated, lacked work outside of the tourist and fishing seasons.12

Indirect benefits of parks and sites, such as spending by visitors, are more difficult to calculate. It is a fairly well accepted rule of thumb that 50% of travellers are interested in sightseeing, and that of that number more than half include historic sites in their trip.13 It has also been asserted that "if a community can attract an average of 24 tourists per day throughout the year, it would be economically comparable to acquiring a new industry with an annual payroll of $100,000".14

In fact, to be realistic about the benefits of parks and sites as they relate to spending by visitors, one would have to know the role played by the park or site in attracting non-resident visitors to a community. In this regard, it is useful to look at Signal Hill National Historic Site in St. John's, Newfoundland. In the 1980s about 750,000 people visited Signal Hill each year on average. The annual total included about 100,000 people from outside Newfoundland. The average length of stay in St. John's of these visitors was 7 1/2 days. Almost 60% of these visitors stayed in a hotel or motel.

If one could attribute all of the spending of these visitors to the lure of Signal Hill, then this historic site would make a considerable impact on the economy of St. John's. Unfortunately, when visitors were asked the main reason for visiting St. John's, no one cited Signal Hill as their main destination.15 Given the average length of visit to Signal Hill (about one hour), only a portion of visitors' spending can be attributed to this site. In the end, it was calculated that the direct income resulting from visitor expenditures in the local area in 1984 was $65,817.


In the case of Canso and Grassy Island National Historic Site, the economic benefits of the development and operation of the site have been mixed. At the same time, however, the community has been very supportive of the establishment of the site. The community wanted a national historic site at Canso mainly for economic reasons but, at the same time, members of the community have seen Grassy Island as an important part of their heritage.

To appreciate fully the role the people of Canso played in the establishment of Grassy Island National Historic Site it is necessary to know something of the history of the site and of the community.

Canso has a lengthy history. European fishermen were familiar with the Canso area by the latter part of the 16th century. Marc Lescarbot, Champlain's contemporary, met a Basque fisherman at Whitehaven, near Canso, in 1607. The Basque, a Captain Savalet, claimed that he had already made 42 voyages to the area. Lescarbot and his companions encountered other fishermen there as well, from St. Malo and the Basque region of France. In addition to their fishing activities, the Basques also traded for furs with the Mi'kmaq. Savalet himself mentioned encounters with Native people in the area.

In the 1630s Isaac de Razilly built a fortified post at Canso, called Fort Saint-François. It was involved in the first attempt at revolt in Acadia when one Jean Thomas incited his crew and a band of Mi'kmaq to attack the fort. Razilly quelled the rebellion and had Thomas prosecuted.16

Nicolas Denys, who had fishing/trading posts at Guysborough and St. Peters in the mid-17th century, described the Canso Islands as one of the best locations for a fishing establishment he had ever seen, with numerous islands and sheltered anchorages. In the 1680s the French Compagnie de la Pêche Sédentaire established a fishing station on the Canso Islands. The population of Canso in 1687-88 included not only French fishermen, but also 13 Mi'kmaq men, women, and children.

In the first half of the 18th century, when the British acquired the mainland of Nova Scotia, Canso became an important fishing and trading base for New England interests. New Englanders moved into Canso in 1713 when the French started to develop Louisbourg and a thriving trade sprang up between the two centres. In 1744, however, when war broke out between France and Britain, a French force from Louisbourg attacked and burned Canso.

With the establishment of Halifax in 1749, and the growth of Salem and Gloucester as centres of the fishing industry in Massachusetts, Canso never regained its earlier prominence. The Canso area was eventually resettled and became a major fishing centre on Nova Scotia's eastern shore, but most of the development which occurred took place on the mainland rather than on the islands occupied in the first half of the 18th century. As a result, the remains of the structures on the Canso Islands were largely undisturbed until investigated by archaeologists in the 1970s.

Although there was little obvious evidence by the 20th century of earlier use of the Canso Islands (foundations were buried under vegetation), there was an awareness of the area's history. In the 1920s the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, which serves as an advisory body to the Minister responsible for Canada's National Parks and National Historic Sites, examined the historical significance of Canso in relation to the area's fishery and in relation to French and English interests in the Canso area. As a result of the Board's deliberations the federal government erected a plaque in Canso in 1928. The plaque noted that Canso was:

first developed as an important fishing station by the French in the 16th century. Fortified by the British in 1720. Scene of several combats between them and the French and Indians. Captured by Duvivier, 1744. Rendezvous of the expedition of Pepperrell and Warren against Louisbourg in 1745.

In 1962 the Board considered Canso's history again, and stated that the fort on Grassy Island "is of national historic significance" and should be protected "until it can be properly excavated under the supervision of the National Historic Sites Service".

In the early 1970s local interest in the Canso Islands was aroused by the exposure, as a result of coastal erosion, of artifacts on one of the Islands, known locally as Grassy Island, and by the sale of the Island to American interests. The sale provoked a strong reaction by the Town and various organizations in the area, such as the local historical society. Citizens for the Preservation of Grassy Island, the Mulgrave Peoples Development Association, the Guysborough Lions Club, and the Guysborough & District Board of Trade all campaigned for the acquisition of the Island as a national historic site. As early as 1972 the Town Council of Canso called on the federal government to acquire, restore and develop the Island. In response to this lobbying the Province of Nova Scotia acquired Grassy Island and then transferred it to Parks Canada, in 1977, on the condition that it be developed for park purposes.

Acquisition led quickly to research and planning. Three seasons of archaeological investigations on Grassy Island took place, in 1978, 1979, and 1981. These investigations, and the preparation of a Management Plan for Grassy Island, cost approximately $700,000. Most of this money (about $600,000), was for the archaeological investigations. This was labour-intensive work, with most of the money going for salaries, much of it to residents of the Canso area. Members of the crew also required food and accommodations, and spent money in the community on leisure activities.

Archaeological investigations at Grassy Island stimulated considerable interest in the site by local groups, and by the media in Nova Scotia. In August 1979 the Scotia Sun published an article describing the archaeological work and noted the conflicting priorities of Parks Canada and Canso. In addition, CBC Sydney taped an interview with Parks Canada staff in that period for CBC's Information Morning radio show.

Planning for the new National Historic Site provided members of the public with an opportunity to lobby for as much development as possible. Not only did various members of the community write Parks Canada and the Minister, so also did various people elsewhere in eastern Nova Scotia, representing bodies such as the Guysborough & District Board of Trade and the Eastern Shore Tourist Association.

Members of the community made it quite clear to Parks Canada staff that they hoped Parks Canada's interest in Grassy Island would lead to development of the site. In March 1980 Parks Canada staff gave a talk to the Canso Lions Club about archaeological investigations at the site. During discussion, members of the club stressed their interest in development. Again, in June of 1980, Parks Canada staff gave a talk to the newly-formed Canso and District Board of Trade, at which time members expressed a desire to see reconstruction of the establishment on Grassy Island. It was suggested to them that this was an unlikely outcome.

Advocates of development attracted considerable attention from the provincial press in this period. One newspaper article, in a paper published in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, bore the following headline: "Grassy Island: Once housed ten taverns, possibility as historic village".17 As the article stated, the newly-formed Canso Board of Trade hoped that Grassy Island would become a reconstructed village similar to Sherbrooke or Louisbourg, "and help develop a second industry in town".

Community interest in the development of Grassy Island is understandable. Problems with PCB's in silt in Canso's harbour caused authorities to stop dredging of the harbour. There was a concern that without a resumption of dredging one of the Town's two public wharves would eventually be rendered unusable.18 There was also concern in 1980 that if the fish plant in Canso ever closed it would affect much of Guysborough County.

At the same time, it should be noted that not everyone in the Guysborough area at that time was happy with the way the Canso fish plant operated. H.B. Nickerson of North Sydney owned the plant then. In the summer of 1980, Guysborough County fishermen were upset with apparent plans by the company to exploit the area's squid fishery with its offshore fleet, and acted to protect their interests.

