Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
Location: Lunenburg, Canada, North America
Theme: Cities & Towns
Established by the British in 1753, the fishing and shipbuilding town of Lunenburg in Nova Scotia, Canada, is a well-preserved colonial settlement, featuring historic wooden buildings.
Explore nearby sites
Recommend this page
Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
Lunenburg is a remarkably well-preserved town, and one which retains most of the qualities of the original British model colonial settlement, without losing its status as a fully functioning community in the modern world.
The narrow peninsula on which Lunenburg was built was first settled formally in 1753, when German, Swiss and Montbéliardian French immigrants were brought to Nova Scotia under a British colonization plan. A rigid gridiron plan was superimposed on the slope of the steep hill rising up from the harbour. The new settlement was named Lunenburg after the Royal House of Brunswick-Luneberg, from which the Hanoverian kings of England were descended. The 1453 largely German-speaking Protestants who migrated to Lunenburg in 1752-53 represent the most northerly German settlement in North America in the 18th century. German customs and the German language survived an unusually long time in Lunenburg, owing to its relative isolation.
Lunenburg was the second British colonial 'model' town plan, after Halifax (1749). The model town was an important aspect of imperial policy for the British, to provide the functional space thought necessary for the smooth working of a colony. The Lunenburg plan (1753) incorporated all the principles of the model town: geometrically regular streets and blocks; the allocation of public spaces; an allowance for fortifications; and a distinction between urban and non-urban areas. Of these all but the fortifications survive in present-day Lunenburg.
The layout of the existing town preserves almost in its entirety the model layout of the mid-18th century. The plan consisted of six divisions of eight blocks each, each block being in turn subdivided into fourteen lots. Each settler was given a town lot and a larger 'garden lot' outside the town limits. One section of the town was not divided into lots, to serve as a public parade ground.
The town site, true to then-current convention, consisted of seven north-south streets, 12.5 m wide (with the exception of King Street, which is 24.4 m wide), intersected at right angles by nine east-west streets, each 12.2 m wide, creating blocks that were further divided into 14 lots of 12.2 m by 18.3 m.
The architectural stock of Lunenburg's Old Town is remarkably homogeneous and cohesive. Over 95% of the buildings are built from wood, many of them using the coulisse construction technique that is uncommon in North America.
The founding period in the 18th century is represented by at least eight buildings of coulisse construction (wooden frames in-filled with horizontal planks). They were built close to one another and to the streets, with the wider elevation facing the harbour. Two-thirds of the buildings of Lunenburg date from the 19th century.
The earlier examples continue the 18th-century tradition. The pattern of construction of the residential buildings is repeated in the commercial and waterfront buildings, where wood predominates. The same applies to the churches: the second oldest protestant church building in Canada, St John's Anglican Church, begun in 1754, is considered by experts to be an example of 'Carpenter Gothic' at its finest.
Given the innate conservatism of the inhabitants of the town with respect to their houses, and taking account of the care being taken to restore historic houses to their original states, the level of authenticity is high on every count. The setting and layout of the town itself have changed minimally since 1753, only the defences having been demolished. Wood remains overwhelming the principal construction material and traditional techniques have been maintained when restoration has been carried out on earlier buildings.