The French were the first settlers in the area in the 1655, followed by the British a few years later. A settlement grew at the head of navigation on the river and it became a major shipping route to the West Indies and USA.
The community prospered, supported by farming, fishing, ship building and the timber trade. Timber was cut and stored until winter (to protect the soil) when it was pulled by horse and sleigh to the river banks. It was floated down to sawmills in Sherbrooke once the ice melted. The mills produced deal, planks, laths, spars, and shingles for the British and West Indian markets. Return cargoes were coal, salt, molasses and rum.
Gold was discovered in 1861 and 19 mining companies arrived to make their fortunes. Boom times lasted for 20 years and the town declined. Lumbering continued as a major industry although it is less important now. Tourism and salmon fishing are the mainstays of the economy.
In 1969 the old centre of the village was restored as a living museum and developed as a tourist attraction in an attempt to revitalise the area. It is closed off from the rest of the village by white gates across the road.
Sherbrooke Village Museum is made up of over 80 buildings of which 25 are open. Others are are still privately owned and lived in. It reflects Sherbrooke as it was during its industrial boom in the late 1800s and early 1900s when shipbuilding, lumbering and gold mining dominated the economy.
Many of the houses were large and grand, reflecting the wealth and status of the owners. One of the grandest is Greenwood Cottage was built by a joint owner of the General Store and part of a gold mine. It was elegantly furnished and lit by carbide gas. Each of the bedrooms was furnished with different designed furniture, with chamber pot to match.
As well as houses, there is a post office, shops, jail, pottery, church, Masonic Hall(which is still used) and smithy; all beautifully restored. The Sherbrooke Hotel still serves snacks and meals.
It was very quiet the day we visited with few visitors, although there was a group of school children going round in costume experiencing 1920s life. There was a high staff presence but apart from the postmistress who knew her stuff, staff tended to give the prepared spiel and weren't very good if you asked questions. Houses and shops were open but there was an 'end of season' feel to the village and a general lack of enthusiasm.
The self guided tour begins with a 15 minute video in the Visitor Centre and explains the development of Sherbrooke from a ship building centre to a logging centre to gold mining. We were given a leaflet with a plan of the site and brief notes about the different buildings.
The Blacksmith was busy making door hooks to fulfil an order. Although these are a popular seller, there were none for sale in the shop.
It is a short drive to the sawmill, gold stamp mill and short nature trail through the trees to the lumber camp. There was an information board in the Royal Oak Stamp Mill but no staff around to answer questions.
The McDonald Brothers saw mill was working when we visited and logs had been floated down the river and were waiting in a pond above the mill to be sawed. Power was provided by a large waterwheel. This could only run for short periods as there wasn't enough water available to run the wheel for long. Staff were on hand to work the saw and answer questions. This was interesting and worthwhile.
Overall, we found it an unsatisfying visit and were disappointed by it. We had been very impressed by the Parks Canada sites at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland and also at Louisbourgh where the staff were enthusiastic and knew there stuff. The buildings at Sherbrooke were beautifully restored but the place felt dead and even though staff were locals we felt this was just a job and they lacked enthusiasm. This isa great shame as the site could be very good.
Web site for Sherbrooke Village Museum: http://museum.gov.ns.ca/sv/index.php
Website of our photographs can be found here.