Dartmouth's History


The People of Dartmouth: A Historical Synopsis

Founded in 1750 - The Alderney Arrives

Dartmouth was founded in 1750 when the ship, The Alderney, arrived with 353 settlers from Britain. The settlers arrived with hopes and dreams of a new and better way of life. 

Long before the arrival of the Alderney, the lands we now call Dartmouth were once the hunting and fishing grounds of the indigenous Mi’kmaq people, where they often made their summer camp. 

Dartmouth’s direction historically was tempered, forged by events as worlds collided years before the Alderney arrived.

Turbulent Times

History has shown, it was a turbulent time … people of various origin (Indigenous, French and British), cultures, interests, and political ethos colluded, plotted and battled to chart the direction of this land and resources. 

These cultural and political pressures ‘exploded’ and devastating events unfurled in the struggle for survival. 

“The interaction of indigenous and colonial peoples is best understood from the inside. Both natives and non-natives viewed the options open to them in any given situation and acted accordingly, and local conditions and immediate necessity frequently took priority over external pressures, distant alliances or broader visions.” - Stephen Patterson (1993)

Diversity Grows

Throughout the years, as Dartmouth grew, the diversity of its people grew. The Expulsion of the Acadians made way for Loyalists looking for a means of escape from the American War of Independence. Many of these Loyalists were black slaves looking for freedom. 

Scottish Highlanders, though they arrived and settled in “New Scotland” in the early 1600s; it was more than a century later that they came in larger numbers to settle mostly due to the unequivocal defeat at Culloden. The Scots arrived in Nova Scotia mainly through Pictou, though Sydney and Halifax were other main ports of entry. 

The Irish also arrived in waves to Nova Scotia. In the early to mid-1800s, the Irish and Scot settled in Dartmouth to fill the demand for skilled laborers, carpenters, and masons, to build the Shubenacadie Canal.

Variety of Industries

Evidence of our varied industries throughout our history remains in our community for all to see. Please refer to the Historic Dartmouth Walking Tour booklet available for sale at the Dartmouth Heritage Museum

Nantucket Whaling, the Saw Mill, Grist Mill and Bakery, Dartmouth Ferry Service, Starr Manufacturing Company (and Starr Skate Division), Dominion Molasses Company, The Acadia Sugar Refinery, were but a few of the early industries that were the economic engine of Dartmouth. 

Through the years, Dartmouthians have had to redefine and reshape its economic strategies. The people of Dartmouth have shown great resiliency, fortitude, resourcefulness, and creativity in its effort to meet the ever ending challenges in the turbulent world of economics, and the transitioning to global markets.

Cultural Diversity

As our history unfolded, the make-up of our people further diversified culturally. Though this diversity of people and cultures brought challenges to our collective way of thinking and doing things; we also learned from one another as peoples, developed respect and friendship. 

Was it through this influence that our motto was established? Our motto, “Amicitia Crescimus” (Through friendship we grow) has been a determining factor in our Dartmouth Identity. Today, Dartmouthians are still welcoming newcomers, new cultures and embracing them in an endeavor to be more inclusive.

Come, Explore Dartmouth…our past and present. Come, be a part of our future.


2017 Canfield, Len. Reflecting on Dartmouth’s dark days. Chronicle Herald, the Nova Scotian.

2014 Dalton, Meaghan E. The Voices of Downtown Dartmouth: A study of urban decay and renewal. Meaghan E. Dalton Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Politics at Acadia University

2000 Chapman, Harry. In the wake of the Alderney: Dartmouth 1750-2000. (Dartmouth Museum Society).

1999 Trider, Douglas William. History of Dartmouth and Halifax Harbour. Vol 1.  

1993 Patterson, Stephen E. Indian-White relations in Nova Scotia, 1749-61. A study in political interaction. Acadiensis, XXIII, 1 (Autumn 1993), pp 23-59.

1992 Chapman, Harry. Dartmouth’s day of anguish: the Explosion, December 6, 1917 (Dartmouth Museum Society).

Black Cultural Centre, Cherry Brook

Shubenacadie Canal Commission

Dartmouth Heritage Museum

Mi'kmaq in the Halifax Explosion of 1917