Artifacts & Photographs
I have a light similar to one in your visible storage - can you tell me how old it is and anything else about it?
We are able to provide some information if the item has been fully catalogued. We also refer patrons to other institutions who may have more specialized collections.
Can I get a copy of the photo of the _______ on display in your museum?
Yes, please provide us with the reference number on the display, or a very good description of the location of the image. We also require your name, mailing address, size of photo and intended use of the image. Please allow 4 to 6 weeks for delivery. Fees are charged which vary depending on the size of the request.
Basic Ship Questions
I have the name of someone who served on a certain ship. Do you have any information about them or the vessel they were in?
The Museum does not have the resources to do research for the public. We can check to see if we have any images in our collection. We do not have any crew records.
You may wish to consult the Maritime History Archives at Memorial University in Newfoundland which has a large collection of Crew Agreements. Please see our Basic Guide to Researching Nova Scotian Ships and Seafarers.
My father served aboard a number of vessels. Can you provide me with photographs of each of them?
If you provide us with an alphabetical listing of the vessels you are interested in, we will do a search to see if we have any images in our collection. Fees apply if you wish to order these photographs.
I am doing a history on the community in which I live. Can you tell about the shipyards and shipwrecks there?
The Museum does not have the resources to do research for the public. We can check to see if we have any images in our collection. Please see our Basic Guide to Researching Nova Scotian Ships and Seafarers.
I am doing research on a ship. Would you have any plans or logbooks from her?
Our museum has a limited number of plans of Nova Scotia vessels built in the late 1800s. We also have some naval plans, but the National Archives of Canada is a better source for this material. We have a small number of logbooks.
A member of our family immigrated to Canada through Nova Scotia. Do you have a passenger list or any information about their voyage?
We do not have any passenger lists or immigration records and the Museum does not have the resources to do research immigration vessels for the public. We can check to see if we have any images of a specific vessel in our collection. Please see our Basic Guide to Researching Nova Scotian Ships and Seafarers.
What is a tall ship?
This is a broad nostalgic term for any sailing vessel that provides sail training and participates in "tall ship" events such as races or sail-pasts. It includes both large traditionally rigged vessel and large modern yachts. Most tall ships events classify tall ships according to size and rig:
Class A - Square rigged vessels over 120' (36.6m) long as well as Fore and Aft rigged vessels over 160' (48.8m).
Class A, Division II Square rigged vessels of less than 120' (36.6m).
Class B Fore and Aft rigged vessels between 100' (30.5m) and 160' (48.8).
Class C Fore and Aft rigged vessels with a waterline length of at least 30' (9.14m).
For explanation and images of the different types of rigs, see the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic's Guide to Ship Rigs.
Ironically, despite its nostalgic associations, the term "tall ship", was almost never used in the golden age of sailing ships in the mid 1800s. It emerged in the twilight days of commercial sailing ships, in the 1890s, as a nostalgia arose over the gradual disappearance of large square-rigged vessels. The term was notably popularized by John Masefield (1878-1967, a former mariner who became poet laureate of England) in his poem Sea Fever, published in a book called Salt Water Ballads in 1902:
All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer here by.
When was the Golden Age of Sail?
The time period from 1840 to 1880 is often called the Golden Age of Sail. In this period sailing ships reached their zenith in size and design. In Atlantic Canada this period is often called the Golden Age because the region's fleets of sailing ships matured making Canada's merchant fleet the fourth largest in the world, bringing employment and prosperity to many shipbuilding and seaport communities. However, many historians have pointed out that poor wages, brutal and dangerous working conditions made the age far from golden for the actual seamen
Was the Tall Ships 2000 Gathering the largest number of sailing ships ever in Halifax?
No. The invasion fleet that left Halifax for the seige of Louisbourg in 1758 numbered 180 vessels under sail. As well, at certain seasons during the busier periods of the Golden Age of Sail, such as in the 1860s, the number of large square rigged ships in port for cargoes and repairs probably exceeded this years total.
Is life the same on "tall ships" today as in the past?
