Exploring McNabs Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

Exploring McNabs Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

Dancing woman, kicking her leg high as she laughs on the wet sandy shore.
#dancingthroughlife

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.

Welcome to McNabs Island sign and  gazebo
Welcome sign near the Garrison Pier in McNabs Cove

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.

Slate blue building entitled "Woodside Ferry Terminal"
We exited the ferry through this Dartmouth terminal, and picked up the bus immediately outside the doors.

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.

A boardwalk of brightly colored cottage styled shops
The quaint boardwalk and shops of Fisherman’s Cove, Nova Scotia.

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.

Man and woman in their twenties sitting in a small boat, wearing yellow life vests and huge smiles
En route to McNabs Island

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.

Grayish brown concrete walls and wire covered windows of a broken down fort
Fort McNab walls stand in stark relief against the beautiful blue sky.

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. 

An overgrown grassy path cuts between old military fort buildings.
Exploring Fort McNab

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.

Stone plaque describes Fort McNab, old buildings visible in the background
Plaque provided by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and Parks Canada

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.

A man leaning on the end of a large military gun

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.

Our pathway

Seaman leaning on the bow of a small motor boat in the water's edge
Redbeard Tilly at Wreck Cove

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.

Close up of oversized green ferns
Chest high ferns near the Hugonin Battery

We proceeded to walk southwest to see the remains of Fort McNab and views of the mainland, the Halifax Harbour, and Lawlor Island.

Pine trees and blue sky reflected in a still lake
McNabs Pond, a salt water lagoon

After backtracking .3 miles, we ventured northwest on the Brow Hill Trail and Garrison Road, that bordered the beautiful McNabs Pond.

Cobble stones cover the beach and a small white lighthouse is visible in the distance
Cobble stones edge Mauger’s Beach. Mauger’s Lighthouse is visible in the distance.

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.

Tree skeletons stand in front of a gray cove of water
Ives Cove

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.

Cobble stones provide the pathway along the water's edge

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.

The Queen Mary 2 cruise ship at port
We were deposited by tiny boat onto a dock near the Queen Mary giant.

The details

Fuscia pink flowers contrast against a gray blue salt marsh
Summer flowers, a blue sky and a sparkly salt marsh
Hike difficulty classification (link) 
DifficultyEasy
Geographic locationHalifax Harbour, Nova Scotia
Trailhead parking optionsMust be shuttled by boat
Trail amenitiesno bathrooms or water sources
Elevation - trailhead21'
Elevation - highest peak102'
Elevation gain259'
Total mileage3.4 miles
Water sourcesNone
HighlightsIsland coves and unpopulated island

Learn more about McNabs Island

Island Map – Friends of McNabs Island

McNabs Island Ferry

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: