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Haunted Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

The Ghosts of McNab's Island

Welcome back to another weird Wednesday! I’m enjoying researching haunted locations across the world and have some really great stories, legends, and lore on the docket for our time together. As it turns out, there are many spooky stories that originate in my little province of Nova Scotia, so I will be intertwining my local legends throughout my posts.


Today’s Haunted Location brings us to McNab’s Island in the mouth of the Halifax Harbour.


As a teenager, I worked summers selling tour boat tickets to tourists, and locals who were interested in whale watching, deep sea fishing, and tall ship harbour tours. The company I worked for also provided Peggy’s cove tours and a water taxi service to McNabb’s Island. If it was a nice day and I was off work, I would often join the captain of the McNabb’s water taxi and go along for the ride to drop off and pick up passengers who had braved a visit to the island.


The ultra-brave would pack their camping gear and take the taxi out to the island, knowing there would be no way home until the boat returned at 8am to pick them back up. On the mornings I would accompany the captain to pick up the overnight guests, they would always board the ship hurriedly, grateful to be off the island. I heard first-hand accounts of people experiencing the oppressing feeling of being watched. Of feeling isolated but not alone. One man told me he swears he saw a man standing outside his tent, but when he opened the flap to investigate, there was no one there.


There have been many accounts of people seeing the ghost of a man, or a ghostly horse and carriage. The lighthouse keeper claims to have woken up one night to the ghost of his mother by the side of his bed. He claims that she grabbed his arms and tried to pull him!


The island itself has a tortured, and gruesome history.


In the 1780s Maugher Beach was used as a military gibbet. Delinquent soldiers were brought there to be executed at the gallows, their bodies left to hang as a warning to other soldiers not to consider mutiny or desertion.


In 1866 an English steamship, the S.S. England was ordered to anchor off the mainland, in the cove of Mcnab’s island because the ship’s crew and passengers had been overtaken by a cholera outbreak. It was a nasty business, and they were confined to the ship and island until it passed.


It was detailed in Dr. John Slayter’s report that the illness was fast and brutal. The body would purge through diarrhea and vomiting and withing 12 hours a person could be dead. Their hands and feet would turn purple, and if they did not recover, they would eventually die from collapse.


Over 800 infected or assumed cholera carriers were left on the island to wander about. There were tents set up and passengers and crew who had friends grouped together to monopolize the food that was delivered intermittently from the mainland. The strong would prevail and the weak were left to die of starvation, if the cholera didn’t take them first.


No official documentation was kept but it is estimated that approximately 200 bodies were buried in two mass graves on the island. The bodies that were buried at Little Thrum Cap have since washed out to sea but the unmarked graves at Hugonin Point are still there, concealed by underbrush.


Peter McNab settled on the island in the 1780s and his decedents resided there up until 1935. He was alive and living when Maugher’s Beach was home to the gibbets and there is an account that he was often annoyed in the night, finding himself unable to sleep. The cause of his annoyance was the sound of the chains, holding up the tarred corpses in the gallows, clanging so loudly they could be heard across the island. One night he was so angered by this constant clanging that, he and a group of men went to the site of the gibbets and tore down the corpses and gallows with their bare hands.


Since the island became abandoned sometime in the 1950s, nature has been working to reclaim it. The old forts that had been built to guard the mouth of the harbour are in a state of decay, and cannons sunk into the earth and rusted. The greenery has begun to cover many of the crumbling military structures as well as the abandoned Victorian houses that used to home settlers.


In 1906 A.J. Davis bought an old fair ground that was set up on the island but did not attract enough attendees to be profitable. He tried to revamp it by rebuilding the merry go round and adding more games, but it still failed. He built a soda factory in a barn near the house and by 1908 he was producing flavourful carbonated beverages in glass bottles. He made a special brew called “Pure McNabs” that was produced in neat ceramic bottles. He supplied people who would frequent the fairgrounds, and attended parties that he threw at his dance hall until he eventually stopped in 1915. Despite his efforts to revitalize the fairground it never took off. In 1919 the bottle storage cottage burnt down entombing hundreds of glass and ceramic bottles. Bootleggers used the old plant to run moonshine during the years of prohibition in the 1920s and in more recent years, bottle collectors would go digging for these vintage bottles.


In 1965 Thomas H. Raddall published a historical fiction novel called Hangman’s Beach. Where he tells a fictional tale of Peter McNab and his family living near the gibbets and how they had to learn to ignore the depraved atrocities happening right next door. It was hard to disregard the hanging corpses and stench of decay, but they did their best to avoid the beach. If you like historical horror I suggest giving this story a try!


And, as always, if you chose to visit McNab’s island, on a guided tour, or on your own, remember the rules:




RESPECT THE RESIDENTS (mostly snakes! And you better hope that any human you run into is a visitor like yourself, because whoever still resides on McNab’s Island is, most assuredly, dead).






The Friends of McNab’s Island Society:



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