Grassy Island Fort National Historic Site of Canada
Canso, Nova Scotia
View of the fort
© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 1989.
Canso, Nova Scotia
Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
1720 to 1735
1600 to 1800
1745 to 1745
Event, Person, Organization:
Governor Richard Philipps
Sir William Pepperell
Sir Peter Warren
British-American attack on Louisbourg
Grassy Island Fort
Research Report Number:
1962-059, 1987-AM-02, 2001-039, 2001-OB-10
Description of Historic Place
Grassy Island Fort National Historic Site of Canada is the remnant of 18th-century British fortifications situated on Grassy Island, one of a group of islands off the eastern tip of mainland Nova Scotia known together as the Canso Islands National Historic Site of Canada. The designation consists of the area within the footprint of the fort as outlined by the ramparts.
Grassy Island Fort was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1962 because: it was an important fishing base that was developed first in the 16th century by the French and subsequently, during the first half of the 18th century, by the British when it became the economic mainstay of Nova Scotia and a key centre for the English cod fishery; it was a point of contention and the scene of several combats between the British, and the allied French and Mi’kmaq in the first half of the 18th century; and it was the staging point for the British and New England expedition led by Sir William Pepperrell and Sir Peter Warren against the French stronghold of Louisbourg in 1745.
The heritage value of Grassy Island Fort lies in its historical associations with the fishing industry since the pre-contact era and with the French-English struggle for control of Canada, as illustrated by the site and its archaeological remains. Since the Canso Islands were the centre of rich fishing grounds, fortifications were constructed twice on Grassy Island Fort to protect them. Neither survived for long. A small redoubt (1720) and fort (1723-24) were built by the order of New England Governor Richard Philipps but fell into ruins in the 1730s. Edward Howe constructed a blockhouse in 1735 that was burnt during a French attack in May 1744.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 2001; Commemorative Integrity Statement, February 2003.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include: the siting of the fort on the highest point of land on Grassy Island; the remains of the 1720 redoubt, 1723-24 fort, and the 1745 blockhouse in their location, extent and materials, both above and below ground; the evidence of 18th-century military life found at the site and stored off-site by Parks Canada; the orientation and inter-relationship of defensive features to one another and to the sea; the setting of the fort within an area of cleared land within a low scrub landscape; the cobble beach of Grassy Island; the viewscapes from the fort to the Canso Island anchorage, to the main 16th- to 18th-century approaches to fishing banks, to the main seaward entrance to Canso Harbour, and to the surrounding islands.