My husband and I recently returned from a vacation on the Queen Mary 2, a spectacularly large transatlantic cruise ship. We generally trek, kayak or explore the great outdoors on our vacations. Our youngest daughter, a professional dancer, has a 6 month performance contract on board Cunard’s flagship. Therefore, to have time with her, we packed our suitcases with non-hiking clothing, and set sail for Canada.
There were not hiking options for the ports of call , but there was an opportunity to do some trail walking near Halifax in Nova Scotia. Our ship docked at Pier 21 and the Canadian Museum of Immigration. We needed advice from local folks to help us get to our destination. A visitor’s center chat and a highlighted map guided us along the Boardwalk to the Halifax Ferry Terminal. We took the water shuttle to the town of Dartmouth, where we picked up Bus #60, per the Ferry Captain’s suggestion.
Upon our arrival at Fisherman’s Cove, a cute little hamlet of shops and cafes in Eastern Passage, we asked a shop owner for water taxi information. She smiled, handed us a business card and we called the number listed.
Mr. Tilly, aka Redbeard, arrived 30 minutes later in his small motorboat and shuttled us to McNabs Island. During the short ride, he regaled us with stories about the island, the mainland and sea life.
About McNabs Island
McNabs Island, operated by Parks Canada, is located in the Halifax Harbour. For thousands of years, the Mi’kmaq people inhabited the region, using McNabs Island as a seasonal home. In the late 1600s, European settlers used the island as a fishing center and a source of timber for the growing settlements in Halifax and Dartmouth. Hostilities between the Mi’kmaq and the settlers increased through time. In an attempt to prevent violence and aggression, the British government deported the native people to the island, called Cornwallis at the time, in honor of the military lieutenant, British aristocrat and Halifax founder, Edward Cornwallis.
Over the next decade, relations between the Mi’kmaq and settlers improved, the native people developing a strong trade with the new residents of Halifax and Dartmouth. The Mi’kmaq settled in the northeast corner of the island, referred to today as Indian Point.
In 1782, Peter McNab purchased the island for 1,000 pounds, clearing the land for tenant farms. The McNab family inhabited the island for 150 years, selling some land parcels to the British military in the 1860s. In 1864, Fort Ives was erected on the northwest point of the island, fortified and modernized over the course of the years leading to World War I. Following the war, the fort was placed into reserve status and no longer used as an active military post.
The Hugonin Battery was built on the northwest coast between 1899 and 1900, and remained in military use until 1993. Construction of Fort McNab, the largest of the three military structures, began in 1889 and was updated often over the following 15 years due to many turn of the century technological advances. The military stationed in these forts played key roles in protecting the Halifax Harbour during both World Wars. Fort McNab was closed in 1960 and its ownership was transferred to Parks Canada.
Today, 99% of McNabs Island is owned and managed by the park system. It is home to deer, rabbits, coyotes and 206 species of birds. Trails travel from one end of the island to the other and visitors can explore the fort remains, McNab pond, the lovely coves, and views of Halifax and neighboring islands.
Mr. Tilly dropped us onto the beach of Wreck Cove, provided us with a bottle of insect repellent and a map marked with his favorite spots on the island.
We proceeded to walk southwest to see the remains of Fort McNab and views of the mainland, the Halifax Harbour, and Lawlor Island.
After backtracking .3 miles, we ventured northwest on the Brow Hill Trail and Garrison Road, that bordered the beautiful McNabs Pond.
We walked along the beach of McNabs Cove and through a wooded section, ending our 3.4 mile walk at Ives Cove, where Mr. Tilly was waiting for our return.
As the only people on the island, we enjoyed the tranquil walk. The path bordered historical ruins, fields of white spruce, a forest of red maple and beech trees, salt marshes and the cobbled stone shoreline.
Mr. Tilly shuttled us directly to the Halifax port, depositing us on a dock in the Harbour. We climbed from the tiny boat that bravely parked beside a row of large cruise ships, giddy with laughter.
|Hike difficulty classification (link)|
|Geographic location||Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia|
|Trailhead parking options||Must be shuttled by boat|
|Trail amenities||no bathrooms or water sources|
|Elevation - trailhead||21'|
|Elevation - highest peak||102'|
|Total mileage||3.4 miles|
|Highlights||Island coves and unpopulated island|
Learn more about McNabs Island
Island Map – Friends of McNabs Island