Burntcoat Head (also known as Burncoat) is an unincorporated Canadian community in Hants County, Nova Scotia and is known internationally as the site where it was officially recorded that the Bay of Fundy, and specifically Burntcoat, has the highest tides in the world.
Highest tides in the world
Burntcoat Head has a public wharf that has been the location of a tide gauge since the 19th century. The tide gauge at Burntcoat Head is currently operated by the Canadian Hydrographic Service and has recorded the highest tidal range in the world. Tides at Burntcoat Head average 55.8 feet, with the highest being set during the 1869 Saxby Gale at 70.9 feet.
The Guinness Book of World Records (1975) declared that Burntcoat had the highest tides in the world:
“The Natural World, Greatest Tides: The greatest tides in the world occur in the Bay of Fundy…. Burntcoat Head in the Minas Basin, Nova Scotia, has the greatest mean spring range with 14.5 metres (47.5 feet) and an extreme range of 16.3 metres (53.5 feet).”
The National Geographic Magazine (August 1957) also made a similar assertion: “The famous tides of the Bay of Fundy move with deceptive quiet. Sheltered from the open sea, they ebb and flood to a recorded range unequal in the rest of the world.”
The Only Son
The Burntcoat lighthouse accompanied wooden sailing ships since the Golden Age of Sail in Nova Scotia. Built in 1858, the lighthouse was built on land which eventually became an island. A narrow neck of land, just wide enough for a team of horses and wagon, connected it with the mainland. After the strip of land was eroded, the inhabitants went to and from the lighthouse by climbing up and down the bank by means of a ladder. There were five kerosene lamps that were cleaned and lit every evening. The lighthouse keeper of the first lighthouse saw the crashing of the schooner the Only Son (1898). This vessel belonged to the Mariner of Minasville, Captain William Scott. The vessel was being sailed by his sons in a storm and was dashed to pieces off the rocks of Burntcoat. The sons survived and the only part of the vessel that remains is the vessel’s guiding light. The first lighthouse was eventually lost to erosion of the coast.
The Airplane Pilots
The lighthouse was re-built in its present site (1913). The lighthouse was kept by William Faulkner and his family, on whose land the lighthouse was built. The gas light in this house was raised every evening on a 76 ft. tower. During the Great Depression, a German mail plane crashed off the coast at 3:30 am on 6 October 1931. Many local residents, including the lighthouse keeper Thomas Faulkner, heard the loud roar of the plane over their homes and then an explosion in the bay and then silence. Fifteen minutes after the crash the lighthouse keeper Faulkner heard screams from the water. The lighthouse keeper made his way to the Noel wharf to see if a rescue boat was available. There was a schooner, however, Faulkner had to wait for an hour before the tide was high enough to push it off. While he waited, the pilots continued to scream. After an hour, as the schooner began to float, the pilots fell silent. After a twelve hour search, the bodies of the pilots were not found. The only remnant of the plane that was found was the gas tank. A week later, a pilot’s body was found by a passing tugboat. Immediately after the event, Thomas Faulkner reported that he thought he could have saved the men had he had a boat ready. The local newspaper reported that the crew were trying to set a record for mail delivery from Europe to New York.
The lighthouse eventually burned (1972). To commemorate the history of the lighthouse and the site where the highest tides in the world have been recorded, the community rebuilt the lighthouse (1995). A park at Burntcoat Head contains a replica lighthouse and walking trails and displays that interpret the natural and human history of the Minas Basin. Burntcoat has one of the only two lighthouses remaining in the municipality of East Hants. The other lighthouse is in Walton, Nova Scotia.
Noel Doiron and his family built a chapel in Burntcoat on the west side of the Noel Bay. At this time, Burntcoat was known as “Steeple Point”. The Acadians in the Noel Bay vacated the community in 1750, a year after the founding of Halifax by the British.
The first settlers after the Acadians were three Faulkner brothers, Thomas, Edward and Robert, who were Ulster Scots people (1806). Their paternal grandfather immigrated from Ireland to Massachusetts, eventually dying in the Battle of Fort Oswego (1756), New York in the Seven Years’ War. Their father moved away from Massachusetts and settled with his children across the Cobequid Bay in the Londonderry Township, Nova Scotia.
During the nineteenth century there were a number of shipyards in Burntcoat. The builder of the ship Milton of Kate McArthur fame lived here.
Origins of name
The origin of the name “Burntcoat” or “Burncoat”, as the community is sometimes named, is unknown. The derivation of the spelling of the name is also unclear. Today the village on the west side of the Noel Bay is named Burntcoat, however, the Acadians named the village on the east side of the Noel Bay “Pointe Brull” (i.e., Burnt Point or Burnt Coast). Perhaps the Protestant settlers who came after the exodus of the Acadians from the community confused the names for the east and west side of the Noel Bay and thought the west side of the Bay was “Pointe Brull”.
The Acadian name for west side of the Noel Bay (i.e., present day Burntcoat) was “Pointe Cloche”, indicating a chapel was likely located on the west side of the bay at Noel, Nova Scotia.