HANTS HISTORY: The Military Landscapes of Lower Selma and Maitland

Community Online First

Holly Hanes is a Master’s in history student at Dalhousie University, studying the Moir’s chocolate factory and its advertisements. This paper is modified from a course taken by Dr. Ruth Bleasdale at Dalhousie University in 2018.

The Bay of Fundy is often what we think of when it comes to transportation in historic East Hants. The Bay provided a means for those busy travellers flocking to and from the area by vessel, as times progressed, transportation methods changed, and the purposes for our landscapes changed with them. This piece will look at two prominent military establishments, during World War II, right here in East Hants, and the roles they played in understanding the landscapes.

Prior to 1900, there was a navigation pole on Salter’s Head to guide ships. This was in operation in the 1880’s. When war broke out in 1939, East Hants men and women enlisted in strong numbers. Those left behind on the home front also played their part, educating children, rationing and supporting the troops anyway they knew how. Military landscapes sprung up in the backyards of some in East Hants. One of these locations is currently Anthony’s Park in Selma, formerly the Anthony shipyard. Historian and community member, Betty O’Toole has written extensively on the subject due to her close family connection to one of the original owners. In one of O’Toole’s books on the park she comments, “[d]uring the war years (1939 – 45) this park land was utilized as the location for a very secretive, experimental operation, carried on by scientists working with the Naval Observation Laboratory, a scientific arm of the United States Bureau of Ordnance.” This base involved testing the denotator for the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Japan in 1945. The tide became the essential reason this location was chosen, as the bombs could be dropped from the planes at high tide, and then at low tide (when the Bay was empty) the bombs were able to be collected to retrieve the needed data. In rumors and side notes that even include German spies that were detected in Selma, the landscape was essential to this testing. The building was destroyed days before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The park was declared a provincial park in 1974.

The next military landscape is farther up the road closer to Maitland. Known as the Maitland Air Base to many still today, it was essential to war time transportation. Planes dropping the test bombs could have flown out of this small air strip or from the large airport in Debert, outside of Truro. The Maitland Air Base was specifically constructed for World War II. On the edge of Salter’s Head there was a very level landscape, this became the ideal location for a harness racing track and later a drag strip, this was all the remains of a previous military air strip from the 1940s. Many youngsters remember the track, as it was opened (on and off) for several decades. Because of its landscape, it was purchased in 1988 and has now been utilized as sod farm for Elmsdale Landscaping. The image below shows an image from The Weekly Press in 1987, showing the land when it was in use as a drag strip.

The importance of the landscape is essential to understanding the uses of government and military strategy. The commercial usages that came after are equally as connected to the landscapes. The people that operated in these landscapes were inherently connected, and in East Hants I argue we still are very connected to the landscapes we occupy. Even as young people leave the communities, we always find our way back to this place, which is not just a place, but a home.