Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lawrence House: The Best Little Museum in Nova Scotia

There are a lot of museums, historical sites, and memorials in Nova Scotia; it seems you can't drive five miles without running into one. Of the ones I've stopped at, my favorite is Lawrence House in Maitland.

Back in 1967, the Nova Scotia government bought the one-time residence of shipbuilder W. D. Lawrence from his granddaughter, Abbie. On this day in 1971, it opened as a museum, commemorating a more prosperous time for the Fundy region and Nova Scotia as a whole.

I went down to Lawrence House this afternoon with my wife and children to join in the 40th-anniversary celebration. We spent about two hours there with the remarkable, knowledgable staff, and learned a lot about the man who lived there and his time.

W. D. Lawrence's claim to fame was his building  of the 250-foot, 2,500-ton "great ship." Many of his contemporaries derided the Irish-born businessman's plan to launch the W. D. Lawrence, not necessarily because it was a wooden leviathan powered by sail at a time when steam ships were emergent, but simply because the vessel was so big.

The ship, which set sail on its maiden voyage in 1874, is long gone, but the house is still there, as are the furnishings from the period, tools from the yards, and photos of the W. D. Lawrence in dry dock.

Fiercely proud of Nova Scotia--he built The Great Ship in part to showcase the province's maritime might--Lawrence entered politics as a member of the House of Assembly in 1863. He was, along with Joseph Howe, a fierce opponent of Confederation (wise men).

Unlike Howe, Lawrence never came around to accepting Nova Scotia's place in Canada. He always maintained that Confederation was "an idle vision calculated to check the future growth and prosperity of our country." "Our country" was Nova Scotia, and those who wanted to join Canada were "traitors."