If ever a village should have died it is
Pugwash; devastating fires razed the village several times, yet,
more than 100 years later it is a thriving community.
In the mid to late 1700s, after the expulsion of the few
Huguenots living among the Mi’kmaq Indians, an influx of
colonists from the United States settled in the area. First came
the New England Planters (an Elizabethan term for colonists),
lured by land grants from the Nova Scotia government. Soon after
the American War of Independence, United Empire Loyalists fled the United
States to Canada. Then Britons, Scots, and Irish, looking for a
better life, arrived. Influenced by the broad accents of the
European tongue the settlement’s Mi’kmaq name, Pagwe’ak became
translated to Pugwash.
and the European demand for lumber brought prosperity to
Pugwash. Wealth bred commerce. By
started to "get some manners." The Court of General
Sessions passed a law prohibiting livestock from roaming in
town. Townspeople built several churches and formed societies. A
temperance group tried to influence those who imbibed. Pugwash
appointed an overseer to dispense welfare (through taxation) to
the needy. The "Collector" ordered affluent persons to support
impoverished relatives. These were the boom years, when
prosperity carried the aromas of sawdust, tar, rope, molasses
and spices from the harbour. When the "age of sail" died and the
shipbuilding industry collapsed, Pugwash faced a period of
The arrival of the railway in 1890 did not give Pugwash the
economic boost expected. Yet, the forestry remained viable.
Merchants, taverns, hotels, tanneries, a brick factory and
lobster factories continued to operate. A sandstone quarry,
employing more than 100 people, brought Italians to the
community. Pugwash had four doctors, an insane asylum, two
schools, and a lawyer.
In a village built of wood, small fires are inevitable. However,
Pugwash suffered four major fires, 1890, 1898, 1901, and 1929,
each razing huge portions of the village. A flood, then the 1929
fire, destroyed the entire downtown and many residences.
Years of rebuilding took its toll, and unemployment increased.
Men were forced to seek work elsewhere. In 1929, Cyrus Eaton, an
American industrialist, returned to Pugwash, the place he was
born and raised. Seeing the condition of his hometown, he gave
the money needed to rebuild much of the village core and a
seawall. He had a seawall built; the main street straightened,
put in paved sidewalks and landscaped the park. He hoped tourism
would revitalize the community. Mr. Eaton’s plans were
unsuccessful at that time.
When WWII ended Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and several
scientists published the Russell-Einstein Manifesto calling for
nuclear disarmament. They wanted to hold a conference to debate
these issues in a location free from scrutiny from any
government. Finding funding for the conference with “no strings
attached” was problem until Cyrus Eaton stepped forward. He
agreed to fund the entire project with one condition: they must
hold the conference at his house in Pugwash. In his honour, the
attendees named the conference the Pugwash Conferences on
Science and World Affairs. The first “Peace” Conference
was held in 1957 at what is now known as the “Thinkers' Lodge,”
before the conference met, Albert Einstein died. Illness kept
Russell from ever attending a conference in Pugwash. The Pugwash
Movement grew and is now held in cities throughout the world.
However, important conferences are still held periodically at
Mr. Eaton received the Lenin Peace Prize in 1960. In 1995, the
Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and Dr. Joseph
Rotblat, a conference founder, won the Nobel Peace Prize. He and
Giovanni Brenciaglia, Mr. Eaton’s nephew and an active member in
the Pugwash Conferences, accepted the prize. Now internationally
known, Pugwash started the economic rebound Mr. Eaton had hoped
for in 1929.
face of modern Pugwash is quite different, descendants of the
original settlers* and an influx of entrepreneurs have brought
prosperity to the community. Lobster fishing and the forestry
are still viable. The Canada Salt Company Ltd and Seagull Pewter
employ many people. Independent businesses are opening and
prospering. Tourism, a large part of our economy, continues to
Our strong social net includes four doctors, a hospital and a
nursing home: quite a feat in this period of healthcare
uncertainty. The insane asylum, now Sunset Community, is a
state-of-the-art housing and rehabilitation centre for
developmentally challenged people. Several churches and services
groups are active in the community. The Pugwash District
Volunteer Fire Department is well trained and well equipped.
Pugwash has two fine schools: Cyrus Eaton Elementary and Pugwash
Today Pugwash is like a phoenix; well feathered and soaring
toward a bright and prosperous future.
* Families of Pugwash available through the Cumberland
Reference: History of Pugwash by James E. Smith available
through the Cumberland Historical Society