Nova Scotia

Replica of 1773 ship that brought Scots to Nova Scotia getting retrofit

Parts of a three-masted replica of the cargo vessel that brought the first Scottish settlers to Nova Scotia nearly 250 years ago are being hoisted out of the harbour in Pictou, N.S.

Vessel will be lifted out of the Pictou Harbour so rotting planks can be replaced

An exact replica of the Hector, a 37-metre wood vessel, has been berthed in Pictou, N.S. It's a floating museum that recounts the journey of the 189 men, women and children who left Scotland in 1773 in search of a new life. (The Canadian Press)

The three-masted replica of the cargo vessel that brought the first Scottish settlers to Nova Scotia nearly 250 years ago has a much different silhouette in the harbour in Pictou, N.S.

On Tuesday afternoon, a crane lifted off the massive Douglas fir masts and the bowsprit — the beam that extends from the vessel's prow. Each piece, made with lumber from B.C., weighs between 680 and 1,815 kilograms. 

The 37-metre long wooden ship Hector serves as a floating museum alongside an interpretive centre. It will be undergoing major retrofits in preparation for the 2023 celebration.

The original Hector brought 189 settlers to Nova Scotia in 1773 from the Scottish Highlands to the shore long populated by the Mi'kmaq.

"It's part of the Scottish culture that we have here in northern Nova Scotia, but that spreads all over North America. We have descendants that come from all over North America to Pictou to see the ship and to see the site," said Laurie MacDonald, president of the volunteer society that maintains the vessel and the nearby interpretive museum.

"It's too important of a of a national asset not to have restored."

He said since the group took over the vessel's ownership from the town in 2011, it has been trying to keep up with repairs, but the wooden hull has been rotting.

"It's a shame. But with the limited resources that we have, we had to prioritize and we've done a lot of work on the boat. But now it's time to do a major refit and get it back into shape and use new technology so that in the future it will require less maintenance and less upkeep," MacDonald said.

The plan is to lift the ship's hull back onto land and place it behind the interpretive centre on the Hector Heritage Quay, where it was built. The site also has a carpentry and blacksmith shop.

Up until now, the society hasn't received any annual public funding, but MacDonald said it will be seeking help from all levels of government to rebuild the ship. Depending on the extent of the deterioration on the hull, the work is estimated to cost between $1.5 and $2 million. 

Volunteers helped remove the riggings so that a crane could lift off the ship's masts. (Submitted by Darlene Macdonald)

So far, the society has paid for the preparations to lift the hull and Moodie's Cranes in Pictou volunteered to move the masts.

"The renewal plan is to completely replank the ship from the water line up and then build some new masts and yard pieces for it and then put it back in the water and rerig it," MacDonald said.

Though the vessel has been in the water for the last nine years, it has never actually sailed. A long-term goal is to outfit it with motors that would allow the Hector to be used for tours and events.

The Ship Hector Society has a nine-member board that oversees and runs the site with the help of a team of volunteers and summer students.

The Hector has been in the water for the last nine years and the wooden hull is deteriorating in some areas. (Ship Hector/Facebook)

MacDonald said between 10,000 and 12,000 people visit the ship each year. During the off-season, volunteers often show around people who've come specifically to see it. 

The society wants the Hector remembered as Canada's Mayflower — the ship that took Puritans from England in 1620 to what is now Massachusetts.

"One of the biggest draws for northern Nova Scotia for tourism is Hector Quay and the ship Hector the replica. We draw people — more international and more American people — than any other site in this area," MacDonald said. 

"It's extremely important. This is part of the fabric of our country. This is where the first Scots paid to come to the New World."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC in Halifax. Over the past 11 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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