Built in 1885 the initial purpose of the house was to be the rectory for the Baptist Minister. C. H. Whitman, being a part of the congregation, undertook the task of supervising the construction. Some for the basement was cut locally. When completed $2500.00 had been spent. This was a considerable amount of money in those days and the Baptist Congregation felt it would not be able to afford to complete the building. Seeing this, C. H. Whitman took over the cost of construction adding all the features he would want in a home. When completed he took up residence in the building and gave his older, more modest home, to the church to be used as their rectory. The best materials available such as spruce for framing and white pine for the finish were used in the construction. The walls were double plastered. There is a wide ash standing finish on door and windows, heavy ash staircase and wainscot, solid brass hardware throughout and two fireplaces.
There are many unique features to the building but two that stand out are the windows and the ”Widow’s Walk”. The windows are shuttered on the bottom with clear glass and the upper sashes are a rough amber glass, this was done to make the rooms feel sunny even on a cloudy day. Mr. Whitman had the Widow’s Walk built on top of the house because it gave him a clear view of the harbour to easily watch vessels coming and going. Some of these would have been his or under his direction. During the Whitman years the house was a town showplace. Mrs. Whitman did a lot of entertaining in the house’s double parlor. Such was the case during the war years where poetry readings, concerts and recitals were held to raise money to assist charities such as the Red Cross efforts. After Mr. Whitman’s death in 1932 the house was ultimately sold, his wife Olivia having predeceased him. From 1932 to 1974 the house had many owners. At one point during the depression the house was sold for $300.00.
Whitman House illustrates the history of Canso Town and eastern Guysborough County, with exhibits from Canso Harbour. You will get a bird’s eye view of the town from the ‘widow’s walk’ on the rooftop. Displays include panoramas of Canso by folk artist Mel Schrader, period furniture, photographs and other memorabilia.
Whitman House Museum
At a special town council meeting on November 5,1974 the Town of Canso agreed to purchase the property on Union Street previously owned by the International Christian Mission. It was the intention of the Town to develop the historic building, which was originally the home of a prominent member of the Whitman family, as a museum and town library.
At a public meeting, which included a tour of the building, many citizens expressed a keen interest in preserving the building and plans for a Museum Society were made. Several donations of antique furniture were pledged to the museum and an appeal for donations of old photographs and items of historical interest was put out to the residents of the area including the surrounding communities. Ross Swaine and Neil MacIsaac did repair work to the building. A walk through the museum today makes it quite evident that the citizens of the area responded enthusiastically to the idea of preserving the Town’s history. Many items ranging from photographs to a bottle of pickles have been preserved and displayed for all to see. One term of the sale was that the Christian Mission would be able to continue to hold Sunday services in the building for another six months.
Since it’s opening in 1975 the Whitman House Museum and Tourist Bureau has been one of the main attractions in the town of Canso and usually the first stop for the many tourists traveling to the area. Tourists are not the only individuals that benefit from having the museum in operation. Over the years the museum has employed many individuals, a lot of whom were students. The museum has given many their first job, allowing them to earn funds to further their education. The museum is also the first place most students look to for information for projects and history fairs. Fortunately local history is now being taught more in our schools. More teachers are realizing the importance of local history and arranging field trips and tours of the museum. The Canso Historical Society has been instrumental in raising the awareness and preserving the deep history of the Town and surrounding area. Members with a deep appreciation of the local history and tourism factor volunteer their time to see that Canso’s history is preserved and accessible to the public. A book project and locally created web sites on the Transatlantic Cable, Father Jimmy Tompkins, and Grassy Island Archaeology are just a few examples. The Society oversees the operation of the museum and works with the Town on staffing and managing the Grassy Island Interpretive Centre.
Canso Historical Society
The society’s mission is to preserve, develop and identify the historic tradition and culture of the people of the Town of Canso and surrounding area.
Address: 1297 Union Street Box 128, Canso, NS B0H 1H0
Season: June 1 to September 30 (remainder of year by request)
Hours: daily 9:00am to 5:00pm
Admission: By Donations