Government of Canada recognizes the Sable Island Humane Establishment as a national historic event

News release

Shore-based rescue organization provided over 150 years of life-saving service between 1801 and 1958

December 20, 2021                                Ottawa, Ontario            Parks Canada Agency

The Sable Island Humane Establishment, a shore-based rescue organization operating between 1801 and 1958 was perhaps the most prominent example of the lifesaving stations and societies that helped keep mariners safe along dangerous stretches of shoreline before the founding of the Canadian Coast Guard in 1962.

Today, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, Steven Guilbeault, announced the designation of the Sable Island Humane Establishment as a national historic event under the National Program of Historical Commemoration, on the recommendation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

The Humane Establishment rescued the crews, passengers, and cargoes of vessels wrecked on the shoals of Sable Island, a small, crescent-shaped island southeast of Halifax. Founded in 1801 partly in response to the well-publicized sinking of Princess Amelia and Francis, the Sable Island Humane Establishment was the first permanent, government-sponsored coastal rescue organization on the northwest coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

The success of its rescue operations depended on the strength and skill of lifesaving crews, rather than the use of state-of-the-art equipment, since many of the available technologies did not function in less-than-perfect conditions. By the time it ceased operations in 1958, the Humane Establishment had helped advance knowledge of Sable Island by mapping the sites of known shipwrecks, and its lighthouses and lifesaving feats had become known around the Atlantic world.

National historic designations reflect the rich and varied heritage of our country and provide an opportunity for Canadians to learn more about our diverse history. The Government of Canada, through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, recognizes significant persons, places, and events that have shaped our country as one way of helping Canadians connect with their past. By sharing these stories with Canadians, we hope to foster understanding and reflection on the diverse histories, cultures, legacies, and realities of Canada’s past and present.

The designation process under Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration is largely driven by public nominations. To date, more than 2,200 designations have been made nationwide. To nominate a person, place or historical event in your community, please visit the Parks Canada website for more information:  



“Now a beloved national park reserve, Sable Island was once known for strong currents and powerful storms that posed considerable risks to mariners. Canada’s first life-saving station, the Sable Island Humane Establishment is emblematic of early practices and technologies that helped reduce loss of life and cargo along dangerous stretches of shoreline. On behalf of the Government of Canada, I’m proud to commemorate the historic courage and national significance of the Sable Island Humane Establishment.”

The Honourable Steven Guilbeault
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada 

“Inspired by the need to relieve suffering caused by the shifting perils of the North Atlantic, the Sable Island Humane Establishment was an important milestone in efforts to secure Canada’s seaward approaches, and to preserve the lives of seafarers of all nations.”

Roger Marsters
Curator of Marine History, Nova Scotia Museum Collections Unit, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

“Sable Island is an iconic place that is special to many people in Nova Scotia and across the country. As the Member of Parliament for Halifax – and including Sable Island, I’m proud of our maritime heritage and the incredible life-saving history of the Island that is being recognized and shared with Nova Scotians and all Canadians.”

Andy Fillmore
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and Member of Parliament for Halifax

Quick facts

  • Sable Island National Park Reserve was established in 2013 as the 43rd national park in Canada. Located at the edge of the Continental Shelf, Sable Island is one of Canada’s furthest offshore islands and is part of the Atlantic Coast Uplands Natural Region. Home to an iconic population of wild horses that roam one of the largest dune systems in eastern North America, the island is a testament to adaptation, a place to witness change and marvel at survival in an unlikely environment.

  • Created in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change regarding the national significance of persons, places, and events that have marked Canada’s history. Together with Parks Canada, the Board ensures that subjects of national historic significance are recognized under the National Program of Historical Commemoration and these important stories are shared with Canadians.

  • The designation of persons, places and events of national historic significance in Canada helps to tell the stories of who we are and connect us to our past, enriching our understanding of ourselves, each other, and our country. Heritage places provide a wide range of cultural, social, economic, and environmental benefits to their communities.  

  • Parks Canada is committed to working with Canadians in our efforts to tell broader, more inclusive stories in the places that it manages. In support of this goal, the Framework for History and Commemoration, outlines a new, and engaging approach to sharing Canada’s history through diverse perspectives, including shedding light on tragic and difficult periods of Canada’s past.

Related products

Associated links


Gabriel Brunet
Press Secretary    
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Media Relations
Parks Canada Agency

Search for related information by keyword: Heritage | Parks Canada | Canada | Ottawa | History and heritage | general public | Aboriginal peoples | news releases
Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: