Nova Scotia

Archeologists look for star-shaped fort near Lunenburg Academy

A Saint Mary's University team of archeologists will be digging at a site in May, hoping to find remnants of the 1753 British fortress.

'Pretty exciting to get a window on the very first features of Lunenburg,' says SMU professor

Geophysical results from Jonathan Fowler's survey superimposed over an aerial photo of Lunenburg. (Submitted by Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic)

A mystery that is more than 250 years old and buried near the historic Lunenburg Academy may soon be solved. 

A star-shaped fort built by the British in 1753 had almost melted away into history until Saint Mary's University researchers found evidence of it through a geophysical survey.

The survey measures magnetism of the soil and picked up possible remnants of a structure potentially integral to the 1700s struggle for control of Nova Scotia.

"The likelihood of finding something on the grounds is quite high," said Henry Cary, an adjunct professor and long-time archaeologist who once worked for Parks Canada.

"It would certainly be pretty exciting to get a window on the very first features of Lunenburg."

Henry Cary is an archaeologist and adjunct professor at Saint Mary's University. (Submitted by Henry Cary)

Cary is leading a team of students in May to start the investigation, begun by professor Jonathan Fowler's research team.

They hope to find physical proof of the fort, which signs point to resting quietly under grass outside the Lunenburg Academy National Historic Site of Canada at 101 Kaulbeck Street.

'Architecture of anxiety and fear'

The fort's history likely goes back to when Charles Lawrence, known for orchestrating the Acadian expulsion, settled just under 1,500 soldiers in the Lunenburg area in 1753.

At that time, about 20 Acadian families lived in the area, then known as Merliguesh, Mi'kmaq for "hilly." Lawrence soon demanded they and others sign an oath of allegiance to the British Crown, which would mean fighting against the French.

Thus began the Seven Years War, pitting the British against the Acadians and Mi'kmaq. 

"[The fort] reflects on a time in Nova Scotia's history which is much more tentative," said Cary.

"It's an architecture of anxiety and fear."

The fortress remains are believed to be on the grounds of the Lunenburg Academy. (CBC)

Star shape

English soldiers built this pentagon fort as a defense around the town. It's first noted on a map possibly drawn as early as 1753 and on a second one in 1768.

The first map suggests it included a blockhouse and barracks.

Cary says sharp bastions lined the five corners for guns, making the pentagon fort appear in a distinctive star shape. Dry ditches likely were dug around its base to stop enemy soldiers from scaling the chest-height walls, he says.

The earth and wood structure, though then integral to the British settlement's protection, no longer stands, unlike its contemporary, Fort Edward in Windsor, N.S. 

A 1768 map of Nova Scotia by John Montressor. The red dot indicates the fort archaeologists are trying to find. (Toronto Public Library)

'Different mindset for urban life'

Residents wanted to expand and spread into the countryside after the Seven Years War was over, Cary says. They then likely knocked down the fort to make room.

"Defensive architecture is based on fears, based on protection," said Cary.

"We don't have that in Lunenburg today. It's not required in our cities in North America anymore. It's a different mindset for urban life than we have today."

Saint Mary's University students did a similar geophysical survey at Grand-Pré National Historic Site last May, searching for an Acadian church. (Submitted by Jonathan Fowler)

Nova Scotia 'incredibly rich'

Much of Nova Scotia's archeological history remains unfound, Cary says, with many sites only recently examined, outside of major ones such as Louisbourg and Grand-Pré.

He says he hopes this is one more step toward discovering more about how the modern day came about.

"Nova Scotia's archaeology is incredibly rich," said Cary.

"Not only the historic periods, which is quite extensive, but then of course the indigenous history, which stretches back thousands of years."


Rachel Ward


Rachel Ward is a journalist with The Fifth Estate. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at


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