Museums, in many ways, are about bringing the past into the present. They show the history of people, places, and even the objects that have shaped stories and traditions. Some exist to honour that history, while others expose the darkness that needs to be wiped out of our future. Nova Scotia has plenty of both kinds, meant to inspire, educate, and enliven a rainy day.
The Acadian Village of Nova Scotia
The story of the Acadians of Nova Scotia is one that involves tragedy and resilience, tradition, and adaptation. If you want a good look at how the Acadians kept their culture and traditions alive in the early 1900s, you need to visit the Acadian Village. Here you can see the historic buildings, learn to blacksmith, and make dried salted fish, and much more. Whether you have Acadian heritage or you’re curious about this part of Nova Scotian history, the Acadian Village will open a window to the past.
Address: 91 Old Church Road, Lower West Pubnico; 902-762-2530
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Africville is a part of Halifax history that many try to forget, but that’s all the more reason why it’s important to remember. The African Nova Scotian community of Africville existed for over a hundred years before it was demolished because it was “in the way” of industrial development. This sent its former residents all over Halifax, and it’s a testament to them and their descendants that the spirit of their community has managed to endure. This museum highlights the history of Africville, including the happier times and the importance to Black Heritage without shying away from the destruction, creating a space for all to learn about the heritage of Africville.
Address: 5795 Africville Road, Halifax; 902-455-6558
Alexander Graham Bell Museum
Alexander Graham Bell’s accomplishments are well known—just pick up your phone—but many aren’t aware that he had a summer home in Baddeck. This historic site overlooks Baddeck Bay, where Bell tested his aircraft, the Silver Dart. You can learn about Alexander Graham Bell’s life, see his inventions, and participate in fun activities. Build a kite (you can then fly), try out an experimental hydrofoil in virtual reality, and participate in one of the many events through the summer!
Address: 559 Chebucto Street, Baddeck, Cape Breton; 902-295-2069
Baile nan Gàidheal | Highland Village
Another historical village, Baile nan Gàidheal highlights the Gaelic cultural history of Cape Breton (Scottish Gaelic in this case). There are historic buildings to explore, traditional skill demonstrations, and you can even learn to speak some Gaelic phrases. Make sure to say hi to Horse Mira Jean, their Clydesdale horse, and stay for a ceilidh (a traditional dance that’s super fun because as long as you can spin and jump a bit, you can dance). With the view of the Bras d’Or Lake, it’s no surprise there were settlers here, and now you can see Cape Breton through their eyes.
Address: 4119 Highway 223, Iona, Cape Breton; 902-725-2272 or 866-442-3542
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Balmoral Grist Mill
Sometimes you want a simple and fun educational experience, and for that you go to the Balmoral Grist Mill. This is a working mill that’s been open since 1874, and they still make flour every day. You can watch the whole process unfold, and even get to taste some of the roasted oats! There’s a picnic area by the water where you can watch the mill’s wheel spin with the flow, and once you’ve eaten there’s a walking trail nearby.
Address: 660 Matheson Brook Road, Tatamagouche; 902-657-3016
Black Loyalist Heritage Centre
Several groups of Loyalists fled to Nova Scotia during and after the Revolutionary War, and Black Loyalists were no exception. The Black Loyalist Heritage Centre sits on the site of the largest free Black Settlement in the 1780s. The Heritage Centre shows the story of this group with artifacts (including a virtual copy of the Book of Negroes), artifacts, and displays explained by guides, some of whom are descendants of the Black Loyalists. When the tour is complete, you can create a virtual quilt square to share your experience of the Heritage Centre.
Address: 119 Old Birchtown Road, Shelburne; 902-875-1310
Firefighters’ Museum of Nova Scotia
Firefighters have played a huge role in keeping society safe and growing, and it’s only right to honour that dedication. At the Firefighters’ Museum, you can learn about their history going all the way back to the 1800s. There’s old engines and gear through the centuries, showing how firefighting has evolved with technological advances to make their work safer and more efficient. Other artifacts like uniforms and photographs tell stories about the various fire departments in Nova Scotia, along with a collection of firemen badges from around the world that demonstrates the connection of Nova Scotia to the worldwide firefighting traditions.
