Situated on the eastern side of the entrance to Halifax Harbour, McNabs Island has provided a scenic and historic backdrop to the lives of metro residents for over two centuries. Its strategic location was utilized by the military to guard the harbour, her fertile soils provided an important source of food for early settlers, and the beaches, woodlands, open fields and scenery have attracted local residents for leisure-time pursuits since the 1700's.

In 1974 the Province of Nova Scotia acquired most of the northern half of McNabs Island and the following year approved the designation of both McNabs and nearby Lawlor islands as regional park under the Halifax-Dartmouth Metropolitan Regional Development Plan. The intent of the regional park designation was "to protect areas of unique natural significance against adverse effects and to reserve sufficient open space for recreational purposes." In 1983, responsibility for the acquisition, management and development of the islands as park land was reassigned to the Department of Lands and Forests (now Natural Resources) through the Provincial Parks Program.

Currently, ownership of the islands is divided between the Province, the federal Government and private landowners. Of McNabs Island's total area of approximately 975 acres (395 ha), the Province owns 62 percent, the Federal Government 35 percent, and 3 percent is privately owned. The Federal Government owns all of Lawlor Island (125 acres - 51 ha). Most Federal lands on McNabs and Lawlor are administered as park reserve by the Department of Heritage, under the responsibility of Parks Canada.

This report examines the human history of McNabs Island, from early use by Indians, the arrival of European fishermen and explorers in the late 17th century and subsequent development and use by English settlers and their descendants. The bulk of the report focuses on the period immediately following the founding of Halifax in 1749 to the early years of the 20th century during which time McNabs Island was most extensively used, both by the resident population and for military purposes. This report also provides a brief historical summary of Lawlor and Devils islands.

Additional information on the history of McNabs, Lawlor or Devils islands, or revisions to information contained in this report, would be welcomed.

Please send any comments to:

Parks and Recreation Division
Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources
RR#1 Belmont
Colchester County, Nova Scotia B0M 1C0