11 SURPRISING FIRSTS THAT HAPPENED IN THE MARITIMES
The number of ‘firsts’ that happened in Maritime Canada could fill an entire encyclopedia. From Canada’s first rum distillery in 1751, to the raw excitement of the first airplane flight in 1909, we can take pride (except maybe for the first divorce) in knowing that these important firsts happened here in the Maritimes.
- 1.First divorce in CanadaIn 1750, Canada’s first official divorce was granted in Halifax. Lieutenant William Williams was granted an annulment with permission to re-marry and his ex-wife, Amy Williams, was found guilty by the all-male court, banished from Nova Scotia, and forbidden to re-marry so long as her ex-husband was living.
- 2.First rum distillery in CanadaJoshua Mauger started the first rum distillery in Canada on the Halifax waterfront in 1751. Located near the naval dockyard, his operations produced 50,000 gallons of rum per year, shipping to large outposts near Amherst and Windsor.
- 3.First black NHL playerWillie O’Ree of Fredericton, N.B. became the first black NHL player when he made his debut with the Boston Bruins in 1958. He played 47 games in the NHL, though he was blind in one eye. In 2010, he received the Order of Canada.
- 4.First post office in CanadaBenjamin Leigh started the first postal service in Canada in April 1754 out of his home on Spring Garden Rd. in Halifax. For one penny per letter, Leigh would personally deliver the wax-sealed envelopes to the first ship leaving for whichever port the letter was destined.
- 5.First car accident in CanadaIn 1866, Father Belcourt of South Rustico, P.E.I. had a steam-powered car shipped over from the U.S., becoming the first Islander to have a car. On June 24, while Father Belcourt was showing off the vehicle at a parish picnic, he went off the road, crashed through a fence and rolled his new ride.
- 6.First airplane flight in CanadaJ. A. D. McCurdy took off in his “flying machine” in Baddeck Bay on February 23, 1909. The Silver Dart, built by Alexander Graham Bell and his crew, flew 0.8 kilometres over the solid ice, narrowly missing two girls playing on the ice upon his landing.
- 7.First newspaper in CanadaThe Halifax Gazette began its weekly publishing on March 23, 1752. One-quarter of each paper was local news, the rest, advertising and British and American news. The Gazette’s newsroom was located on Grafton Street near Duke.
- 8.First bible in CanadaIn the early 1830s, publisher John Henry White came to Halifax in hopes of starting a rival newspaper. He printed the first authorized version of the Bible in Canada in Charlottetown and in Halifax, advertising it in his weekly paper. He even offered to exchange copies for grain as payment.
- 9.First Miss CanadaWinnifred Blair of Saint John, N.B. was crowned Miss Canada in February 1923 at the first Miss Canada pageant in Montreal. When she arrived home by train, thousands of cheering locals awaited her and paraded her around the Saint John streets.
- 10.First regular saltwater ferry service in North AmericaThe Halifax-Dartmouth ferry was put in place in 1752 to move people and supplies across the harbour from a sawmill in Dartmouth. The first charter was given to John Conner. The original vessel was a large rowboat with a sail and people would simply walk down to the harbour and ask to be taken across.
- 11.First lighthouse in CanadaCanada’s first lighthouse was built in Louisbourg in 1734. Cod liver oil fueled the light that could be seen 18 nautical miles away, but it was too hot and burned down just two years after it was built, only to then become the first fireproof building in North America.