Ann McVicor is a treasure trove of knowledge. For the chair of the Fort Sackville Foundation, her muse is the site of Scott Manor House and story that surrounds it.
“The history that is here is incredible,” McVicor says.
McVicor recently took me on a tour of Scott Manor House just as the now-museum was being prepped for its annual book sale. While the house is not yet ready for summer visitors, (it will be open in July and August), it already is home to many treasures that will be on display when visitors walk through the doors.
The house, the only full two and a half storey, gambrel-roofed colonial structure in Nova Scotia, was built around 1770 as the residence for Joseph Scott, an Irishman who arrived in Halifax in 1749 on one of the ships in the fleet led by Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis. The house is next to what remains of Fort Sackville, a military outpost built next to the Pisiquid Road, a drive road that was used by the Acadians to transport goods into the interior of the province and the Fortress of Louisbourg. While the outpost is long gone, the remains of the barracks remain. Many of the artifacts from the fort are on display inside the house.
During its early years, the house was visited by Richard Uniacke, a lawyer and politician, who also served as the province’s attorney general in the late 1700s, as well as Prince Edward, Duke of Kent.
The house served as a private residence until 1992. It is now owned by the HRM under a lease with the Foundation. While the HRM is responsible for security, heats, insurance and lights, the Foundation, all volunteer members, take care of the rest.
On the walls throughout the house are paintings and photos showing Bedford of the past. There are paintings of the log runs that took place in Moirs Mill and into Bedford Basin. More recent photos include buildings along the Bedford Highway that were long ago torn down when the highway was widened. Some of the photos are far more modern, including photos on the second floor of the former Bedford Town Council. In the foyer, is a large mirror with a golden-coloured frame that was recently restored by volunteer Valerie Ivy, who worked on the project this past winter. The origins of the mirror aren’t known, although McVicar says it may have come from Hantsport and once hung on a wall at Churchill House in that valley town.
The house was originally heated by nine fireplaces, each of which, according to MacVicar, has a piece of wood in its design. A new furnace in the cellar now heats the space.
The home’s foundations are all original, and have managed to withstand changes over the years, including the Halifax Explosion and the Bedford Magazine Explosions of the 1940s.
Meanwhile, on the third floor, many of the home’s original beams and floorboards are intact.
MacVicar is one of about 145 volunteers who keep Scott Manor House and the Fort Sackville Foundation running. Their work covers all aspects of the functions here, including making oatcakes to be served in the tearoom to archiving and researching materials on the house’s history.
Three university students were just recently hired to work at the house for the summer. The trio will help guide tours of the home, but they will also do research that will add to the current archives.
Ken Dodsworth has been volunteering with Scott Manor House and the Fort Sackville Foundation since he retired in 1997. While he’s filled many roles during his time there, including as the foundation’s vice-chair, he now currently dedicates all of his time gathering, archiving and digitizing historical photos of the house and surrounding areas.
All of the photos Dodsworth has been gathering will eventually go into a database that will be shared on NovaMuse, an online collection of collections from community museums around Nova Scotia. Users of the site will be able to access old photos of Scott Manor House via their own computers. It’s a long way from microfilm.
“It’s going to be a huge resource in the end,” Dodsworth says.
Dodsworth has favourites amongst the photos that he’s collected, notably those printed on copper or glass etchings that predate the Halifax Explosion.
Dodsworth’s work can have a big impact and help people connect with the past. He often works with families who find photos of ancestors in the photos he’s digitizing. “That aspect of it is rewarding,” Dodsworth says. “Being able to preserve photos so families can learn about their heritage.”
The Fort Sackville Foundation also operates the Fort Sackville Press, producing brochures and monographs recording local history. A portion of the second floor is where these records are stored, all available for public access. The press is funded by donations given by the later Marion and George Christie, who McVicar calls “prime historians in the community.”
Still in another area of the second floor are binders filled with newspaper clippings of everything from news and obituaries related to Bedford. It’s a rich trove of history.
This summer, the volunteers are working on a unique project; they are planting lilac trees on the side of the home in memory of Gwen Tolson Calder, one of the last residents of the home. Ms. Tolson’s parents bought Scott Manor House in the 1950s, and spent considerable time and money restoring the house. The young Ms. Tolson loved playing amongst the lilac trees in the side yard. When Ms. Tolson passed away, she left $20,000 of her estate to Scott Manor House, with “no strings attached” instructions on how it should be used. This year, MacVicar says they are using part of that money to plant new lilacs in memory of Tolson.
For a history buff like McVicar, the house is full of interesting artifacts that are a boundless source of information. But McVicar’s favourite part of the history of the house could be considered a bit morbid.
“I like the fact that Joseph Scott died in this house and he was buried in his field,” McVicar says. But the location of his remains was a mystery for quite some time, she adds. His grave was eventually discovered by the late Norman Fenerty, who, after considerable research, found Scott’s last resting place, which is marked by a stone that resembles a tooth.
Over the years, the land of the Scott Manor House estate was divided and subdivided, donated to schools and graveyards. But the house and some gardens, and soon to be lilac trees, remain as a memory of the Bedford’s beginnings.
And that’s the one simple reason McVicar loves volunteering here: “I love my community.”