A Brief History

oldtownhallAntigonish is a Mi'kmaq name and, depending upon whom you ask, has two quite distinct meanings: 
1. The place where the branches are torn off by bears gathering beechnuts. 
2. Meeting place of five forked rivers. (West River, South River, Brierly Brook, Wright's River, and east Wright's River).

2500 Years Ago 
Algonkian speaking members of an Eastern sub-Arctic culture group known as Mi'kmaqs arrived and occupied shores around present day St.Georges Bay (Tracadie & Pomquet). The moose hunt was a major enterprise for it was a high yield operation.

The first Whiddens arrive in America. A descendant, Simeon, will have children in Truro. These children eventually settle in Antigonish, establishing a leading family in the town.

The French arrived but were driven off by the Mi'kmaq. The Mi'kmaq, a branch of the wandering Algonquin race, once were scattered over New England and much of Atlantic Canada. The territory occupied by the Mi'kmaqs was called “Miggumahgee”, or the country of the Mi'kmaq.

A Jesuit chapel, built by the Mi'kmaq, was erected near Antigonish.

The Acadian French began to settle the east end of Antigonish County. The largest centres of Acadian population in the county became Pomquet, Tracadie, and Havre Boucher.

Thousands of Scots were forced to flee the oppressive Highland Clearance in West Scotland. Many settled along the Northeastern coast of Nova Scotia, particularly Pictou County. Soon these original settlers moved east and south to establish farms throughout the region. One such settlement was in the village of St.Andrew’s.

Angus MacDonald receives an allotment of land in Merigomish for having served the crown in the regiment of Glenalladale. After wandering in PEI he crosses the mainland to a spot which resembles his home in Scotland and calls it Arisaig. He returns to Merigomish but gives Arisaig to his brother John Dan Gillies.

After the American Revolution, 3000 free black citizens enter Nova Scotia. Some of them settle in Tracadie, Antigonish County.

The Irish Loyalists, led by Captain Timothy Hierlihy took up a large land grant surrounding Antigonish Harbour and founded what they first called Georgetown, then Dorchester, and finally Antigonish. To Hierlihy and his shipload of hopefuls, we attribute the establishment of the first settlement in the area called Town Point.

Zephaniah Williams employed a native, Joe Snake, to guide him by the shortest route from William's Point to the base of Brown’s Mountain. They blazed trees along the route, and it soon became a guide for travelers. Clearings were made and today we boast a winding Main Street.

Presbyterian minister Reverend James Munro visited Dorchester.

Nathaniel Symonds, James Miller and John Chisholm, donate an acre of land on the southeast corner of Main and Church Streets for a church, schoolhouse, and burying ground.

The first Presbyterian Church was erected with Reverend James Munro as pastor. His memory is honored to this day in the name of St. James United Church on Main Street.

Strong evidence suggests that the first Anglican Bishop in Canada, Bishop Charles Inglis, visited the Anglican community at Dorchester.

Catholic Bishop J.O. Plessis of Quebec visited the church at Dorchester. The chapel and parish are named St. Ninian’s.

Bishop Plessis appoints Fr. Remi Gavlin the first resident pastor of the St. Ninian's parish mission in Dorchester.

Weekly mail service was extended to Dorchester by way of Pictou.

The Baptist Church is organized by Reverend David Nutter. Deacon John B. Whidden built the church. 
By the end of this decade, Antigonish, the native name of the area, was being used more frequently.

The Church of England completed its house of worship at Dorchester near Town Point. This structure was used until 1864.

The first incumbent Anglican priest arrived in Dorchester.

There is a network of roads established, thus taking the focus off Town Point. The focus was now on commerce and communication.

The Anglican Church acquired its present-day site on Church Street. A burying ground is established. The church was built later.

Fr. Colin MacKinnon opened St. Andrew’s Grammar School

Antigonish experienced drought.

Fr. Colin MacKinnon revealed in his first pastoral letter his intention to establish a diocesan seminar.

