Yarmouth, Nova Scotia is situated on the south western corner of Nova Scotia some 350 km (200 miles) from Halifax via either the 'South Shore' or the 'Annapolis Valley' highways. The present population of the Town of Yarmouth is approximately 8000 while the population of the County of Yarmouth is approximately 27,000 (including the Town). It is the regional centre of South Western Nova Scotia which is an area made up of the counties of Digby, Yarmouth and Shelburne with a total population of some 70,000 people.
The Town is known as the 'International Gateway to the Province' since it has regular (summertime) ferry links with both Bar Harbour and Portland, Maine.
The local economy is supported by a broad range of business, service, and industrial employers of long standing. While fishing is the mainstay of the region, the Town also houses regional health, educational, and provincial government facilities, including the Yarmouth Regional Hospital, which employs in excess of 800 full and part time employees.
The Runic Stone, possible evidence of Viking visitation to Yarmouth.
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
The Mi'kmaq are the aboriginal peoples of the area. This nomadic tribe, which lived in Nova Scotia and parts of New Brunswick, lived in the woods in winter and along the coast in summer for ease of gathering food.
The Vikings may have visited this area under the leadership of Leif Erikson around 1000 AD.
This area was explored by Samuel de Champlain in about 1605. It was Champlain who named the promontory at the end of Yarmouth's harbour Cape Fourchu (French for Forked Cape).
Canadian, Nova Scotian and Acadian flags.
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
The area immediately around Yarmouth was certainly settled by Acadians but we know little of this history. We do know that some Acadians hid from the British who, in 1755, were gathering up the Acadians to expel them from the province. Some years after the deportation numbers of Acadians returned to their former homes in Pubnico, Wedgeport, and other areas of the County. The Acadians form a unique and integral part of the culture of South West Nova Scotia. French can be heard frequently in the stores and workplaces. While they proudly fly their Acadian flag (the French 'tricoleur' with 'Stella Maris' ('Star of the Sea') in the upper corner) they fly it alongside the Nova Scotian flag and below the Canadian Flag. They are fiercely proud to be both Acadian and Canadian.
The English speaking peoples of Yarmouth County arrived at various times. The first group came in 1761 and are known as the New England Planters (or simply Planters). They came as groups to various parts of the province mainly to those areas left vacant by the expelled Acadians, predominantly the Annapolis Valley. The five founding families, who arrived in Yarmouth on June 9th, 1761, came from the Cape Cod area and that area still has family names such as Crosby, Ellis, Perry, Landers and Burgess. All but the latter are still common in the Yarmouth area. Within the next year many other familes had arrived from New England. Many people in Yarmouth can trace their ancestry back to these people as well as to the 'Mayflower's' passengers. One past president of the Yarmouth County Historical Society has traced his ancestry back to 13 of the 29 'Mayflower' passengers who had descendants.
In 1785 another group of Americans came to our area. These Loyalists preferred to stay loyal to the British crown rather than join the new United States of America. Over 10,000 people went to Shelburne, Nova Scotia in 1783 although most did not stay there long. In 1785 twenty-five Loyalists families left Shelburne and came to Tusket, a village approximately 10 miles from Yarmouth. Two subgroups of the Loyalists were the Black Loyalists (some of whom came as slaves and some who were free men) and soldiers who had fought for the British in the American Revolution. Some of the soldiers were British, others, such as the Hessians, were mercenaries and still others came from Jamaica.
The largest group to settle the immediate area around Yarmouth was the New England Planters. Whereas the Planters who settled the Annapolis Valley turned to the soil for a living those in Yarmouth turned to the sea for their livelihood. This was partly because of the rocky nature of the land and partly due to the abundance of fish. Not only could the settlers fish but they could use the ocean as a highway to transport their catches. The forest nearby provided lumber to allow them to build their own vessels.
From these small vessels Yarmouth shipbuilders and businessmen developed fleets of large ocean-going sailing vessels in the mid- to late-1800's. (See Story # 2 for a brief history of Yarmouth's shipping industry.)
Lobster Boats ( Cape Island Design) at Sandford, near Yarmouth.
The 1870's and 80's were times of great prosperity and growth for Yarmouth. Ambitious public buildings such as churches and schools were built while industries and businesses bloomed. Cultural life and recreation were not forgotten; there were literary societies, musical and theatrical groups, and sports organizations.
As the sailing vessel bowed out to the steamers, Yarmouth businessmen reinvested their money. A major industry was established in the Yarmouth Duck and Yarn Company. Dominion Textiles, the descendant of that company, was a mainstay of Yarmouth's industry until 1991.
Although greatly overshadowed by the glories of the square-riggers, Yarmouth's fishing vessels and the fishing industry itself have always formed the backbone to Yarmouth's prosperity. Today the industry is still of great importance with the main catches being lobster, scallops and herring.
The 'Old' Grand Hotel
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
Another of today's major industries, the tourist industry, began with the creation of several steamship lines which operated vessels between Yarmouth and Boston. Freight, including blueberries and fish, was carried along with passengers. With the development of the Dominion Atlantic Railway, a fast service between Halifax and Boston or New York was established. Yarmouth acted as the changeover location and became known as the 'Gateway to Nova Scotia'. To cope with the increased travelling public, the Grand Hotel was established; so too were the two vacation hotels of Markland and Bayview across the harbour.
Yarmouth contributed to the war efforts in both the Great War and the Second World War by supplying manpower and during the latter, an active coastal command air base as well as a training base for army, air force, and fleet air arm. Today's community has benefited from many 'wartime lads' who stayed in or returned to Yarmouth to make it their home.
Yarmouth's premiere tourist site, Cape Forchu Lighthouse
Cape Forchu, Yarmouth Co
Many post-war changes have taken place including a new ferry terminal, new public wharves and modernised fish processing plants. As well, there has been a remarkable growth in institutions serving the town and environs notably a large regional hospital, new public schools, a public library, three museums, an arts centre, a new provincial art gallery (soon to be opened) and federal and provincial offices, all of which have had an impact on the economic activity, physical appearance of the town and on the life-styles of Yarmouthians.