Some things such as sail handling, going aloft and enduring heavy weather are universal to the experience and remain unchanged. However living conditions and safety technology have changed radically. Sailing vessels of the past were also working vessels carrying cargoes with crews as small as possible and driven as hard as the owners and officers could push them. Today's tall ships are mostly sail training vessels with large crews aboard for education and adventure.
For more information, see Recommended Reading about the Age of Sail
I am doing a project on shipwrecks of Sable Island. Can you provide me with all the information that you have?
The Museum does not have the resources to do research about Sable Island for the public. We do have some photos, artifacts and related memorabilia from some of the Sable Island shipwrecks and can check to see if we have any images of a specific vessel in our collection. For more information, please see the Nova Scotia Archives link in our Basic Guide to Researching Nova Scotian Ships and Seafarers. For more general information about Sable, have a look at the Museum's Sable Island Infosheet.
I would like some information about a certain shipwreck, what can you provide?
The Museum does not have the resources to do research on shipwrecks for the public. You may wish to visit the Museum's Shipwreck Exhibit which includes an interactive shipwreck database. We can check to see if we have any images of a specific vessel in our collection. Please see our Basic Guide to Researching Nova Scotian Ships and Seafarers. If you are interested in exploring Nova Scotia shipwrecks, you should check out the Nova Scotia Museum's Underwater Archeology page.
Famous Ship: Bluenose
Do you have plans to Bluenose or Bluenose II?
We have drawings by John Stevens of the original schooner which can be ordered for a fee.
Do you have any information about her career, captain and races?
We recommend you contact the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg (homeport of Bluenose and Bluenose II).
Ship William D. Lawrence
Do you have plans?
No. Nova Scotia Archives and Record Management has plans for her under the call number: HG-3.
Was she really the largest wooden ship built in Canada?
Yes. Her gross tonnage of 2459 and 262 foot length was not exceeded by any full rigged ship built in Canada. Two larger barques were built in Quebec, Baron of Renfrew (1824) and Columbus (1825) but they were essentially large timber barges, rigged with sails for a one-way voyage to Europe where they would be disassembled for their timber.
What finally happened to the ship William D. Lawrence?
After nine years of a successful career circling the globe and disproving her critics by earning respectable profits, the ship William D. Lawrence was sold to Norwegian owners, who renamed her Kommander Svend Foyn in 1883. She was later converted to a barge and sank in tow off Dakar, West Africa.
You can learn more about William D. Lawrence at the Lawrence House Museum, the restored home of William Lawrence and now a Nova Scotia Museum site.
Do you have any plans to the famous mystery vessel Mary Celeste?
We do not have any plans in our collection for Mary Celeste or Amazon (as she was named when launched in 1861). American owners substantially rebuilt Amazon in 1871 after she was renamed Mary Celeste, extending her poop deck forward and dividing the topsail into upper and lower. The book The Secret of Mary Celeste by Gersham Bradford (Barre Publishing, 1966) contains a good sketch of her deck layout.
Has the mystery of her crew's disappearance ever been solved?
Not conclusively and many exotic theories have been advanced over the years. The most likely explanation holds that a leakage of fumes from her cargo of industrial alcohol prompted her crew to temporarily abandon ship as a precaution against an explosion and their small boat was lost in a squall shortly afterwards.
I was told that my great aunt was killed in the Halifax Explosion of 1917. Can you confirm this?
The Museum does not have the resources to do Halifax Explosion research for the public. Our Museum does not have the coroner's records from the Explosion. There is a new and comprehensive online list of Halifax Explosion vicitms was compiled by the Halifax Foundation and is now online at the Nova Scotia Archives and Record Management which has the largest collection of documents relating to Explosion victims.
How many people were killed in the Halifax Explosion?
The most recent estimate, compiled by the Halifax Foundation in September 2002, indicate that 1,951 identified people died in the Halifax Explosion. These names are listed in the Halifax Explosion Remembrance Book displayed at the Museum. There were about 250 unidentified bodies buried after the explosion. Many of these bodies are believed to have belonged to 1,951 known victims from the Halifax Foundation List but the bodies were not recognizable. The overall death toll has grown over the years as new research has amalgamated different lists. Record keeping was difficult in wartime because of the massive movement of troops, sailors and transient workers through the port.
What was the population of Halifax at the time of the Halifax Explosion?
