Guysborough County Genealogy

Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Canada


by Peggy Feltmate (

Whitehead sits on the coast between Port Felix to the west and Little Dover and Canso town to the east, hugging the western shore of double-pronged Whitehaven (or White Head) Harbour - exceptionally deep-watered and large enough to shelter a whole navy, as Guysborough historian A.C. JOST remarked. The east side of the harbour is the now-abandoned site of the village of Yankee Cove.

Surf crashes on white granite headland marking the eastern extremity of Tor Bay. The French c.1699 called it Tete Blanche and the English continued calling it White Head. From 1655 until the 1770's, the harbour was called Martingo, its deep fog-bound indentations well-suited to smuggling and piracy. Circa 1779, J.F.W. DES BARRES surveyed it, calling it Whitehaven on one map, and writing "A Sketch of Whitehead Harbour". He mentions that the wood on the east side was burned by the French and Indians in 1744.

The village stretches inland along route 316 and the Northwest Arm of the harbour, narrow as a river; villagers located there are said to live "Up the River" in Upper Whitehead.

Whitehead proper is on a branch road off 316, and was also called The Haul-Over, at least as early as 1860. Here fishermen hauled their boats over a narrow beach between Whitehead and Molasses (now Port Felix) Harbour to avoid the long trip around the headland. In the mid-1800's, residents petitioned for a small canal to be cut across this isthmus, still useable today.

Lower Whitehead is more properly called Lower Whitehaven. The village here is mostly on a small island once reached by bridge, now by causeway and no longer recognizable as an island. The island's official name is Deming Island. It lies at the mouth of the harbour, along with White Head (or "Big") Island with its light house (erected 1854), Three-Top Island (incorrectly called Tree Top on some maps) with its small light, and Doliver's Island (known locally as Charlie's Island). The latter gave its name to Doliver's Cove, and around this lies the lower village sometimes known simply as "down in The Cove".

Around 1800, the Acadian French settlements along Torbay were established, and the English settlement at New Harbour. Whitehead was apparently settled next by Moses CAHOON who came from Queens County c 1818. This was the year that Assistant Surveyor-General of N.S., Anthony LOCKWOOD, described Whitehaven thus:

"The lands around are hideously barren, appearing the resort only of crows, eagles and monsters...The fishermen resort hither from Arachat (sic) and the western extremity of the Province, during the spring and summer, for the purpose of catching mackarel (sic), herring, and gasperaux; the American fishermen and privateers have hitherto used it, both in peace and war."

Mr and Mrs Thomas MUNRO, Mr and Mrs John MUNRO, and Mr and Mrs Robert SPEARS arrived from Shelburne, Nova Scotia, in 1819. Historian Harriet HART says they built log cabins about eight miles "up the river", and were hospitably received by the local Micmac Indians and the French BOUDROT family of Molasses Harbour next door. Soon Mr and Mrs William DEMING of Shelburne and their four children, and the DOLIVER family (JOST wonders if the latter should be TALIAFERROS) were in residence, giving their names to the islands. Then came Mr COFFIN, and Mr McDUFF from Tusket, and the TRAVERS family. Interestingly, E. CROWELL's History of Barrington Township (Shelburne Country) mentions that in 1806 Deborah COFFIN, daughter of Tristram, married a DeMINGS and the family eventually moved to Whitehead.

In the 1830s, John FELTMATE, his wife Elizabeth (DEICKHOFF) and 6 children arrived, moving from the south shore of nearby Chedabucto Bay. John's father had been Frederick FELTMATE, late of the South Carolina Royalists, arriving at Country Harbour April 1784, removing to the Chedabucto shore c.1811

In the 1850s a postal way office, a customs house and several ice houses were established. Ice was cut from the local lakes. By the 1860s, the census and the A.F.CHURCH map provides the following surnames of residents in Whitehead, additional to those mentioned above: the CASEY family who once lived at Raspberry Cove just down the coast, CONWAY, CROFT, DIGGDON, DILLON, FITZGERALD, FRASER, perhaps GAMMON (Gammon's Ledge is just offshore), GEORGE (many descendants say the name was originally USEL - research suggests there may be some connection to the name SCELES - but was changed to GEORGE!), HAINES/HAYNE, HAWBOLT, HEFFERNAN, HUSHER, perhaps MARSHALL (giving the name to Marshall Cove), McDONALD, McKENZIE, PRICE (who gave their name to an island), SNOW, ULOTH, WHALEN. Across the Harbour in Yankee Cove lived Frances (Frank) SELFF of Portuguese origin, William RHYNOLD, and William PEITZSCH, along with additional FELTMATEs and MUNROEs. Many of these names are extant in the area today.

In spring 1866 in defence against the threatened Fenian Raids, the Third Guysborough Regiment of local militia was raised and Company No. 3 served in Whitehead.

In 1868, blacksmith Thomas DUNCAN of Cape Sable Island, Shelburne County, removed to Whitehead with his second wife and "second" family of eight children under the age of 14, (including new-born twins!), his elder son John DUNCAN age 17, and his step-son James Randall NEWELL age 21.The first task on arrival was the baptism of the twins by the Anglican minister Reverend W.E.GELLING in the home of Hugh MUNROE. It is said that Mr and Mrs DUNCAN took in an Indian foster-child as well, who had superb woodland skills - tracking, trapping, hunting - as well as wood-working skills: he helped in the forge, carefully carving the axe-handles.

The first school in Whitehead was built in 1868 at what is known locally as Deep Cove and burned in 1891. A new school was built in 1893 at Ghost Brook, and one that is still standing but unused near the village fire hall. A school was built at Upper Whitehead in 1905.

