McNabs Island: A long-lost ocean playground

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McNabs Island: A long-lost ocean playground

To many Haligonians, McNabs Island represents the military history of our city. Those who visit the island follow long dirt paths from one historic fort to another. But what many of us might not realize is that McNabs Island was once home to Canada’s self-proclaimed “Largest and Cleanest Carnival Midway,” owned and operated by none other than Bill Lynch:

The man who would go on to own and operate Canada’s biggest carnival in the 1940s.

Bill Lynch

The man, the myth, the legend himself.

Before Bill Lynch became famous for his carnivals  — that were eventually brought to the mainland in 1925 — he learned about the industry by working for one of the two pleasure grounds that occupied MacNabs around the year 1900.

Bill’s father, Matthew, was a lightkeeper on the island from 1902-1932, and at one time (many years later), the only 3 houses on the island were all owned by the Lynch family.


The view today. (Photo: Friends of McNabs Island Society)

McNabs was home to a steam-powered carousel and a ferris wheel, among other rides and attractions. The island would host thousands of visitors every summer, arriving in boats by the dozens.

As a couple of Halifax history geeks who have recently canoed out to the island (start from Eastern Passage, it’s way easier), we can’t imagine how amazing it would be to experience McNabs as the playful utopia it was in the early 1900s.

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Tidbits of Halifax history for your learning pleasure!



December 10, 2014at 10:07 am

halifax is long overdue for an attraction of such nature an outsoor theme park with water and rollercoaster attractions – imagine the view!!

Rhonda Weldon

December 10, 2014at 10:51 am

I’ve been to McNabs 4 times since moving to Halifax, I call it the hidden paradise! I can’t believe how many locals who have never been I can’t believe few people promote it as a tourist must see, I continue to spread the word to locals, as well as visitors! A must see

Catherine McCarthy

December 10, 2014at 11:46 am

For more info about Bill Lynch and McNabs Island read Discover McNabs Island, the definitive guidebook to the island available from the Friends of McNabs Island or in local book stores and in the library.

Theresa Sullivan

December 10, 2014at 12:37 pm

love the history

Rose Hominick

December 10, 2014at 1:28 pm

For all the years of my growing up and living in Halifax, McNabs island fascinated me, but of course I never managed to visit. I wonder if it is accessible to the public at all? I would think that it would be quite an interesting place to visit, and so close to the city.

Julianne Girouard

December 10, 2014at 1:33 pm

Thank you for this entry. I didn’t know about a midway on McNab’s Island and found this very interesting.


December 10, 2014at 5:40 pm

Wow, this is really something! And to think it’s now a place of litter and rats. :/ Still wouldn’t mind visiting it though.

Dave Whitehead

December 11, 2014at 12:36 pm

Great bit of history, thank you……….:)

phyllis (roy) mleczko

December 12, 2014at 1:58 pm

my father Agustus Isadore Roy and his family resided on the island in the 30’s and 40’s, As a girl
growing up he told me about them rowing over to the mainland for groceries and he attended
Morris Street School. I didn’t ask any pertinent questions about his parents and sister,except
his mothers name was Maude. I was wondering is there a grave yard on the island,I am trying
to find out any infor,since both my parents have passed away. thanks

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