Melville Island and Deadman's Island, Halifax, Nova Scotia


Melville Island and Deadman’s Island are situated on the south side of picturesque Northwest Arm, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Historically linked, they are positioned on either side of a small cove known as Deadman’s Cove.

The importance of the islands’ history lies in its role as both a prison and as a medical facility for prisoners of war. The site represents Nova Scotia’s role in a system of wartime prisons established by the British Admiralty based upon international agreements on the treatment of prisoners. As such, it is the only known site in this country of such an establishment dating to the French Revolutionary Wars and the War of 1812. As a wartime prison, medical facility, quarantine centre and place of burial of nearly 400 individuals, this area offers a rare glimpse of both prison conditions and military detention.

With the start of Britain’s war with Revolutionary France in 1793, authorities in Halifax recognized that they would be pulled into world events and began to make provisions for incarcerating captured enemies. Melville Island entered Canadian military history when prisoners of war were detained there in the late 1790s. It continued in this capacity throughout the War of 1812 and again from 1909 until 1939. As a result of Britain’s agreements with respect to prisoner treatment, Melville Island also became a centre for medical care of enemy detainees. The island then played a role in early immigration into this country as a quarantine centre, and served as a British military prison for regular soldiers charged with military offenses.

Between 1803 and 1856, an estimated 400 people died on Melville Island, as recorded in the Prisoner of War Entry and Hospital Books. There is no visible or known military cemetery, although a small number of 19th-century accounts suggest that burial of the dead was in the immediate area. In local history, Deadman’s Island itself has long been considered the place where the dead were buried.


Title of the Image: Melville Island in 1878.
Source of the Image: Notman; Scheuer, W., Act. 1873-1883 - Library and Archives Canada Record: 4353,

Image Titled: Melville Island in 1878. 
Copyright: Notman; Scheuer, W., Act. 1873-1883 - Library and Archives Canada Record: 4353

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Hon. Catherine McKenna Parks Canada History and Archaeology

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