By 1871, residents had been joined by EHLER, FLYNN, HALEY (who gave their name to an island), McLEOD, and SNIDER. PHALEN and CONRAD were other early village names.

Doubtless the settlers had arrived by boat. Land travel was on mere foot- and horse-paths. Boat travel along this coast was not without its dangers, of course. In the August Gale of 1873 alone, several ships ran aground on the points, islands and ledges around the mouth of the harbour.

Circa 1873, Sidney Jasper GROVER and his 1st wife Mary Elizabeth (HYDE) moved to Whitehead from Cole Harbour, probably to be closer to the fishing grounds. Sidney, with Mary and his 2nd wife Nancy JAMIESON, fathered a dozen children. Two of Sidney's brothers (John James in 1866, and Aaron Isaac in 1869) had married girls from Whitehead, (Hannah MacKENZIE and Lydia DUNCAN respectively), his sister Susan married Whitehead's John MacKENZIE (brother of Hannah), and another brother William E. married Marcella Maria McDUFF of Whitehead in 1876. So Whitehead became well-populated with GROVERs. The Anglican Reverend W.L.CURRIE served the Whitehead district at this time.

A government wharf was constructed in 1875. This was the year that a diptheria epidemic took many lives, particularly in the households of John Henry FELTMATE and William A.PEITZSCH in Yankee Cove. In 1879 the Whitehead residents sent to the Provincial Parliament a "petition from James H. FELTMATE and others asking for a sum of money to open a road from Canso Road to Dolivers Cove Whiteheaven (sic)", a distance of about ten miles (PANS RG 5 Series P Vol 112 No 168). The petition states that:

"the best part of the road in that distance is very inferior and almost impassable to drive a carriage over. Its two miles...about the middle of the settlement were never opened...In these 2 miles travellers will have to follow the beach and bypaths and to wade over 2 creeks at low water and at high water will have to wait until the tide pleases to ebb and the beach is soft in places that teams get stuck that ventures over it. Also the children in this part of the section cannot attend school on account of having to wade over these said creeks."

Although the road was gradually improved, as recently as 1943 the Anglican minister was using a dog team for winter travel.

In the 1880s, money was raised to build a Methodist church in Whitehead. Circa 1888 a school house was created in Yankee Cove, built partly from the fish store of William PEITZSCH. The first school teacher at it was Helen MARTIN of Loch Harbour In 1889, Holy Trinity Anglican Church was built by the villagers, particularly ULOTHs and GROVERS, under the leadership of Rev.W.J.ARNOLD. (The church bell was purchased in 1895 by Rev. T.C. MELLOR for $40.00 raised at a pie sale). The village was bustling. Sidney GROVER, son of Sidney Jasper mentioned above, spoke on tape in 1968 about his childhood in Whitehead. He was born in 1884:

"I've always lived in Whitehead...It was good when I was a boy; I'll tell you, you didn't want to go to a better place to have any sport if you had any sport in you, 'cause there was lots of dances and lots of fun, in any kind, any way. I know when I was a kid you couldn't help havin' a good time because there were sixty-odd sail o'vessels would anchor in there in the spring, seiners. Plenty of money, they didn't mind payin' five or ten dollars for a house to have a dance; some had their own fiddlers and some didn't. Yes I play the fiddle a bit but I never played the fiddle at that time. I played a little bit on the accordion. Once in awhile I played for the dances. Oh well, we used to have good fun, for all, now. I tell you, it don't take a good fiddler for to make you have a good time. Just a common fiddler and you can have all the fun you like."

The Baptist church at Upper Whitehead was erected in 1887. A Whitehead school photo dated 1890 shows 39 children of the surnames DUNCAN, FELTMATE, GEORGE, GROVER (including young Sidney, quoted above), McDONALD, McDUFF, MUNROE, PRICE, ULOTH, and WELLS. (Teacher Joe MATTHEWSON). There were several fish plants and merchants set up in the harbour, including the lobster-packing plant at Raspberry, eastward along the coast, where the young folk would go by boat to dances. In the 1880s and '90s, steam-boat service was established among the coastal settlements from Guysborough to Halifax. In 1902, the Blamandan, a German ship out of Hamburg bound for New York went aground off Whitehead laden with toys, dishes and musical instruments. Many a household in Whitehead still owns a violin or pretty little cup or bowl from the Blamandan.

The earliest cemetery was on Spears' Hill south of Spears' Lake and now completely overgrown and obliterated. Only two or three headstones remain visible, although oldtimers say the hillside was once white with markers and was used as a landmark from out at sea. Today the tiny Baptist cemetery is still kept and visible at roadside up the river, although the tiny church has been moved away, and the well-kept Anglican and Methodist/United cemeteries are side by side on a hill in the woods opposite Holy Trinity Anglican church.

By 1932, my aunt boasted there were three churches (Holy Trinity Anglican, Grace United, and the tiny Baptist church up the river), seven stores, Custom House office, Telegraph office, and three post offices. Electricity came at this time. There was also a school house in both Whitehead and in Yankee Cove. Deming Island was the site of a military station and barracks during World War II, and a LORAN station for many years following.

Whitehead 1930s

In the 1950s the shore was lined with wharves and fish stores or sheds, and landlubbers were awakened at dawn by the growl of the fishing boats heading out of the harbour to sea. The population in 1956 was: Whitehead 98, Upper Whitehead 69, Lower Whitehaven 125. Today the fishing is slow to non-existent, children must bus to New Harbour or Canso for school, the Baptist church has been closed and moved, the fish plants are gone (although replaced now by a scallop factory and a mussel farm), and the villagers must travel to Larry's River to find a post office, and to Port Felix for a small variety store. But to hundreds of descendants, Whitehead is still "down home".