About 60,000. The 1911 census showed 46,619 people and the next census in 1921 showed 58,372 people. The addition of large number of troops and war workers would put the wartime population at about 60,000. This makes the casualties,almost 2000 dead and over 4000 injured, a very significant poportion of the city's population.
Was it the largest man-made explosion prior to the Atomic bomb?
Yes. A comparison to other ammunition and industrial explosions shows that an overall measure (by deaths, explosive force, and radius of destruction) Halifax was the largest. A few explosions were larger in one category, but none exceeded the Halifax blast in all dimensions. See the book Ground Zero (1994) edited by Colin Howell & Alan Ruffman for more information.
What ships were involved in the Halifax Explosion?
See the Ships of the Halifax Explosion page.
Were German spies involved in the Halifax Explosion?
There is no evidence of Germans spies or saboteurs in Halifax in World War One during or before the explosion. Military records from both Allied and German records show no spy network operated in Halifax. There were lots of public rumours about German spies in World War One and Two but these were based on ethnic stereotypes and wartime paranoia. A recent television mini-series Shattered City has unfortunately revived these false rumours with an imaginary depiction of German spies trying ot blow up Mont-Blanc.
Do you have any information on the Peggy's Cove Lighthouse?
Originally established in 1868, the first light at Peggy's Point (as it is officially called) was a 26 foot wooden tower on top of the keeper's house. It was replaced in 1915 with the present concrete octagonal tower. The light was automated and destaffed in 1958 but this popular tourist attraction now hosts a Post Office in summer months.
Do you have plans to the Peggys Cove lighthouse? I would like to build a model.
We do not have any plans to the Peggys Point lighthouse in our collection. According to the most recent Coast Guard publication The List of Lights, the tower's total height "from base to vane" is 15.2 meters, or 50 feet. Older editions gave the height as 44 feet. We do not have other dimensions, although you can use the use the height as a scale to estimate the other dimensions based on the many photographs of the lighthouse. Please contact the Canadian Coast Guard based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to enquire about plans and more detailed dimensions.
Can you tell me the history for one particular lighthouse or a lightkeeper?
The Museum does not have the resources to do lighthouse research for the public. We can check to see if we have any images of a specific lighthouse in our collection. Please see our Basic Guide to Researching Nova Scotian Ships and Seafarers.You would also be well advised to try Nova Scotia Archives and Record Management as they have some lightkeeper records and a fine collection of lighthouse photographs. The Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society also has information and research tips.
Which is the oldest lighthouse?
Sambro Island Lighthouse, at the mouth of Halifax Harbour, was established in 1758 and completed in 1760, making it the oldest in Canada and the oldest operating lighthouse in North America. Sambro's Fresnel lens from 1906 is on display in the museum's lobby.
I have a family name connected to a privateer. Can you tell me more?
The Museum does not have the resources to do research for the public. We can check to see if we have any images of a specific vessel in our collection. Please see our Basic Guide to Researching Nova Scotian Ships and Seafarers. You may wish to consult these books for more details:
- Kert, Faye. Prize and Prejudice: Research in Maritime History No. 11, (St. Johns, Nfld, 1997).
- Leefe, John. The Atlantic Privateers: Their Story 1749-1815. Halifax: Petheric Press, 1978.
- Raddall, Thomas H. The Rover: The Story of a Canadian Privateer. Toronto: Macmillan, 1958.
- Snider, Charles Henry J. Under the Red Jack. London: Martin Hopkinson & Co., 1928.
And if you seek primary documents, try the Vice Admiralty Court Collection at the National Archives of Canada RG 8 Series IV.
Is the song "Barrett's Privateers" true?
Not literally true. It is a fictional song written by Stan Rogers. There was no Elcid Barrett. There was no Antelope sloop and there wasn't even a town of Sherbrooke in the year of 1778. Rogers basically made up an imaginary privateer to carry a 1960's anti-war theme in a traditional folk setting. Having said that, many of the details, ranging from the type of cannons mentioned to the letter of marque reference, are very authentic. Stan Rogers did a fair bit of reading about privateering and appears to have been influenced by the history writer and English professor Archibald MacMechan, who wrote several books on Canadian privateers.