In an echo of the labour unrest which rocked Canso in 1970-71, inshore fishermen dumped 8,000 pounds of squid on the highway leading into Canso on Wednesday, 30 July, and another 12,000 pounds in the early hours of 01 August 1980.19 Their efforts did not stop workers from outside Canso from reporting for work at the plant in Canso. The RCMP ordered the barricade of squid and boxes removed from the highway. The fishermen refused, and for their pains 49 of them ended up getting fined $28.00 each and spending a few hours in the Guysborough County jail.20

Thus, the stage was set for a major effort by the community to convince Parks Canada to reconstruct the village on Grassy Island. In November 1980 Parks Canada held an Open House in Canso to obtain public input into the preparation of a Management Plan for the site. About 60 or 70 people, mostly from the Canso area, attended. Many of them made written comments in addition to speaking to Parks Canada staff.

Many members of the community, conscious of the investment made in the partial reconstruction of the Fortress of Louisbourg, called for the reconstruction of the 18th century New England establishment on Grassy Island, and for the erection of a visitor centre on the Island. As one person stated: "A reconstructed fishing village will attract tourists; nothing less is worthwhile". Another person stated that tourism was the only hope for the Town, and that Grassy Island could be the nucleus for tourist development.

Unfortunately for the community, Grassy Island was not to be another Louisbourg. Parks Canada Policy in the 1980s established stringent conditions for reconstructions. These conditions could not be satisfied at Grassy Island. Policy stated that "The preservation of historic resources as they are will always be given first consideration over restoration or reconstruction".

Reconstruction was to be undertaken only when it could meet the following conditions:

1) when essential to public understanding of the historic associations and appearance of the park;

2) when no appropriate alternative action could create such public understanding;

3) when there were no significant preservable remains which would be obliterated by reconstruction;

4) when sufficient historical and architectural data existed to permit an authentic reconstruction; and

5) when the cost of reconstruction could be justified in relation to the historic significance and interpretive potential of the structure.

On the basis of the above Policy, Parks Canada's planning team concluded that reconstruction was not appropriate. There was insufficient information to permit an accurate reconstruction and the team concluded that there were alternative ways to create an understanding of the site by the public.

On the basis of the public input and a knowledge of the site's history and resources, the planning team developed several approaches to the development of the site, and took them back to the public in June of 1981. A newsletter distributed in advance of the second open house contained details of the proposals.21 Each approach called for limited development on Grassy Island, a visitor centre on the mainland, and a boat service to provide access to the Island. The main difference in the several approaches related to the location of a visitor centre.

Understandably, people in Canso were disappointed that the proposals did not include the reconstruction of any of the Island's 18th century structures or the development of a visitor centre on the Island. A reconstructed 18th century fishing/trading establishment would probably have attracted more visitors than modest foundations and weathered earthworks. Despite repeated calls for reconstruction, the plans for the site were not changed, and in 1983 the Minister responsible for Parks Canada approved the Management Plan for the site. In its initial form, the Plan had a price tag of about $1.8 m (in 1983 dollars) for development.

Completion of the planning process and approval of the Plan did not result in less pressure for development. Before the end of 1983 the Mayor and Council of Canso met with Jack Stephens, then Superintendent of Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site. Grassy Island was Mr. Stephens' responsibility. Town officials asked when Parks Canada would implement the Management Plan. Town officials were disappointed when they were told that no major development was likely for five years, given the need for detailed planning and a need to get funding approved.

In April of 1984 a Parks Canada staff member, addressing a meeting of the Canso Historical Society, was questioned about the development of Grassy Island. The residents indicated that they were organizing a petition to have the implementation of the Plan advanced as rapidly as possible. People also suggested at the meeting that the rest of the harbour islands should be annexed to the Grassy Island National Historic Site, as they believed that most of the actual fishery remains which the site was to commemorate were on the adjacent islands.

