The seacoast town of Shelburne lies at the southwest comer of Nova Scotia , at roughly the same latitude as Portland , Maine .  Some early settlers had small subsistence farms, but most of the inhabitants' income from that time to the present have been derived from the sea. The first Europeans to make a settlement on these shores were the French. After the French were expelled in 1755, there were no settlers for several decades.

In the spring of 1783, more than 5,000 settlers arrived on the shores of Shelburne Harbour from New York and the Middle Colonies of the Thirteen Colonies. These settlers were Loyalists (referred to later in Canada as United Empire Loyalists), Americans who had opposed the Revolution and remained loyal to Britain . Opposition to the Revolution, as well as promises of free land. tools, and provisions lured many to British North America at that time. Four hundred families associated to form a town at Port Roseway, which Governor Parr renamed Shelburne later that year, after Lord Shelburne, who was the British prime minister. This group was led by the Port Roseway Associates, who had formed while still in New York and petitioned Governor Parr for the land. The Black Loyalists. who settled at the same time. were allotted land on the northwest arm of Shelburne Harbour . Despite not receiving land or provisions as promised for their loyalty to the British crown, they founded the largest free black settlement In North America, called Birchtown, in honour of General Birch.

Birchtown was the site of Canada 's first Free Black Community and quickly became the largest settlement of free blacks outside of Africa. The Black Loyalists made up roughly ten percent of the influx of new settlers into Nova Scotia ; however they faced extreme hardships in their new homeland. They were confronted with every day pioneer hardships as well as racial discrimination and economic inequity.

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In the fall of 1783, a second wave of settlers arrived In Shelburne. By 1784, the population of this new community is estimated to have been at least 10.000, making it the fourth largest city in North America . However, the initial prosperity was short-lived as a lack of agricultural land, poor inland transportation links and lack of some necessary skills for settlement, soon curtailed economic growth. The population fell sharply by the 1790s, leaving many abandoned buildings. However, the remaining residents gradually developed the harbour potential as a fishing and shipbuilding centre.

Later settlers Included Scottish and Irish immigrants. In June 1818. Welsh settlers arrived from Carmarthenshlre and Cardiganshire in Wales , and founded the Welsh settlement In Canada. They settled on the west side of the Roseway River , in a community they called New Cambria that was later named Welshtown.

Although much smaller today, Shelburne remains the capital of the county which bears Its name. It was Incorporated as a town on April 4, 1907 . The population in 2007 was 2013. Many descendants of the original Loyalists still live in the area today.

Shipbuilding is a historically-significant industry. The first vessel launched at Shelbume was the 181-ton Roseway, built for MacLean and Bogle in 1786. Commissary Island , now a peninsula, was the area from which supplies of fiour, pork, and salt were dispensed to the Loyalists by the Commissary General, Mr. Brinley. Later, this area became the shipyard of Joseph McGill. The Cox family also built their own ships and conducted extensive international trade. The former MacKay shipyard was located in Shelbume at Black's Brook. Donald McKay, famous in the United States for the clippers which he built at Boston , began his shipbuilding career in Shelbume. He was born at Jordan Falls in 1810, and left the area at the age of 16 to apprentice in New York . A celebration of his 200th year is planned for 2010.

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Fishing remains a primary industry today. Other economic activities include logging, fish processing, and the manufacture of barrels, institutional furniture, granite monuments, and marine suppliers.

Many of Shelbume's buildings date back to Loyalist times. The Shelburne County Museum is' a restored home built in 1787 by David Nairn, a cooper from Scotland . The present day Christ Church (Anglican) is on the site of the original building of the same name which was designed by Loyalist Isaac Hildreth, and consecrated by Bishop Charles Inglis in 1790. The original struclure was destroyed by fire in 1971. Tottie's Store is thought to have been built by John Tottie about the year 1800.

 Visitors can see dories being built using construction methods of the late 19th century at the J C Williams Dory Shop. This was officially opened in 1983 by Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Ross-Thomson House and store is an authentically-stocked 18th century slore and chandlery. By June of 1785, brothers George and Robert Ross, natives of Aberdeen , Scotland . conducted their business from here. The Ross brothers traded Shelburne's pine planks. codfish. ship's knees. spars, and pickled herring for salt from Turks Island , tobacco from the Carolinas and Virginia , flour from New England . rum, molasses, and sugar from the West Indies . dry goods and china from England , and wine from Madiera. Robert Thomson, the Ross brothers' clerk and accountant, was from Aberdeen as well. The store was closed in the 1880s with the death of Robert Ross Thomson. son of the elder Robert Thomson. In 1931. Professor K. G. T. Websler of Harvard University , native of Yarmouth , purchased the house to save it from demolition.

The present weekly newspaper. The Coast Guard, is published at the same intersection where newspapers had been published as early as 1784, including the General Advertiser, the Port Roseway Gazetteer and Shelburne Advertiser, and the Royal American Gazette.

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Map of Shelburne - click on map for large version

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Film production in Shelburne...

The area is well-known among filmmakers as an ideal spot to make movies. It is especially attractive to directors and producers who want a pristine, realistic setting for 17th and 18th century features. Some of the films which have been shot here include:

  • Moby Dick (2009): Starring William Hurt, Gillian Anderson Ethan Hawke and Donald Sutherland. The town portrayed both New Bedford and Nantucket, Massachusetts.

  • Mary Silliman's War(1992):Based on a true story depicting Fairfield , Connecticut during the American Revolution. 

  • The Scarlet Letter (1994). based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel depicting Puritan New England in the mid 1600s. Some of the buildings on Dock Street still retain the grey-tone paint finishes used for the film.

  • Virginia's Run (2001)

  • Wilby Wonderful (2002)

  • Eternal Kiss (2008)

  • NBC Today Show (2008)

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