This Week in History


The British Colony that Wasn't British

This story was initially published in 1999

On June 8, 1753, 1453 men, women, and children from the interior of Europe founded the town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. This was one of the first pre-planned colonization efforts by the British government in present-day Canada.

Old Town Lunenburg Historic District Waterfront

Old Town Lunenburg Historic District Waterfront
© Parks Canada / P. St. Jacques / 1996

To counterbalance the French Catholic presence in Nova Scotia, the British Governor-in-Chief, Edward Cornwallis, had recruited loyal Protestants from present-day Germany, Switzerland and the Montbéliard region of France. Many of these settlers had long suffered the ravages of the armies of King Louis XV of France. The opportunity for land and a new life in Nova Scotia was therefore a dream come true for many.

From 1750-52, about 2000 mostly German-speaking settlers arrived in Halifax, where they waited to be resettled in their new town. The British promised them supplies and building materials, but they had to pay back their transportation costs with their own labour on public works. Early in June 1753, the majority of them sailed for their new home, Lunenburg, which was named after the Duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg, who had become King of England, as George II, in 1727.

Romkey House, among the oldest houses in Old Town, ca.1900

Romkey House, among the oldest houses
in Old Town, ca.1900

© Nova Scotia Archives & Records Management /
Bailey Collection

Lunenburg was laid out strictly according to a model developed by the Board of Trade and Plantations in London. There were seven streets running north to south, all exactly 48 feet wide except King Street, which was 80 feet wide. Crossing them at right angles were nine east-west streets, all 40 feet wide. When the colonists arrived, they each received a town lot as well as a 30-acre farming lot on the outskirts. Many moved to these farms the following summer and were subsidised with free livestock by the British government. By 1754, there were 319 houses built in the town of Lunenburg as well as many smaller huts. Lunenburg is also home to the oldest continuous Lutheran and Presbyterian congregations in North America.

Old Town Lunenburg has nearly 300 buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, almost all made of wood and many brightly painted. A plaque commemorating it as a National Historic Site was erected in 1992. It is one of the best preserved examples of British colonial town planning in North America.

St. John's Anglican Church

St. John's Anglican Church
© Parks Canada / CIHB / 1971

In 1994, St. John's Anglican Church, centrally located in the old town, was given a separate designation as a National Historic Site. The Church was damaged by fire the night of October 31, 2001, and is now being restored by the congregation. Parks Canada staff met with Church and town officials immediately after the fire and continue to support their efforts by providing professional and technical expertise during the reconstruction.

Old Town Lunenburg Historic District became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, and the town celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2003.

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