Description of Historic Place
Lunenburg is located on the southwest coast of Nova Scotia. The Old Town Heritage Conservation District is located on a hilly peninsula between Lunenburg (Front) Harbour and the Back Harbour. The Heritage Conservation District includes waterfront and shipyard buildings, and continues north up the slope of the peninsula's hills, encompassing the downtown commercial district; the institutional area of the town, with a parade square, town hall, Anglican church, former courthouse and rectory; and the private wood-construction homes to the north of the town centre. All streets in the Old Town run north-south and east-west on a grid.
Lunenburg Old Town Heritage Conservation District is valued for its historical origins as a planned colonial town, for its well-preserved vernacular architecture, and as a longstanding centre for marine-related industries and the culture that surrounds them. Established in 1753 by the British as a colonial town for over 1,400 mostly German-speaking Protestant German, Swiss and Montbéliardian French colonists, Old Town Lunenburg has retained its original layout and overall appearance, based on the rectangular grid pattern commonly used in colonial planning of its era. The townsite, true to then-current convention, consisted of seven north-south streets, 48 feet wide (with the exception of King Street, which is 80 feet), intersected at right angles by nine east-west streets, each 40 feet wide, creating blocks that were further divided into 14 lots of 40 by 60 feet each. As well, different sections of the town were set aside for industrial use (the blocks closest to the harbour); commercial use (to the north of the waterfront); and institutional use, such as the parade square, the courthouse and Anglican Church (the central blocks in the Old Town). Each immigrating family received one town lot, drawn from playing cards. The London-based Board of Trade and Plantations developed the plans without regard to local topography, resulting in Lunenburg’s unusually straight but very steep streets. There are approximately 400 major buildings within the old town, most of them dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, almost all of them wood, and many with colourfully painted exteriors and trims.
The Old Town Heritage Conservation District also includes many waterfront warehouses and outbuildings, reflecting Lunenburg's long tradition of economic dependence on both the shipbuilding and fishing industries. While these industries have grown smaller in Lunenburg, they are still of vital importance, and the industrial area has many shops specializing in marine-related crafts. Lunenburg is also home to the iconic schooners “Bluenose” and the “Bluenose II,” both built in a shipyard within the Old Town Heritage Conservation District.
Lunenburg is the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. The inhabitants have managed to safeguard the town's identity and their German heritage throughout the centuries by preserving the wooden architecture of their homes and commercial buildings. One unique regional architectural feature is the "Lunenburg Bump:" a projection traditionally located on the centre of the front façade, and comprised of a large, extended, overhanging dormer, usually of the five-sided Scottish style, and seen throughout the Heritage Conservation District on many homes. By the end of the nineteenth century the local architectural tradition, including Bumps, had reached a level of complexity and variation that reflected the social cohesion and growing prosperity of Lunenburg society. Eventually this growth also resulted in new development, mainly to the west, in an area given the name 'New Town'.
Source: Heritage Conservation District Plan and By-law with Design Guidelines,2001, found in Town of Lunenburg Heritage Files, no. 62.
The Lunenburg Old Town Heritage Conservation District has many defining elements that relate to its value as a well-preserved planned colonial town, an area of architectural interest and an important centre for marine-related industries, including:
- the dense concentration of historic architecture, seen in the 403 buildings of the Old Town, ranging in age from the eighteenth to early twentieth century, and creating cohesive streetscapes. The main types of buildings include waterfront industrial buildings in the Maritime Vernacular warehouse style, commercial buildings in the late Victorian and Edwardian styles, and a variety of homes in Georgian, Cape Cod, Gothic Revival, Classical Revival and Second Empire styles, accentuated with vernacular architectural elements;
- all elements that are typical of a longstanding building tradition particular to the Lunenburg area, including the sturdy wooden construction of the majority of the buildings, with clapboard or shingle cladding and wooden trim elements. The most noticeable vernacular building element in Lunenburg is the "Lunenburg Bump:" an enlarged dormer extended out over the eaves, either five-sided or rectangular. Most are situated in the centre of the front façade over the entrance, which may be in an attached storm porch. Decorative elements include complex dormer roofs (from bellcast to triple-tiered varieties), bracketry, panelling and fretwork, gablets on the dormers, cornices and window ornamentation;
- all elements of the town's still preserved original form, which is based on eighteenth century colonial planning theory: using a very specific rectangular grid form layout of seven north-south streets, 48 feet wide (with the exception of King Street, which is 80 feet), intersected at right angles by nine east-west streets, each 40 feet wide, and with each block divided into 40 foot by 60 foot lots. The geometrically regular streets have most buildings close to the streetline, public spaces in the centre of town and a well-defined distinction between urban and non-urban areas;
- the distinction between the industrial, commercial, institutional and residential areas of the Old Town, reflecting the original town plans. In particular, the layout and use of the institutional area of the Old Town, in its geographic centre. The buildings in this area include (from west to east) Saint John's Anglican Church building and open space surrounding the building, the old fire hall and electric lights building, town hall with park space to either side, the open park space to the east of town hall including war memorials, a heritage bandstand and the King Street right-of-way, and the Armouries site (now the Town of Lunenburg Public Works Department) at the far eastern end. The land between the Armouries and Prince Street were sold in 1894 and are now private lots with houses;
- all original elements reflecting the fishing and shipbuilding industries, especially the inter-related warehouses and wharves, the marine railway, outbuildings, parking and loading areas, all located on or close to the waterfront. Also, all elements contributing to the visual character and related harbour views of the area, without constricting its function;
- elements used by the town in the protection of the district such as former cannons put in place at corners to slow carriage traffic, significant trees located in public areas, monuments,
and outbuildings considered to add value to the surrounding streetscape.