Archiscape Blog

Traveling Architect – Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Posted on July 18, 2017 by Karin • Filed under: ,

A week away provides inspiration, needed rest and brings this traveler back to her ancestral roots…

Lunenburg is a coastal town on the south shore of Nova Scotia, West of Halifax, located in Mahone Bay. Established in 1753, its architectural history has been respected, preserved and maintained. In 1995, Lunenburg was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America “in terms both of its conception and its remarkable level of conservation.”


Traveling Architect - Lunenburg - History

Lunenburg was founded in 1753 by Protestant German, Swiss and Montbéliard French citizens who fled their regions “to escape religious persecution, taxes and overcrowding.” They were recruited by the British government to settle the area. Monuments to the early settlers in the region list the boats that carried these early colonists with the names of their passengers*.

The original town layout is a typical British military design with a rectangular grid, bordered on one side by the harbour, surrounded on the three others by pickets for defense, and in the center of town, allowing for a large area of Garden Lots for every property owner. The town’s site is on a steep hill, which creates a beautiful stepped view from the ocean.

*Among the names of early settlers, the Pétrequin family (or anglicized version, Patriquin) who arrived in 1752 on ‘The Betty.’


Originally a fishing and boat-building town, Lunenburg’s harbour is preserved and maintained. Some of the original buildings on the first street in from the waterfront have been converted to the Atlantic Fisheries Museum and to other cultural and touristic uses.


Early buildings were 1-story Cape Cod-style buildings with 2 or 3 rooms on the ground floor, a loft under the steep roof and a central chimney over a Dutch oven used for cooking and heating. Throughout Lunenburg’s history, buildings of other popular styles were built, creating a living architectural history. As fishing became less commercially viable, buildings were reused for other commercial and touristic uses. The first few streets in from the harbour boast a lively mix of these buildings, in the various styles of Lunenburg’s history. All colorful and no more than 3 stories high, the result is an ensemble of buildings rich in craftsmanship and detail.


The buildings up the hill from the harbour are primarily residential, exhibiting various styles – Georgian, Victorian, Italianate. A unique Lunenburg feature emerged – a large 5-sided dormer over the center door – one town sign explains that at least 20% of all buildings in the historic area boasts this feature. Over time, bright colors became popular, so that today, the town displays a very colorful array of buildings.