Correspondence also took place between townspeople and the Member of Parliament for the area, who at that time was the Honourable Allan J. MacEachen. MacEachen was then the most powerful Liberal member from Nova Scotia and was very skilled at securing funding for federal projects in his constituency. MacEachen raised the issue of Grassy Island with his Cabinet colleagues on several occasions. He also attended an Open House held by Parks Canada at Grassy Island in August 1981, after attending the Seaman's Memorial ceremonies at Canso.22

MacEachen's successor in the House of Commons, Lawrence O'Neil, also pursued the development of the site on behalf of his constituents. O'Neil, an opposition member in 1985, urged the government to act, in debate in the Commons on 08 October 1985. O'Neil asserted that "in addition to its historical significance, it (Grassy Island) has very important economic benefits in that it opens up an area of Guysborough County to the tourism industry". O'Neil went on to state that:

This project is seen as an important catalyst to drawing tourists along the eastern shore of Nova Scotia and into the Canso area so that those in the area can develop restaurants and motel facilities and diversify the local economy ....

Nor did O'Neil overlook the significance of this historic site in fostering the community's identity. He noted that "The historical significance of the area is also well known to the people there. The people have embraced this project as a reflection of their identity, as a project through which they can express the great pride they have in their history and as a showcase for all Canadians".23

Mr. G.M. Gurbin, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, responded to Mr. O'Neil. He assured him that the government was:

looking forward in the near future to the construction of a visitors reception centre, the preservation and stabilization of the heritage resources, including the foundations of various domestic and commercial buildings and the earthen walls of Fort William Augustus, and the interpretation of Grassy Island's historical resources ...".

At the same time, Mr. Gurbin stated that "we are in a tight spot financially and ... there is a budgetary problem with which the Minister of the Environment (Mr. McMillan) has to deal in regard to capital expenditures".

For the next few years increasingly restricted funding meant that Parks Canada could undertake only limited development at Canso. As the Minister of the Environment, Tom McMillan, wrote to the Member of Parliament for Canso at one point in 1985, "Unfortunately, because of the urgent need to reduce the enormous and crippling federal deficit, it is not possible at this time to implement the plan's major proposals". The Management Plan had indicated that a temporary exhibit could be developed and located in Canso to bridge the period between the approval of the Management Plan and its implementation.24 With the cooperation of the Canso Historical Society, Parks Canada installed this exhibit in the Whitman House Museum, in the centre of Canso, in 1987.

Persistent lobbying by the community began to pay off about the same time Parks Canada developed the interim exhibit. The key to this progress was the Strait of Canso Industrial Development Authority (SCIDA), a federally-funded development agency which offered financial assistance towards the implementation of the plan for Grassy Island. Initially, SCIDA offered to provide assistance for a wharf at Grassy Island. Parks Canada at that time looked into the possibility of modest development on the Island, but no mainland visitor centre.

Then, in June 1987, when the Minister of the Environment visited Canso with the Member of Parliament for the area, the Chairman of SCIDA announced an offer of $750,000 towards the full implementation of the Plan for Grassy Island. The Minister reiterated his commitment to the development, but at the same time indicated that a specific timetable and "hard cold cash" to complete the project could not be announced until at least the fall of 1987.25

Lengthy discussions between Parks Canada and representatives of SCIDA followed. Eventually, a funding package was put together which enabled Parks Canada to proceed with all the key elements of the Management Plan. SCIDA's assistance, coupled with help from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the provision of land from National Sea Products for a mainland visitor centre, made the Plan a reality. Parks Canada also committed itself to the operation of the site, at a certain level of funding, for a ten-year period.

By the early 1990s Grassy Island National Historic Site was in operation. The mainland visitor centre provided visitors with an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the site's story before taking a boat to the Island. Once on the Island, visitors could view the traces of the fort on top of the hill and inspect the sites of other structures which once stood on the Island. None of the original structures have been reconstructed, but Parks Canada has carried out additional archaeological investigations in 1993 and 1994, providing summer employment and additional government spending in the Canso area.

Much still remains to be done, however, before tourism begins to make a substantial contribution to the economy of the Canso area. Grassy Island attracts only 3,000 to 4,000 visitors annually.26

To the community's credit, there has always been some recognition of the fact that Parks Canada's development of Grassy Island by itself would not save the town. Canso's isolation makes it difficult to attract large numbers of visitors to the area. For many years, provincial efforts to promote tourism on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore seemed to overlook Canso. It is only rather recently that the Province has included Canso as part of the Eastern Shore's Marine Drive.

