Hello From Nova Scotia Local History Discovered At The Yarmouth County Museum

on​ a​ dull drizzly morning I got a​ good start to​ my day with a​ filling breakfast and​ an​ interesting interview with the innkeepers of​ the MacKinnon-Cann in, followed by a​ tour of​ the four historic heritage properties that they own. in​ addition​ to​ last night’s walking tour of​ Yarmouth, I had now got a​ good idea of​ Yarmouth’s Victorian architecture. Now it​ was time to​ delve deeper into history, so I embarked on​ my visit of​ the Yarmouth County Museum and​ Archives.

Nadine Gates, the curator, welcomed me and​ gave me a​ personal tour throughout the facilities. as​ an​ overview she explained that the Yarmouth County Museum is​ a​ good representation​ of​ Yarmouth’s past. The town’s seafaring history is​ a​ major focus of​ the museum which features the third largest collection​ of​ ship portraits in​ Canada. More than 120 different ship portraits illustrate Yarmouth’s historic importance in​ shipbuilding and​ navigation.

The Yarmouth County Historical Society was founded in​ 1967, and​ the museum opened in​ 1969 in​ a​ former church building. Beautiful wooden beams across a​ high vaulted ceiling demonstrate the former ecclesiastical use of​ this​ building. The museum has been expanded twice in​ 1999 and​ 2018. The new wing we were standing in​ is​ called the Education​ Wing and​ hosts a​ variety of​ Historical Society meetings, talks and​ lectures, music recitals and​ other events and​ is​ open to​ the public. at​ the present time it​ is​ hosting a​ stained glass exhibit that features local artists.

From the Education​ Wing we entered the main​ section​ of​ the museum which is​ an​ impressive space with a​ very high ceiling. The main​ exhibit area (the former church) still exudes a​ solemn atmosphere. Nadine took me to​ an​ area called “Families at​ Sea”. Throughout seafaring history, particularly at​ the beginning of​ the previous century, entire families would be living on​ tall ships, and​ souvenirs from their trips all over the world were displayed here along with photos and​ letters of​ the various family members whose permanent residence was a​ wooden vessel on​ the ocean. a​ certain​ Catherine Ladd, for​ example, spent the first twelve years of​ her life living on​ a​ ship, and​ her artifacts are available for​ viewing.

Nadine also gave me a​ general explanation​ of​ Yarmouth’s history. The town was founded in​ the 1700s as​ an​ Acadian settlement whose residents were deported in​ the mid 1800s as​ part of​ the Grand​ Expulsion. Some Acadian settlers tried to​ escape deportation​ and​ hid in​ the forest with the Mi’kmaq native tribe. United Empire Loyalists were then assigned the land, and​ their economy focused on​ ship-building. this​ was the Golden Age of​ Sail, the Age of​ the Tall Ships. Today’s economy is​ based on​ fishing, and​ in​ particular lobster fishing. Interestingly, Nadine pointed out that years ago lobsters were only eaten by poor people and​ often they were used as​ cheap fertilizer in​ local gardens. How tastes change….

One area of​ the museum also features nameplates of​ ships. The most prominent and​ well-known one is​ the nameplate of​ the “Samson”. this​ ship was the closest ship to​ the sinking Titanic during the cold April days of​ 1912, and​ she heard the mayday calls of​ the sinking ocean liner. But because the Samson​ had been illegally fishing in​ the waters off Eastern Canada, the crew chose not to​ answer the distress call and​ left the area. We will never know how many more people could have been saved if​ the Samson​ had responded to​ this​ distress call. She was later renamed the “New York City”, a​ name that is​ still visible on​ the other side of​ the nameplate.

The Yarmouth County Museum is​ located right in​ the heart of​ Yarmouth’s Collins Street Heritage District. in​ addition​ to​ being a​ heritage property itself, the museum is​ surrounded by dozens of​ large homes owned formerly by wealthy sea captains and​ merchants. The Pelton-Fuller House next door was built as​ a​ summer home between 1890 and​ 1895 as​ a​ mansion​ for​ Alfred Fuller, a​ wealthy merchant, and​ was donated by one of​ his descendants in​ 1995 together with all its contents. Today it​ is​ part of​ the museum complex and​ an​ example of​ Victorian living.

The Yarmouth County Museum has another off-site satellite location: the Killam Brothers Shipping Office is​ Canada’s oldest shipping office. in​ 1788 John Killam built his first schooner and​ started a​ family business that would span 203 years and​ five generations of​ the Killam family. The property was also donated to​ the Yarmouth County Historical Society, and​ the 19th century setting gives visitors an​ idea of​ a​ commercial office of​ the 1900s.

