Activities and experiences

Canso Islands National Historic Site

Canso Island's National Historic site brings history to life with its engaging visitor centre and self-guided trails on Grassy Island, an Atlantic island which harbours secrets over 300 years old.

Discover the wartime history and prosperous trade of 18th century Atlantic pioneers

An engaging visitor centre sets the stage for discovery. An Atlantic island harbours secrets 300 years old. And the remains of a stone fortress stand stoic against time. Canso Islands brings history to life.

Begin your discovery at Canso Islands' visitor centre, viewing full-scale dioramas of 18th-century life and an enlightening short film. On Grassy Island, a self-guided trail leads through an area once renowned for military importance and productive fisheries. Bustling during the 1700s, Grassy Island now holds the authentic remains of wealthy merchants’ homes, fishmonger stations where processing tables are still on-hand and juxtaposes a location where the comfortable house of a garrison commander once sat above the waterlogged barracks of enlisted men. On site, artefacts like a musket, powder magazine, earthenware, clay tobacco pipes, a hearth used to brew beer and the glassware it was consumed in and so much more will guide you through the 1700s. Finally, visit at the bombarded ruins of Fort William Augustus, casualty of the battles between British and French troops as they vied for control of the continent.

  • Watch the nine-minute video, Grassy Island: The Forgotten Settlement, for an introduction to the island's history.

  • See a scale model of the island before the attack and life-size dioramas of an officer's study, a tavern and a merchant's parlour.

  • Learn about individuals and families who lived here in 1743.

  • View an excellent display of 18th-century artifacts from Atlantic Canada.

  • Try to find items represented in the dioramas.

The site consists of two separate sections: a visitor centre on the Canso waterfront and an interpretive trail on Grassy Island, 15 minutes away by boat. Allow half an hour to view the video and see the exhibits in the visitor centre. Allow an hour to take the boat trip and visit the island, but first call ahead (902-366-3136) to ensure ferrying services are available.

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