Address: 451 Main Street, Yarmouth; 902-742-5525
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Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic
With the ocean nearly surrounding us and lakes and rivers running through the province, it’s no surprise that the fishing traditions of Nova Scotia goes back as long as there have been people here. The Fisheries Museum dutifully covers the long history of the tradition, including the sometimes-overlooked Mi’kmaq traditional fishing tradition. The galleries hold stories and artifacts covering all aspects of fishery life, so you can focus on whatever part catches your interest. They also have a fleet of vessels from different eras of history, so you can get a close up look at what fishing used to be like.
Address: 68 Bluenose Drive, Lunenburg; 902-634-4794
Fortress of Louisbourg
The Fortress of Louisbourg was once an oceanside retreat for French soldiers—no, I’m kidding, it was a military fortress. Once you’ve left the parking lot you might think you’re actually back in the 1700s when it was a bustling encampment. There are re-enactments of everything from traditional music to lacemaking. The actors/guides are happy to tell you all about the history of the Fortress over the years, and there are even military demonstrations. With workshops to enjoy and exhibitions to watch, you’ll want to plan a full Fortress day.
Address: 58 Wolfe Street, Louisbourg, Cape Breton; 902-733-3552
Fundy Geological Museum
If you are a lover of cool rocks you’ve got to check out the Fundy Geological Museum. The geological history of Nova Scotia is fascinating, and it includes discoveries of fossils and even dinosaur bones. The exhibits teach you everything about the minerals and gems found in the province, and you can even go on a fossil hunt along the beach! And if you want to combine cool rocks with riding, you can take a beach tour by horseback.
Address: 162 Two Islands Road, Parrsboro; 902-254-3814
Haliburton House Museum
This museum was once the home of Thomas Chandler Haliburton, a famous Nova Scotian author—actually Canada’s first international bestseller. The house is full of artifacts from 1836-1856, which is when Haliburton lived there, and you can learn about those early days of the town of Windsor. If you come on the weekends, you can play games from that time period on the lawn, like stilts, croquet, and washer toss. Or if you’re interested in a more modern pursuit, there’s also a Disc Golf course on the grounds!
Address: 424 Clifton Avenue, Windsor; 902-798-2915
The military fortress that defines downtown Halifax, the Citadel is a multipurpose place to visit. If you just want to enjoy the hill itself, you can climb until you’ve found the perfect view for a picnic or date. Of course, the major attraction is the fort itself, where you can take tours to learn all about the history of the fort, life inside the fort’s walls, and how to enroll in their School of Piping and Drumming. For after-dark fun, take the ghost tour and learn about the spirits that seem to have made the Citadel their afterlife residence.
Address: Citadel Hill; 902-426-1990
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
While the Fisheries museum focuses on fishing, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic covers every aspect of Atlantic Canada’s long history with the sea. With exhibits ranging from shipwrecks to sailboats and steamships, from Theodore Tugboat to the Titanic and the Halifax Explosion, you’ll walk away with a new appreciation for our maritime connections. You can also visit the CSS Acadia, a steamship that survived both World Wars and the Halifax Explosion, and has a fascinating history of rescues, shipping, and madcap adventures.
Address: 1675 Lower Water Street; 902-424-7490
Museum of Industry
Industry is a big concept, and covering it in a museum is an ambitious project. The Museum of Industry has managed to pull it off very well, covering the various industries of Nova Scotia from the very beginning. There are several hands-on programs and activities—everything from watching a sawmill work to participating in an assembly line. From coal mining to steel to automobiles, the exhibits cover their ground well. What’s awesome is that they even have exhibits covering living conditions and how housewives dealt with industrial working life, running the household, and raising the children while their husbands went off to their difficult and often dangerous work. That aspect of industrial history is sometimes forgotten, and I’m glad this museum has decided to honour those housewives’ and their contributions to the industrial work of Nova Scotia.
Address: 147 North Ford Street, Stellarton; 902-755-5425
Museum of Natural History
The Museum of Natural History is a classic family destination because there’s so many cool things to see and do there that you almost forget that you’re learning things! The museum has numerous permanent exhibits covering local wildlife, geology, ocean ecosystems and so much more. They also have lots of activities for kids, a tortoise named Gus, and a scavenger hunt that all visitors can do. They also have exhibits in partnership with the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Center that showcase the history of the Mi’kmaq people as well as some stunning art pieces.