Although the provincial government of Nova Scotia has taken an interest in the Eastern Shore, much of the interest has had a focus on the restoration of Sherbrooke Village, and on the small resort of Liscombe Lodge, to the west of Canso. The idea of restoring old buildings at Sherbrooke to promote tourism in Guysborough County was first discussed locally in 1964. This led to a feasibility study in 1966, and the subsequent restoration of much of the village.27 In the early 1970s provincial plans for tourism development called for support for local initiatives in a number of areas of the Province, including Sherbrooke and the Guysborough area.28

Members of the community have also over the years tried to get other tourist-oriented projects off the ground. For example, there have been efforts to restore a building that once comprised part of the trans-Atlantic cable company operations in Canso. Regrettably, this project has not come to fruition, although the building was at one point acquired by the Province of Nova Scotia.

More recently, the community has been working on a waterfront improvement project intended to make Canso more attractive to visitors. This is part of an initiative begun by the Canso Business Improvement District Committee. This proposal has looked at measures such as public gardens and a boardwalk.29

Today, Grassy Island National Historic Site operates on about $65,000 a year, including the cost of operating a visitor centre, a boat service, and salaries for guides. (Parks Canada has also continued to make capital expenditures on the site. Archaeological investigations on Grassy Island in 1993 and 1994 cost about $400,000). It is doubtful if many visitors stay overnight in the area, although some overnight accommodations have been developed to meet the needs of visitors. Visitors might buy gas for their cars, or purchase a meal in Canso, but they probably do not spend much money in the community. So Grassy Island does not make a major impact on the economy of Canso.

Those members of the community who believed that Grassy Island National Historic Site could be a major factor in the diversification of Canso's economy have been disappointed. Their expectations were unrealistic, but understandable, given the hype which surrounds the tourist industry today. Tourism has become the mega-project of the 1990s, the investment which will transform the economy of Atlantic Canada and bring prosperity to every nook and cranny of the region. Who would question this?

After all, according to the Toronto Globe & Mail, 22 October 1994, page A8, tourism is Canada's third-largest industry, generating 3% of the gross domestic product, or more than $30 billion annually. Moreover, the Buchanan Report on Tourism, released a few days later, pegged tourism's contribution to the Gross Domestic Product at $25.9 billion, and asserted that tourism has "a demonstrated ability to create jobs at a faster rate, more economically, than the economy as a whole".30

Thus, it has become the conventional wisdom that tourism is the key to our future prosperity. Thus, tourism boosters in Halifax have for years called for new docking facilities for cruise ships that stop in Halifax. Never mind the fact that cruise ship passengers do not need overnight accommodations on shore and do not buy meals in town. Never mind the fact that cruise ships do not purchase their fuel or significant quantities of supplies in Halifax. Never mind the fact that a few container ships produce more economic benefit to Nova Scotia than all the cruise ships that call on Halifax in a year.31

At the same time, the development of Grassy Island has reinforced Canso's already strong sense of identity as an historic fishing community. That image already existed, thanks to the existence of the Whitman House Museum in Canso, and thanks to other community efforts to promote the area's heritage, such as the annual commemoration of the community's fishing heritage at the Seaman's Memorial.32 Grassy Island has strengthened that image and is a tribute to the tenacity of a community struggling to survive in the face of dwindling fish stocks and increasingly meagre government resources.


