Lawlor Island

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Coordinates: 44°36′N 63°30′W / 44.600°N 63.500°W / 44.600; -63.500 Lawlor Island or Lawlor's Island is a small island near the mouth of Halifax Harbour in Nova Scotia, Canada. Measuring approximately 55 hectares (136 acres), it is located opposite MacCormacks Beach in Eastern Passage and McNabs Island in the Halifax Regional Municipality. The island is undeveloped woodland and the protected home of deer and osprey.


The Mi'kmaq people were the island's first inhabitants. On September 30, 1750, Captain Thomas Bloss was granted an island in Halifax Harbour which later bore his name. Bloss Island was one of many names used for the island until the late 19th century, when it became widely known as Lawlor Island. In 1758, the island bore the name Webb's Island. In 1792, it was referred to as Carroll's Island. In 1821, James Lawlor, into whose hands the island had passed, offered a reward for the conviction of persons who had stolen his sheep from the island. In this notice the island is referred to as McNamara's Island. Thomas Chandler Haliburton, in 1829, refers to the island as Duggan's Island. Shortly afterwards the island was referred to as Warren's Island.

Captain John Taylor Wood[edit]

In 1864, during the American Civil War, on the breakwater side of Lawlor's island, adjacent to Eastern Passage, there occurred the successful breakout of the CSS Tallahassee, a blockade runner piloted by Captain John Taylor Wood from the Confederate States of America and local harbour navigator Jock Flemming under cover of darkness during the early morning hours, using candles for lighting. The rebel naval twin screw escaped past the two Union ships that were waiting for them at the mouth of Halifax Harbour. At the time, the Province of Nova Scotia was neutral territory, and the blockade was a controversial issue involving the United Kingdom and the Union government.

Quarantine station[edit]

In 1866, after a fatal outbreak of cholera on McNabs Island, the Dominion Council of Canada purchased Lawlor's Island for use as a quarantine station.[dubious ] At first, the government had difficulty in finding the island's owner. Many local residents (most on the Eastern Passage side) protested against the idea of having infectious disease so close to their homes; some were concerned about germs that would blow across the fields and water into their homes. Many port officials and doctors also protested against the idea, being concerned that Lawlor's Island had no natural springs or fresh water, and also that the flow of ice during the winter would create difficulties in bringing boats in. An early quarantine officer was Dr William Wickwire, who assumed responsibility for quarantine duties after the indefinite suspension of Dr Gossip for incompetence. Dr Norman McKay took control of these duties soon afterwards. By 1900, officials had the island fitted with a deep-water wharf, a shallow-water wharf (on the Eastern Passage side), two hospitals and a convalescent building, a disinfection autoclave, baths with needle showers[clarification needed], a bacteria diagnosis laboratory, a first, second and third-class detention hall, an ambulance building, many residences and staff housing; also, the building that was referred to as "the long shed" or "German Hospital" on McNabs Island was taken down and reassembled on the west side of the island.

The buildings were not winterized, but by 1908 a winterized hospital and power plant had been built. Not long after World War I, a submarine cable was installed from Eastern Passage, receiving power from Dartmouth and on the highest point of land, right next to a frost-proof cement cistern built 20 years prior, a 360,000-litre (80,000 imperial gallon) water tower was erected, thus solving the problem of a steady flow of fresh water on the island.

With advances in medical science, the discovery of penicillin and vaccination programs, major infectious diseases were now a much reduced threat to public health, and the emergency use of Lawlor's Island as a quarantine station was falling rapidly. During the 1920s and 1930s, the cost of salaries, supplies, and services outweighed the benefits of quarantining minor infectious diseases on Lawlor's Island. Costs included telephone charges, uniforms and large quantities of drugs and medical supplies. Following the Paris International Sanitary Convention of 1926, the Canadian deputy minister of health decided that it would cease to house quarantine patients in May 1938.

The island was purchased by the Canadian government for use as a medical station during the Second World War, to treat venereal diseases brought back by servicemen from Europe. Today it is part of the McNabs Island Provincial Park Reserve.


Sergei Tolstoy, the eldest son of author Leo Tolstoy, arrived in Halifax on the SS Lake Superior from Russia with 2000 others in 1899. They called themselves Doukhobors, spirit wrestlers, a pacifist community that had been exiled by Tsarist autocracy. They complied with instructions to hoist a yellow quarantine flag after being granted pratique. The vessel was then directed to the deep water wharf at the north west end of the island. Tolstoy acted on their behalf and direct instructions[clarification needed] from Dr Frederick Montizambert on leave from Grosse Île quarantine station during this time. Their stay lasted three weeks. Accommodation was limited, and the Doukhobors found where hired contractors were building a new detention centre. Probably encouraged by the high wages being paid, the new residents from Russia built a two-storey annex needed for a new detention centre for third class patients. Although Count Tolstoy and island official Guy Carlton Jones had differences, in his memoirs Sergei had compared the land and vegetation to that of Siberia and found the small island and Halifax a comfortable brief stay.

Local Haligonians had found these Doukhobors quite special in their enlightenment[clarification needed] and enjoyed the churek[clarification needed] that the women baked in the cookhouse. The first Doukhobor birth in Canada occurred during this stay on Lawlor's Island.


An unexplained issue on Lawlor's Island is the fact that there have been a vast number of deaths due to cholera, smallpox and German measles. Although there are only eight grave markers on the northern tip, archival records of Harwood Cemetery seem almost non-existent as there are no landmarks or map legends for these missing graves.[1]


Lawlor's Island was not part of Halifax Harbour's cultural significance of song, happiness or "Bluenose Ghosts" that islands nearby had. Public access to the island was prohibited by the federal government during the quarantine days. Lawlor's Island is uninhabited and has been deserted since the last family of caretakers left during the 1950s. They left extensive stonewall foundations, powerline poles, abandoned wells and the primitive piping that delivered seawater from the now roofless cistern. Although rusted and weathered the ample double steel walled autoclave and boiler that disinfected patients; clothing and luggage with high pressure steam, remains on the northwest shore, next to where the docking pier once stood, near the foundations of the bath house and administration shed.

Sources and links[edit]


  1. ^ Quarantine,what is Old is New.