One of​ the highlights of​ the Yarmouth County Museum is​ the lens of​ the Cape Forchu Lighthouse which dates back to​ 1908. The lens weighs approximately 3300 pounds and​ has 360 prisms. it​ was built in​ Paris, France, at​ a​ cost of​ $38,000 and​ was lit with kerosene. The job of​ a​ lighthouse keeper was very strenuous since a​ heavy tank of​ kerosene had to​ be carried up the narrow winding stairs of​ the lighthouse every night. The original Cape Forchu Lighthouse dating back to​ 1838 was replaced in​ 1962 at​ which time the lens was replaced and​ donated to​ the Yarmouth County Historical Society.

A Victorian room features a​ variety of​ historical customs and​ dresses as​ they would be worn by people about 120 years ago. Types of​ dress of​ first class, second and​ third class passengers were on​ display and​ speak to​ a​ time of​ great social divisions and​ class distinctions. a​ temporary exhibit features the silhouettes of​ Victorian fashions.

on​ the lower level of​ the museum various rooms display an​ early 1900s kitchen, a​ bedroom, and​ a​ nursery / toy room. These rooms provide good insight into late Victorian home life. The next room features industrial exhibits and​ machinery: a​ transmitter from a​ radio station, a​ coffee grinder and​ a​ printing press illustrate the evolution​ of​ mechanical equipment. a​ brass steam whistle from the Cosmos Cotton​ Mills is​ an​ example of​ industrial equipment that was used to​ call employees to​ work.

A room with various Nova Scotian wildlife scenes is​ followed by a​ forge. The blacksmith used to​ be one of​ the most important people in​ the village and​ his work environment is​ featured along with other implements such as​ a​ yoke (the contraption​ fitted around a​ draught animal’s necks where the plough would be attached). an​ early Acadian loom is​ testimony to​ the craftsmanship that existed here a​ few hundred years ago. a​ tool room features a​ foot-powered jig saw. Today we can hardly imagine an​ existence without electricity. Our ancestors were well-versed in​ the application​ of​ human or​ animal power to​ propel various types of​ equipment.

Several glass cases display antique glass and​ china collections while Mi’kmaq artifacts and​ arrowheads provide insight into native history and​ craftsmanship. Back upstairs we had a​ look at​ the antique musical instrument collection​ of​ the Yarmouth County Museum. Nadine demonstrated the Olympia Music Box, a​ device from 1898 that uses zinc disks for​ each song. a​ barrel with teeth plucks the various notes, propelled by a​ spring-loaded mechanism.

The musical instruments section​ was a​ real highlight of​ the museum and​ Nadine mentioned that usually they demonstrate three of​ the instruments to​ visitors. a​ Concert Roller Organ from 1902 is​ an​ example of​ some of​ the mechanical instruments that were used long ago. this​ device, patented in​ 1887, is​ operated by cranking the external handle. The internal bellows, tuned reeds, valves and​ a​ roller produce organ-like tones. The Square Grand​ Piano dates back to​ 1874 and​ a​ Player Organ from 1890 is​ also on​ display.

My favourite instrument was the Pianola Player Piano, manufactured in​ 1902: the rectangular box is​ pedal-operated, and​ a​ set of​ tiny hammers at​ the back strikes the keys of​ a​ Guild “Square Grand” piano made in​ Boston​ in​ 1874. The Player Piano could simply be pushed up to​ any piano, and​ even a​ person​ who had never played the piano before could make beautiful music. All they had to​ do was to​ push the foot pedals up and​ down. Nadine played the 1920s tune “The Entertainer”, the music itself is​ recorded on​ perforated paper rolls which actually looked rather fragile to​ me. The foot pedals operate a​ bellows system that operates the little hammers that play the tune on​ the piano behind it. What an​ ingenious invention….

A small display area is​ dedicated to​ the Yarmouth militia, attesting to​ Yarmouth’s history as​ a​ military training ground during World War II. All throughout this​ wing of​ the museum numerous ships portraits depict impressive tall ships of​ years gone by. The ship owners would commission​ these paintings because once these ships were built and​ commissioned, they hardly ever came back to​ town, and​ in​ many cases the owners would never see the ships again.

We ended our tour in​ the new section​ where there is​ a​ collection​ of​ stage coaches, bicycles and​ other vehicles. One of​ the highlights in​ this​ area is​ the 1921 electric car of​ a​ certain​ Minnie L. Lovitt, who was the first female driver in​ Yarmouth. She must have turned a​ lot of​ heads at​ the time. My guided tour had come to​ an​ end and​ I thanked Nadine for​ sharing her knowledge with me and​ got ready for​ my trip along the famous Lighthouse Trail where I would experience a​ significant incident that helped me gain​ important insight into the local mentality.

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