In contrast to Canso, Lunenburg has been rather more successful in developing the its heritage resources to attract tourists to the community. In fact, Lunenburg probably benefited from the development of tourism in Nova Scotia in its very earliest days. Members of the military travelled around Nova Scotia for pleasure in the early 19th century. Most were from the officer class and were stationed in Halifax. For example, John Woolford, landscape artist and army draughtsman stationed in Halifax, made a sketching trip along Nova Scotia's South Shore in 1818.33 And in 1830 Captain William Moorsom, author of Letters from Nova Scotia, visited Lunenburg.34

Lunenburg's evolution as a destination for travellers over the next century is somewhat sketchy, although some travel to the town for pleasure seems to have occurred. By the first half of the 20th century the community enjoyed an international reputation as a schooner-building and racing centre.35 In the early 20th century there were as many as 150 wooden schooners operating out of Lunenburg.36

A big push for the development of tourism, based on Nova Scotia's history and its natural attractions, came in the 1940s, spearheaded by authors Thomas Raddall and Will R. Bird. In a brief to the Provincial Commission on Post-War Development and Rehabilitation in 1943, Thomas Raddall stated that:

The great tourist trade of the Annapolis Valley was built on Fort Anne and the legend of Evangeline. The South Shore, with its historic towns of Shelburne, Liverpool and Lunenburg, could be equally famous with some intelligent advertising and what we might call `a sense of showmanship'.37

From the 1950s on, with Lunenburg's fishing industry experiencing a number of ups and downs, tourism became increasingly important to the economy of the town and the surrounding area. Lunenburg already had an internationally-known symbol, the schooner Bluenose. Built in Lunenburg in 1921, this working schooner won her first race that year, and in 20 years of racing never lost a race. The Bluenose visited the Chicago World's Fair in 1933 and crossed the Atlantic in 1935 to take part in celebrations of the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The Bluenose became the symbol of Nova Scotia around the world. In addition to adorning the Canadian 10-cent coin, the Bluenose has also been used on two Canadian commemorative stamps.38

In the 1960s Lunenburg began to develop a major tourist attraction when it launched the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, in former fishing industry buildings on the Lunenburg waterfront. A local initiative, the museum expanded into a major attraction with a $1.1 million investment in the mid-1970s.39 The museum attracts some 90,000 visitors annually. It includes a Parks Canada exhibit on the Banks Fishery and a collection of ships which illustrate the maritime heritage of Lunenburg. By the 1990s the Museum had operating expenses of over $700,000 a year.40

In addition to the Fisheries Museum, Lunenburg also has a rich architectural heritage. In 1992 the original townsite, established in 1753, now known as Old Town Lunenburg, was designated a National Historic District. It is one of only eight districts with this designation in Canada. There are some 400 buildings in the area. The municipality has designated 24 properties as heritage properties. Four properties have been designated provincially.41

Lunenburg's historic district has been described as "a giddy concentration of Victorian gingerbread and classic Georgian elegance, gothic churches and schools, with more than a dollop of local architectural flavour".42 Crowning the hill at the top of the district is the Lunenburg Academy. This wooden school, built in the 1890s in the second empire style, is still in use. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has designated the structure as a National Historic Site. The text of the plaque at the site states in part that the building is "a rare survivor from Nova Scotia's 19th century academy system of education. Among comparable school buildings of the period in Canada, this structure is outstanding".43

Nor has Lunenburg neglected to develop other facets of its heritage to enrich the life of the community, for the benefit of both local residents and visitors. Beginning in 1986, there has been a Folk Harbour Festival held each August in Lunenburg. In 1995 the four-night Festival attracted some 10,000 people. The Halifax-Dartmouth area, only 90 kilometres away, is the main source of visitors. The Festival provides a notable boost to the local economy. Many bed and breakfast establishments and inns get booked a year in advance for the weekend of the festival. Grocery stores and restaurants add extra staff, and even the provincial liquor commission's outlet in Lunenburg extends its hours for the convenience of people attending the festival.44

Many communities in Nova Scotia might envy Lunenburg's success, but there are people in the area who worry about the consequences of tourist activity. As Nova Scotian writer Harry Thurston has noted, a "tide of seasonal residents from the United States, Europe and across Canada ... have been bidding up the price of Lunenburg County's pristine coastal properties, so much so that many are too expensive for the children of founding families".45 According to one local resident, "It's become a postcard town. There are a few token boats for the camera people, but it's losing its edge as a vibrant working town. It's going to become another four-or-five months-of-the-year operation, if it keeps going the way it is".46

At the same time, the fishing industry remains a very significant employer in the area. The National Sea Products plant in Lunenburg employs nearly 1,000 people, even though the company's fleet of fishing vessels catches only 5% of the fish processed at the plant.47 The town also has a foundry and shipyards to provide employment.