The Casket newspaper began publication under publisher John Boyd. Its motto: Liberty: choicest gem of the Old World and fairest gem of the new.

In May, Fr. MacKinnon received a contribution of 20,000 francs for diocesan needs from the president of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Paris. MacKinnon immediately started the seminary in Arichat, Cape Breton. Even in 1853 the Bishop planned to move the school to Antigonish.

Antigonish held its first Highland Games and St. James United Church was built.

The first Provincial Legislature Member for Antigonish was W.A. Henry (1863-67).

The County of Sydney is renamed the County of Antigonish.

Legislature in Nova Scotia passes "an act to enable the College of St. Francis Xavier, at Antigonish to confer degrees."

First Member of Parliament for Antigonish was Hugh MacDonald (1867-74).

The census revealed 140,694 inhabitants of Northeastern Nova Scotia (Antigonish, Pictou, Guysborough and Cape Breton).

On Christmas Day, the Baptists formally opened a new church at a cost of $3,380.

Archbishop MacKinnon died, and is buried in the vault beneath the high altar in the cathedral.

Railway service opened between New Glasgow and Antigonish.

On December 29, a Catholic newspaper called "The Aurora" began publication. It ran until May 1885.

Congregation de Notre Dame arrived in Antigonish and established St. Bernard’s Convent and Academy. It opened in 1883 and held its first formal graduation in 1886.

The telephone exchange was installed in Antigonish.

Antigonish was incorporated as a town. At that point the population of the area was an incredible 20,000 (town and county combined). Today many descendants of these original settlers, as well as members of other ethnic groups, continue to reside in Antigonish area. The first mayor was Leonard C. Archibald.

Electric lights were introduced on a small scale. In 1893 the electric plant increased its capacity.

St. Francis Xavier College granted its first Master of Arts degree. A.J.G MacEachern was the recipient.

Mount Saint Bernard opened a collegiate course in affiliation with St.F.X.

St.F.X. established the first engineering department in Nova Scotia.

New train station was constructed.

The first hospital opened in Antigonish on June 10, 1906.

St. Martha’s School of Nursing was established. It trained nurses until 1995.

During World War I, a fund drive was launched to raise money to equip a hospital ship for the wounded soldiers. On September 14, 1914, at a mass meeting of Protestants and Catholics, a Canadian Patriotic fund was organized for the town and county of Antigonish. Soon a plea for volunteers went out from every pulpit, platform and classroom. Many university students enlisted in the Canadian Officers Training Corps and in other units as well.

The Baptist Church was incorporated.

Radio arrived in Antigonish.

The Antigonish Movement began as an organization of fishermen and farmers on a co-operative basis.

The depression was felt throughout the country. The major impact for Antigonish was a marked increase in out-migration.

During World War II, everyone from soldiers to the women of the area did their part for the war effort. Lloyd MacDonald was the first Antigonish soldier to give his life in the war. A number of residents from the town stood out and received commendations for their efforts and bravery.

Antigonish was the first town in Nova Scotia to have all of its streets paved.

Don Loney, the coach of StFX University’s football team was featured in Time Magazine. In the feature, his teams, the winningest teams in Canadian College football, were referred to as the "Assassins from Antigonish."

The Trans-Canada Highway was built through Antigonish. It was the first divided boulevard in the country.

Colin Herman Chisholm began his reign as Mayor of Antigonish. His reign lasted until his death in 1994.

A committee called Saving the Main invested $143,000 in underground cable and by 1988 the Main Street is completely repaved, poles are removed and other renovations are finished in time for the 1989 Centennial Celebration. Antigonish, with enlightened leadership and co-operation of Council and merchants, has become the envy of many less fortunate places in the province.

The Town of Antigonish celebrates its centennial. 

antigonish crest

Get in Touch

Town of Antigonish
274 Main Street
Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Canada B2G 2C4

Phone: (902) 863-2351
Fax: (902) 863-0460 / (902) 863-9201

Town Hall hours: 8:30 am - 4:30 pm