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Tancook Islanders Embrace New Technology

A colour aerial photo of Big and Little Tancook Islands with Big Tancook in the foreground showing the houses and roads; Little Tancook to the left showing roads and houses and to the far left Ironbound Island. The Tancook boat builders were noted designers of schooners and whalers. The fishermen were some of the first to use the make and and break engines to power their boats.

Big and Little Tancook Island


Forman Hawboldt’s two-cycle engine built in Chester was quickly adopted by Tancook fi

A black and white photo of the schooner, “Airlie” under full sail in the harbour. The “Airlie” is black with a white cabin, white sails and an identifying number 2 on the main sail of the 5 she is flying in the picture. Schooners like this one were used for fishing and were quickly adapted to accept the new make and break engines. Today they are used mainly as pleasure craft.

Schooner, Airlie

shermen who appreciated the reliability of the one-lunger which could power their boats up to 12 knots. In the 1920’s a new engine cost approximately $300-$400, although used engines could be found at half the price. The cost of a new boat, sails and rigging included, was $400 at the time so the engine represented a significant investment. Shortly after Hawboldt’s engine became available, other local manufacturers began to compete for the Islanders’ business, notably Acadia Gas Engines in Bridgewater and the Lunenburg Foundry.

The Stevens, Heisler, Mason and Langille families built Tancook schooners highly regarded for their speed and seaworthiness.

Big Tancook Island is one of many small islands in Mahone Bay situated 11 km from Chester. New England fishermen settled on the island in 1792. They were followed by German settlers who were farmers attracted by the land and timber. Tancook is a Mi’kmaq name meaning “facing the open sea.” Because the island was closer to the fishing grounds than mainland communities, islanders also looked to the sea for their survival.

The island is also noted for sauerkraut production and boat building.


Chester Municipal Heritage Society