'Electric City' ruins donated to Nature Conservancy

A piece of land in southern Nova Scotia — home to some of the province's first electric lights — is being donated to the Nature Conservancy of Canada for its natural and cultural history.

Early settler family brought over electric lights, powered by nearby stream

Paul Stehelin's ancestors left France in the 1890s to settle in the Digby County area, introducing some of the earliest electric lights to the province. (CBC)

A piece of land in southern Nova Scotia — lit up in the 1890s by some of the province's first electric lights — is being donated by a descendent of the original settlers to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The 150-hectare plot of land, located along Long Tusket Lake in Digby County, was known to locals as Electric City. It was named after the stream-powered lights installed by its early inhabitants, the Stehelin family.

“The bulk of the local population probably thought they were crazy,” said Paul Stehelin, whose ancestors brought the technology when they left France in 1890.

“For one, they went to the middle of the woods as opposed to settling in Weymouth or on the shore. Two: they wore their same clothes they wore in France. And three: they all of a sudden had electric lights and a train."

The 150-hectare plot of land settled by the Stehelin family is located in Digby County. (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Electricity was anything but the ubiquitous convenience it is today when the Stehelin family arrived in New France. People then would have read by candlelight and oil lamps.

According to Stehelin, the donation was intended to protect the area for others to enjoy, including rare animals. The property contains an old growth forest with trees that host uncommon and at-risk birds including the Canada warbler, chimney swift and common nighthawk.

"We wanted that piece of land to stay the way it is, as opposed to having all the trees disappear," he said.

The legacy gift donation will be accompanied by funding support from TD Bank.