Memories of the Nuttby fire tower

‘There used to be a man in the tower from May until September'

Published on January 27, 2014
Steven McRae, left, and his father Doug McRae stand on the highest point on Nuttby Mountain where the fire tower once stood.

By Lyle Carter

A popular landmark, which stood for many years at the top of Nuttby Mountain, has provided its share of stories, many of which can be told by Steven McRae.

McRae, a Nuttby resident, is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to old lookout tower, which stood for 76 years before being removed last November.

"The steel tower arrived in Truro by train in 1937," McRae said. "It was hauled out to the bottom of the tower hill in Nuttby by my grandfather Raymond McRae. My grandfather and two of his brothers, Garnet and Milton, hauled the tower to the top of the mountain by a wagon drawn by horses."

The tower was placed in an upright position with an enclosed wooden observation deck attached.

"Milton and a neighbour, Harry Brayne, drilled the anchor holes in the rock once the tower was erected," McRae said. "The tower stood approximately 66 feet in the air."

With an interest in the tower McRae learned that it was the highest point above sea level on mainland Nova Scotia and the third highest in the province.

"The main purpose of the tower would be to spot forest fires," he said. "The fire ranger would have to watch in every direction for signs of smoke or fire. On a clear day there would be a man in the tower from early in the morning. On a foggy or rainy day the fire ranger wouldn't have to work. There used to be a man in the tower from May until September."

The man in the tower's job was once described as days of boredom and moments of terror, but nevertheless it was considered a very important job.

While researching the history of the tower, McRae compiled a partial list of men who had worked in the observation deck. Fire rangers listed included Jim Higgins, Jimmy Matheson, Garth Sellers, Allan Bain, Lloyd Stewart, Bill Ripley, Dan Cock,and Jack Ferguson.

The Department of Lands and Forest oversaw the tower during its early years. Later, the tower became the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources.

"I remember spending a lot of time up around the tower when I was a kid," McRae recalled. "Some of my friends and I would go up inside the tower and enjoy quite a view. You could see different parts of the town of Truro. You could look over in the area of Mount Thom and Pictou County. You certainly could see a long ways, even to P.E.I. on a clear day. In the other direction you could see Hants County."

Doug McRae, Steven's father, who was born the same year the tower was erected, remembers the fire tower from his youth.

"It was there on the top of the mountain when I would have been five or six," Doug said. "By the time I was 10 years of age, along with all the other kids in the neighbourhood, we spent a lot of time up there at the fire tower. I guess we were there because we weren't supposed to be. We were pretty careful though and no one ever got hurt."

Doug recalled an occasion when the tower was seriously damaged by a hurricane.

"Hurricane Edna blew the top off the fire tower in 1954. When they rebuilt the enclosed observation deck, they made it out of wood. But later on, a newer and more up to date enclosed fiberglass observation deck replaced the one built in 1954."

These days, 22 wind turbines, owned by Nova Scotia Power, stand high and proud on top of Nuttby Mountain.

There are also several communications towers belonging to Bell Aliant, Big Dog and Cat Country, Department of Natural Resources and other companies. The RCMP, ambulances and fire brigades are dispatched through communication towers located on top of the mountain.

Steven, who is caretaker of the wind farm where the wind turbines are located, works in a year-round capacity.

"Quite often, I go by the site on the top of the mountain where the Nuttby fire tower once stood," Steven said. "It certainly makes me think back and realize there's a lot of history involved. Some people I talk to miss the fire tower not being there. Other people are not aware that the tower was removed last November."

TAGLINE: Lyle Carter's column appears every Tuesday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a column idea, contact him at 673-2857.