Historic Shelburne Waterfront
The Evolution of a Heritage District 10 blocks of history await visitors to the historic Shelburne waterfront. From the Mi’kmaq First Nations people to European settlement beginning 1783 with the Loyalists and through a two-century shipbuilding boom to the arrival of Hollywood in the 1980’s, the Shelburne Heritage District is a rich and rewarding destination.
North America’s fourth largest community, the third finest natural harbour in the world, Canada’s first free Black settlement in nearby Birchtown – Shelburne Harbour has many claims to fame. United Empire Loyalists declared allegiance to the British Crown during the American Revolution and sailed in huge numbers to what was then Port Roseway to clear a settlement in the wilderness.
The population swelled to some 10,000 before diminishing over the next two decades to a couple hundred. The Black Loyalists – freed African slaves – who came too and settled in Birchtown. Some worked in Shelburne. Many eventually returned to Africa where they helped found the country of Sierra Leone.
Over the next 200 years, Shelburne grew to become a major shipbuilding town, the waterfront lined with shipyards, wharves, stores and stately homes. From schooners to trawlers to dories, Shelburne shipwrights were among the most accomplished anywhere. One man – Sydney Mahaney – built 10,000 unique Shelburne dories himself.
As the age of sail waned, so did Shelburne. The groundfish and lobster industry, however, grew and prospered, altering the waterfront yet again. Then in the late 20th Century, Hollywood came to town. One film in particular altered the look of the waterfront permanently. In 1994, during work on The Scarlett Letter starring Demi Moore, Robert Duvall and Gary Oldman..
Today, views from the waterfront are unobstructed by electrical wires and poles, buried for the filming of Mary Silliman’s War, making Shelburne a unique destination and a continued attraction to the film industry like Moby Dick in 2009 starring Donald Sutherland, Gillian Anderson, William Hurt and Ethan Hawke. The Scarlett Letter crew built a steeple on top of the iconic Cox’s Warehouse and completely rebuilt the Barrell Factory in Puritan style. The Guild Hall with its giant wooden columns is now home to the weekly Shelburne Farmers Market.