A replica of the Hector – a vessel known for bringing some of the first Scottish settlers to Canada – was originally launched in 2000 by the Town of Pictou in northern Nova Scotia. The ship and surrounding site have since attracted history buffs and those looking to trace their Scottish heritage. In 2010, the Hector Quay Society took on ownership of the replica as well as the Heritage Quay buildings, including the Interpretive Centre. The Hector Quay Society later merged with the Ship Hector Foundation and together became the Ship Hector Society.
In 2020, the non-profit initiated the Charting Our Course campaign to restore the Hector replica. The campaign is also raising money for improvements to the Interpretive Centre, including the addition of digital exhibits. Every year, the Hector Heritage Quay welcomes tourists from across Canada, the United States and Europe.
“Even though it is located in Pictou, 85 percent of our visitation comes from outside of the province,” says Darlene MacDonald, part of the Ship Hector Board of Directors. “It was quite eye-opening, I think, for a lot of different funders to see the impact of the site.”
On Sept. 15, 1773, a Scottish ship with 189 passengers made landfall in Pictou, N.S.
Although there were already a few existing small settlements in Nova Scotia, the Hector was the first ship to sail directly to the province from Scotland. “These were Scottish people who made that choice and paid their fare to come and develop a new community in Nova Scotia,” says MacDonald. “They came for a new life and a new land.”
Not everyone who boarded the ship in Ullapool made it to Pictou, however. The voyage, originally intended to be six weeks long, took 11 weeks due to stormy weather. Food ran out and conditions were gruelling. Eighteen passengers – mostly children – died due to illnesses such as smallpox and dysentery.
“We can’t even begin to understand how hard that must have been,” shares MacDonald, noting that the Hector was originally a cargo vessel. It was already worse for wear by the time it left Scotland. “It would have been horrendous,” she adds.
Those who did survive the brutal journey would go on to have a lasting impact on the land and its culture, which is exactly what the Ship Hector Society wishes to honour.
The Society also acknowledges the connection between the Scottish settlers and the Indigenous people of the area.
MacDonald points out that, due to a lack of written history, little can be definitively concluded about the relationship between the Mi’kmaq and the Hector settlers. However, the Society has been working with Pictou Landing First Nations to put together a realistic version of what it might have looked like.
“The Mi’kmaq community did help the Hector settlers,” notes MacDonald. “I mean, they arrived here in mid-September, so they did help them through the first winter. They probably helped feed them because they would have been in dire straits. They wouldn’t have had time to put in any crop or anything, coming as late as they did.”
Today, Pictou is known as “the birthplace of New Scotland.”
MacDonald says the vessel won’t be prepared to sail until next year. That said, the ship will still be available for visitors to board and tour – it just won’t be fully operational yet. It is believed that once the Hector is complete, it will be one of the only tall ships in Canada run by solar power.
“We knew we needed to make the site as sustainable as possible. Once our project manager started looking into it, he realized that it was a distinct possibility” to rely on solar panels.
The Charting Our Course fundraiser is ongoing with the Hector to officially relaunch once the outfitting components and underwater systems are in place. Visitors may then tour the harbour aboard the historic replica on a temporal journey through both past and present.