Picture this: It’s the Age of Sail and a vessel is at sea when it spies another tall ship with wind in its sails, but it moves rather erratically. The first ship draws closer to investigate.
The crew calls out across the water, but there is no one on deck to answer. They board the ship and a search is undertaken, but nary a soul is found. The ship is under sail by itself.
If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because many writers have spun tales based on a mysterious ghost ship for novels and the big screen. Did you know these stories trace back to Nova Scotia?
The Mary Celeste, a brigantine built of Nova Scotia timber in a shipyard in Spencers Island, was discovered abandoned under sail in 1872.
The mystery of her vanished crew has never been solved. It inspired contemporary writers at the time, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and later on there were movies and radio plays. In 2007, yet another documentary was made, which presented a number of theories, though it couldn’t offer anything concrete.
Spencers Island is in Cumberland County, along Greville Bay on the Bay of Fundy, about 40 kilometres from Parrsboro. The community gets its name from a small island that sits off its shore.
During the Age of Sail, this was an important, bustling shipbuilding centre. Today, it’s a small community with a popular campground, a lighthouse that dates back to 1904, a cafe and a monument to the Mary Celeste.
When the tide goes out, one can still see the remains of the old wharves of a bygone time.
If you are visiting at times during which the lighthouse is open, you can go inside to take a closer look at the light and check out photos of the shipbuilding history. You might see locals in the area advertising dulse for sale.
About 20 kilometres away is the Age of Sail Heritage Museum in Port Greville. If the Mary Celeste has captured your imagination, this is definitely a place to visit. Beautifully designed and full of relics, photos and tales of the past, it shows off and explains the proud local history.
By the time you leave, you’ll be imagining tall ships sailing in the bay, the noise of lumber being felled and ships being built.
To learn more about the Age of Sail Heritage Museum, visit ageofsailmuseum.ca.