Description of Historic Place
Fort McNab National Historic Site of Canada is situated on the southwest coast of McNabs Island at the entrance to Halifax Harbour. The site is composed of remnants of late 19th- and early 20th-century defensive works, including a fort with a buffer of land surrounding it and two adjacent enclaves encompassing the southern searchlights and numbers 1 to 3 range finders. Fort McNab also includes various historic viewplanes associated with surveillance and defence. Official recognition refers to the legal limits of the property at the time of designation.
Fort McNab was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1965 for the following reasons:
- built between 1888 and 1892, Fort McNab played a vital role in protecting Halifax, one of the principal naval stations of the British Empire.
- planned as the outermost battery in the network of harbour defences, it was constructed specifically for recently developed long-range, breech- loading guns that were guided by a sophisticated fire-control system.
The heritage value of Fort McNab lies in its strategic location on an island at the mouth of Halifax Harbour, and in the diffuse and varied remnants of military works constructed between 1880 and 1945 for outer harbour defence. The cultural landscape of the island bears witness to significant changes in defence technology and associated military strategy through the found location, form and materials of Fort McNab and its components, the structures associated with the search light emplacements, archaeological remains, landscape features and associated historic objects.
Fort McNab was built from 1888 to 1892 in response to advances in military technology that required the relocation of Halifax’s strategic defence works from the inner to the outer harbour.
Its facilities were altered several times to adjust to changing technology: 1906 (more powerful guns), 1914 (searchlights and changes in gun technology), 1914-1918 (counter bombardment batteries), 1940-41 (new battery command post, artillery replacement), 1948 (reactivated for Cold War activity), 1953 (artillery replacement). The fort was decommissioned in 1959.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board, Minutes, May 1965; Plaque Text, 2008; Commemorative Integrity Statement.
The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include:
- its siting on McNabs Island at the mouth of Halifax Harbour, in Nova Scotia;
- the evolved cultural landscape, including the fort with a buffer of land around it and two adjacent enclaves encompassing the southern search lights and numbers 1 to 3 range finders;
- the natural features of the island such as the gently rising, rock-free hills, that enabled the creation of conventional late 19th-century coastal defences;
- the modified landscape for strategic military purposes, including the cleared and controlled vegetation;
- the remnants of fence lines defining the spatial extent of the fort and specific purpose enclaves;
- the roadways, pathways and channels providing communications between various parts of the Island’s defence works, to civilian facilities on other parts of the island and to its wharf;
- viewscapes from the site to the harbour channel, seaward at the mouth of the harbour, and up the harbour channel to other sites in the Halifax Harbour defence system.
The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the fort include:
- its setting at the south end of McNabs Island at an elevation high above sea level;
- its footprint and profile;
- the outline of its palisade;
- the surviving components in their form, materials and spatial relationships, including buildings, casemates and gun emplacements, below-ground shelters and magazines, and ruins.
The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the surrounding defences include:
- the footprints defining separate enclaves associated with searchlight batteries, and the fire command system that employed range finders;
- the form and materials of resources found in these areas.
The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the archaeological remains include:
- the forms, materials and spatial relationships of former defensive works, including below-ground water supply and drainage systems, examining shafts and range-finding pits.