Following the expulsion of the Acadians, immigrants from Yorkshire settled at the mouth of River Hebert near what is now Amherst in 1764. United Empire Loyalists, who fled the American colonies during the American Revolution, helped increased the population, and during the nineteenth century, Amherst became an important regional centre for shipbuilding and for providing services to outlying communities. The importance of Amherst in Canadian history is evident in four of its former residents being Fathers of Confederation: Edward B. Chandler, Robert B. Dickey, Jonathan McCully, and Sir Charles Tupper. Tupper went on to become the sixth prime minister of Canada, those his term only lasted sixty-nine days.
When the Intercolonial Railway of Canada’s line linking Quebec to Halifax chose a route that passed through Amherst, the community experienced unprecedented industrialization in the late 1870s. In 1908, the manufacturing output of Amherst’s industries exceeded that of any other centre in the Maritime Provinces.
In 1908, the Department of Marine had a set of range lights constructed at Amherst as noted in its annual report for that year:
Two wooden range light towers were erected at Amherst. The towers are square in plan, with sloping sides, lantern galleries, and are surmounted by square wooden lanterns. The back tower, on a concrete foundation, is 20 feet square at its base and is 42 ½ feet high from base to vane on the ventilator. The front tower, on a concrete foundation, is 12 feet square at its base, and is 22 ½ feet high from base to ventilator on lantern. The work was done by contact, by Mr. J.H. McKay, of Amherst, the contact price being $2,300.William Shea was hired as the first keeper of the range lights at an annual salary of $180.
In 1909, a light was established on the outed end of the government wharf at Amherst Point in the form of an anchor les lantern that was raised on a mast to a height of twenty-six feet above high water.
Due to failed economic policies of the federal and provincial governments and the effects of World War I, Amherst’s prosperity declined. A prisoner-of-war camp existed at Malleable Iron Foundry in Amherst from 1915 to 1919, and Leon Trotsky, a Russian revolutionary, was incarcerated there for one month following his arrest in Halifax in 1917.
The range lights at Amherst Basin were discontinued in 1920. The wharf light at Amherst Point served until 1929, when it too was discontinued.
Signs of Amherst’s former prosperity are evident in the fine historic dwellings on Victoria Street.
Keepers: William Shea (1908 – 1913), W.S. Tait (1913 – 1920).