Remains of Nova Scotia’s New France


In the early 1890s Emile Charles Adolphe Stehelin and his family travelled from France to Weymouth to found a lumbering business in the interior of Digby County. Over the years Stehelin purchased ten thousand acres of hemlock, spruce, and pine forest near the Silver River, about twenty kilometres inland from Weymouth. He built a huge sawmill on the Silver River, and there he established for his family and his workers a village, called New France, with amenities such as club house, tea house, chapel, wine cellar, and casino for bathing and sailing. In 1895 Stehelin augmented the sawmill with a dynamo so that the mill, the family’s Big House, the worker’s hostel, the barn, and the main road through the settlement were lit from dusk to curfew by hundreds of electric lights. New France then became known locally as Electric City, while Weymouth did not have electricity installed until 1926.

Because it proved so difficult to haul finished lumber by ox teams out to the family’s wharf at Weymouth Bridge, Stehelin built the Weymouth and New France Railway, which ran on wood poles instead of iron rails. Preparing the railway track began in 1896; the railway operated until the dry summer of 1907, when a fire caused irreparable damage to the railway bed.

Below are some images concerning New France and its railway. Only foundations remain at the site of New France, which was acquired in 2010 by the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources. For more information, a book written by one of Stehelin’s grandsons gives a history of New France and of the Stehelin family’s experiences there. [1]

References and Notes

    [1] Paul H. Stehelin, The Electric City: The Stehelins of New France. Lancelot Press, Ltd., Hantsport, NS, 1983; republished by Nimbus Publishing Ltd., Halifax, NS, 1999. 276 pp.

    [2] I thank archivist Lisette Gaudet, of the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives, for providing access to the photographs and archival material concerning the Stehelin family and the Weymouth and New France Railway. All photographs labeled Yarmouth County Museum and Archives (YCMA) are copyrighted. Please contact the Archives if you would like to acquire a photo.

William Day (1 February 2014)