Geography and demographics have played a large part in the greater success Lunenburg has enjoyed in developing its cultural resources for tourism. Canso and Guysborough County do not have the population to provide a significant local market for Canso's heritage resources. Guysborough County is the second largest county in Nova Scotia and the least densely populated. The county's population peaked at 18,320 in 1901. Halifax is a four to five hour drive from Canso, and Canso is almost a two hour drive from the Trans-Canada Highway.

In contrast, Lunenburg County is more populous than Guysborough County, and Lunenburg is only 90 kilometres from Halifax, making it easily accessible for the 350,000 people who live in the metropolitan Halifax-Dartmouth area.

Both communities have enjoyed considerable success in securing funding to develop their cultural resources, but Canso is at a considerable disadvantage in attracting visitors because of its location. This is not to suggest, however, that Canso's efforts to develop tourism have not been of benefit to the community. Capital and operating expenditures have provided much-needed employment in a community which has been affected very adversely by the downturn in Atlantic Canada's fisheries. The development of Grassy Island National Historic Site has bolstered the community's self-image. Nor has Canso ignored other possibilities for economic development to court tourism. The case of Canso demonstrates what concerted community effort can achieve, but when Canso is compared with Lunenburg it becomes painfully obvious that location can be a key factor in developing tourism.

Does this mean that people in the Canso area should not bother with tourism? No. What it means is that they should probably not put too much emphasis on large-scale tourism. Instead, they should probably concentrate on small-scale enterprises, drawing on special markets, such as eco-tourism, and take advantage of the undeveloped character of much of Guysborough County.

An example of the kind of thing that can be done is the Sea Wind Landing Country Inn at Charlos Cove, Guysborough County. The Inn was winner of the 1995 Accommodation Award of Excellence from the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia. The Inn was developed from a former boat-building operation, in a community faced with the demise of the local fishing industry. The operators made a transition from boat-builders to inn operators, and now have an establishment which stresses environmentally friendly nature tourism activities.48

Communities such as Canso need not be inundated with tourists to benefit from tourism. They do not have to be saturated with tourists, to the point where they resent them and are faced with the kinds of questions currently being raised in Lunenburg where, as Harry Thurston has put it, "Lunenburg is now grappling with an issue that threatens to reshape its very character. The question is whether this civic icon of hard work may recast it into a genteel resort for `summer people'".49 The answer lies in a careful assessment of the communities' real needs, and of potential markets, of astute planning and promotion, to ensure that development is not destructive of either values or environment, and to ensure that local communities receive the lion's share of benefits from tourism.


1. Canadian Parks Service Proposed Policy, p. 7.

2. An Act respecting National Parks, National Parks Act. R.S., c. N-13, s.1, p. 3, 1988.

3. Parks Canada Guiding Principles and Operational Policies (Canadian Heritage, Minister of Supply & Services Canada, 1994), p. 13.

4. Management Plan for Cape Breton Highlands National Park, n.d., p. I.iii).

5. J. Chrétien to E. Maynard, Newfoundland & Labrador Ministry of Forestry & Agriculture, 1 August 1973, quoted in Gros Morne National Park Management Plan, Parks Canada, Atlantic Region, n.d.).

6. Ian McKay, "History and the Tourist Gaze: The Politics of Commemoration in Nova Scotia, 1935-1964", Acadiensis, XXII, no. 2, spring 1993, p. 106.

7. Ian McKay, "Tartanism Triumphant: The Construction of Scottishness in Nova Scotia, 1933-1954", Acadiensis, XXI,

No. 2, spring 1992, pp. 29-34.

8. Personal communication of an Ingonish resident with the author, ca. 1979.

9. Report of the Special Inquiry on Kouchibouguac National Park (Ministry of the Environment, October 1981), p. 92.

10. Ibid., p. 93.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., p. 96.

13. Ann Falkner, Without our Past? A Handbook for the Preservation of Canada's Architectural Heritage. (Toronto, Univ. of Toronto Press, 1977), p. 214.

