Stags Point

by protectyourlove

Early Map of Halifax, by Moses Harris,  1749 (Courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives, Halifax, NS)

Early Map of Halifax, by Moses Harris, 1749 (Courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives, Halifax, NS)

On the two Moses Harris Maps of 1749 (previously mentioned), there is a point of land across from the Halifax Peninsula on the Dartmouth shore, called Stags Point. Perhaps this references the animals of the deer family that used to be common within the city limits.

As the walls of the new city were erected, the hooves of moose and caribou would have silently passed through the forest away from the construction. By the early 19th century, the land in and around the city had been completely cleared for farming and settlement, thus quickly exiling its hoofed mammals and other animals from the peninsula. Following their departure, Haligonians interacted with this wildlife via the sport hunt.

Etching with watercolor, drawn from the moose at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, 2013.

Etching with watercolor, drawn from the moose specimen at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, 2013.

Moose and caribou, though once plentiful, were hunted aggressively by settlers. Meanwhile, by the mid 19th century, much of their major habitat was lost to settlement and agriculture. Simultaneously, as people became more numerous, forest fires became more frequent, killing huge expanses of the lichens that the caribou relied on. And so, as indicated by Halifax naturalists Campbell Hardy and J. W. Duvar, these animals were on the decline. They discuss moose, caribou, and also the wolf in these passages:

The Cariboo (Cervus tarandus)…is so seldom met with now in Nova Scotia, that it may be considered on the verge of extinction in that province. (Hardy, 1855)

…Of the wolf we have but a rare visitor from the adjoining province of New Brunswick— and he, gaunt, solitary, and cowardly. Our hunters always know where to find a bear or a loup-cervier (vulgar: “lucifee”). Moose and caribou, if let alone, and especially if the Legislature would prohibit their being hunted for the next four years, would largely increase… (Duvar, 1867)

-Donald Dodds, Challenge and Response: A History of Wildlife and Wildlife Management in Nova Scotia. (Nova Scotia: Province of Nova Scotia, Department of Natural Resources, 1993) 29.

And so, laws were put into place to protect moose and caribou, as well as other wildlife deemed “useful”. As Donald Dodds outlines in his book Challenge and Response,  1856 saw the first closed season for moose hunting. The moose season was also closed between 1874 and 1877. In 1894, hunters were not permitted to claim moose or caribou for a three-year period. The beaver, otter, and other animals valued for their fur were also protected in a closed season in 1862. The beaver, who’s colonies around Halifax had been almost entirely wiped out from the fur trade, were protected again in 1874 (for a three-year closed season), and again in 1894.

A shift is evident here among the early Haligonians and Nova Scotians of European descent— it seems they are aware for this first time of the fragility of this ecosystem, propelling a budding desire to protect certain animals. Nevertheless, this comprehension was reserved for those species that could be considered game, or materially beneficial to the colony. Alongside new protection laws, there were bounties placed on predatory species such as the wolf, the lynx, the cougar, and the fox. The wolf is now extinct in Nova Scotia. The cougar and the lynx are now rare, but they protected from hunters by law. Actually, there have been no confirmed sighting of the cougar in recent years, and it is unclear whether or not it still resides in this province.


Photograph of dead Rangifer tarandus caribou (Kerr), Woodland Caribou. September 23, 1912. Courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives.

With an evident loss of caribou and moose, the province decided to introduce the white-tailed deer as a replacement for hunters. Distributed across the province, some of these were released near Halifax, and several may have come from the grounds of the naturalist and ornithologist Andrew Downs (1811— 1892), who bred them in captivity in Dutch Village. His property lay near where the Armdale Rotary sits today.

In fact, Downs was a celebrated naturalist and master taxidermist. His work won medals in world fairs such as the London Exhibition (1851 & 1862), the Dublin Exhibition (1865), and the Paris Exhibition (1867). Halifax’s wildlife was being showcased throughout the old world. Over the course of his life, Downs estimated that he mounted over eight hundred moose heads. He prepared and delivered live and stuffed specimens to sovereigns, museums, and zoological gardens throughout Europe. Thus, Halifax’s nearby wildlife found itself taken dead or alive and transported across land and ocean to rest in new habitats. At the time of his death, Downs was considered the best naturalist the province had ever had.

Unfortunately, the attempts to introduce white-tailed deer to the province had disastrous affects on the moose and caribou populations, as they spread disease (deer nematode) which attacked the brains of the animals in the already weakening herds. Moose did not perish entirely, although their numbers are greatly reduced. Caribou are now extinct in Nova Scotia.

Courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives, Halifax, NS

Courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives, Halifax, NS. This image was taken in the Notman photo studio, in Halifax. There is no date for this image, but the studio operated in the city between 1869 to 1920. Although I am not sure who mounted this moose head, it is a reminder that Haligonians were conscious of the wilderness in their province- hundreds of such examples of taxidermy would have adorned the homes of city dwellers. In a way, even when the wildlife left the city limits, citizens found a way to bring it back and to continue living alongside it.

The twentieth century seemed to bring with it a broader sense for new settlers of the interconnectedness of ecosystems and their animals. Such is evident in this film about the beaver, created  and produced by Alexander Leighton of Digby County, viewable on the NS archives website:

Although this was filmed in Digby, the footage now lies tucked away in rows of shelving at the archives, on the corner of Robie Street and University Avenue. Like Downs’ specimens, so too have these beavers traveled.