Address: 1747 Summer Street, Halifax; 902-424-7353
North Hills Museum
This museum is fascinating because from the outside it looks like a typical 18th century home, but inside you’ll find so many treasures. Robert Patterson purchased North Hills and 1964 and began filling it with his collection of antiques, turning it into a showroom of cultural artifacts. After Patterson’s death in 1974, he willed the property to the province and it turned into a museum. Wander through and see 18th and 19th century wood furniture, English porcelain, and glass work.
Address: 5065 Granville Road, Granville Ferry; 902-532-2168
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Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame
You’ve probably heard of Sidney Crosby, but he’s actually one of many fine athletes in Nova Scotian history. The Sports Hall of Fame has over 500 inductees in sports as diverse as road running, wheelchair sprinting, and trap shooting. They also honour contributions to sports like physical education, sport history, and sport media. This is the perfect place to learn about this province’s sports history and find inspiration for your own athletic journey.
Note: this museum is currently in the process of moving, so for now you can look at their virtual collection. They hope to be moved into their new space soon.
Out of the Fog Lighthouse Museum
Address: 4291 Highway 16, Half Island Cove; 902-358-2108
Pier 21: Canadian Museum of Immigration
The history of immigration in Canada is a complex one, and what better place to learn about it than the pier where so many immigrants took their first steps on Canadian soil? Pier 21 has exhibits that cover every aspect of immigration, including replicas of the ships and trunks, the stories of the peoples who came through and the challenges they faced. You can also do genealogical research there, so if you have Canadian immigrants in your family history (which most of us do), you can learn more about your family’s journey. Keep an eye out for their temporary exhibits too—these are deep dives into a specific story, and you can learn a lot.
Address: 1055 Marginal Road; 902-425-7770
Ross Farm Museum
Ever wonder what it was like to live on a farm in the 1800s? Wonder no more because Ross Farm Museum is a heritage farm that demonstrates exactly that. Their attention to detail is amazing—the buildings are all perfect replicas, the animals are all heritage species, and the farm work is done in traditional methods. You can meet the animals, watch demonstrations, and even go for a wagon ride.
Address: 4568 Highway #12, New Ross; 902-689-2210
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Rossignol Cultural Centre
Why go to one museum when you can go to one cultural centre and visit eight museums at once? The Rossignol Cultural Centre is 24,000 square feet of museums, collections, a library of art and wildlife, and of course a gift shop (which must be crammed with cool stuff to cover all eight). These museums range from the Folk Art Museum to the Apothecary Museum, and even the Museum of the Outhouse. If you’ve got a group of people with diverse interests, this is a great place to split up and find what you like best, and then when you’re done, you’ll only be a few steps away from your buddies, so lunch plans are easy.
Address: 205 Church Street, Liverpool; 902-354-3067
Shearwater Aviation Museum
The Shearwater Aviation Museum may be firmly on the ground, but their exhibits are all about flying through the air. As a Canadian Forces accredited museum, they have exhibits dealing with the Air Force and Navy-used airplane history, uniforms, and information about the people who lived on this base. They even have a collection of different aircrafts, including a plane called the Fairey Firefly whose story is way more intense than the name implies. And if you want a shot at the sky, you can at least get a simulated one by using the SAM Flight Sim.
Address: 34 Bonaventure Street, Shearwater
Sherbrooke Village is in many ways the same as it was in 1867. 25 of the buildings in this village are original heritage buildings, and with the interpreters and guides (and guests, you get to dress up if you want!) in full costume, the people are similar too. You can watch demonstrations of crafts like blacksmithing, weaving, and printing, and there are workshops where you can try some out yourself! There is also an Indigenous arts centre, which will help you get a fuller picture of not just Sherbrooke, but the lives of all the people around it too.
Address: 42 Main Street, Sherbrooke; 1-888-743-7485
St. Paul Island Museum & Lighthouse
There are many lighthouses in Nova Scotia, but the St. Paul South West Lighthouse is special. Not only is it the only federally designated heritage lighthouse, it was also the first cast iron lighthouse in Canada. You can visit the top of the lighthouse and see it in action, seeing the view that lightkeepers saw every day and night as they tried to keep ships safe. The museum itself has dozens of artifacts to help tell the history of this lighthouse, and what makes it such an important heritage building.
Address: 613 Dingwall Road, Dingwall
Uniacke Estate Museum Park
Address: 758 Highway 1, Mount Uniacke; 902-866-0032
By: Adrienne Colborne