14. Robert L. Montague & Tony P. Wrenn, Planning for Preservation, p. 14, cited by Falkner, pp. 213-214.

15. D. DeLange, Socio-Economic Impact - Signal Hill National Historic Park. (Parks Canada, 1985), p. 15.

16. George MacBeath, "Jean Thomas", Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 1 (Toronto, Univ. of Toronto Press), p. 642.

17. The Sou'wester, Vol. 12, No. 19, 15 August 1980, p. 4.

18. Ibid.

19. The story of Canso's problems in the early 1970s is capably related in The Education of Everett Richardson, The Nova Scotia Fishermen's Strike, 1970-71, by Silver Donald Cameron (Toronto: M&S, 1977).

20. Ibid., p. 43.

21. Grassy Island National Historic Park, Newsletter Vol. 1, June 1981, No. 2.

22. Highlands-Canso Report, Hon. Allan J. MacEachen's Office, 1981.

23. Commons Debate, 08 October 1985.

24. Grassy Island National Historic Site Management Plan (Parks Canada, Atlantic Region, 1983), p. 27. Parks Canada had already, in 1976, arranged a contract with the Canso Historical Society for the maintenance of an outdoor interpretive exhibit at the Whitman House Museum. The exhibit consisted of several all-weather panels conveying basic information about the history of Grassy Island.

25. Halifax Chronicle Herald, Monday, 29 June 1987.

26. The site is not very well-known yet, even to students at Saint Francis Xavier University. The author gave a talk to a Canadian history class there a few years ago and found that only one or two students of the class knew anything about the site.

27. A.R. Clark, "An Historical Perspective on Tourism Planning and Development in Nova Scotia", (Technical University of Nova Scotia, Master of Urban and Rural Planning, 1988), p. 108.

28. Ibid., p. 157.

29. Brief to the Nova Scotia Dept. of Small Business Development, Community Economic Development Branch, Re: Town of Canso Pilot Project, April 1988.

30. The Buchanan Report on Tourism was released by the Government of Canada in October 1994. In referring to the Report in a speech to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, given in Vancouver on 25 October 1994, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien stated that "The importance of the tourism industry in Canada cannot be over-estimated".

31. According to the Halifax Port Corporation, cruise ship passengers in 1993 spent an average $54.00 per person while in Halifax, and port charges worked out to ca. $25.00 per person. In 1993 cruise ships brought about 31,000 people to Halifax. Personal communication, 27 October 1994.

32. Personal communication, Ray White, MLA, Guysborough,

03 November 1994.

33. South Shore, Seasoned Timbers, Vol. 2 (Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, 1974), p. 44.

34. Ibid., p. 58.

35. G. Wanzel, Lunenburg: memories, buildings, places, events (Technical University of Nova Scotia, 1989), pp. 14, 16.

36. H. Thurston, "Safe Haven", Canadian Geographic, Sept./Oct. 1995, p. 41.

37. McKay, "History and the Tourist Gaze", p. 118.

38. Clark, op. cit., p. 118.

39. Ibid., p. 174.

40. J. Tupper, Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, to D. Chard, August 1995.

41. World Heritage List Nominations: Old Town Lunenburg, prepared by Dept. of Canadian Heritage & the Municipality of the Town of Lunenburg, September 1994, p. 5.

42. Thurston, op. cit., p. 42.

43. Lunenburg Academy - Designated Building Heritage Recording Report Recorded August 1988, Parks Canada.

44. Caryl Worden to D. Chard, 28 August 1995.

45. Thurston, op. cit., p. 42.

46. Ibid.

47. Ibid.,

48. Background statement, TIANS 1995 Accommodation Award of Excellence.

49. Thurston, op. cit., p. 40.

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Published by the Louisbourg Heritage Society
ISBN 1-896218--07-5
© Louisbourg Institute
Extracted from the Proceedings of the Cape Breton
in Transition Conference, October 20-21, 1995