There’s nothing that quite compares to the smell of a blacksmith shop. It’s there in the air; a distinct odor that hangs thick, burning the nostrils with the distinctly industrial stench of coal dust and molten iron. Here, mingled with the salt-laced waterfront air, it’s more of a comfort than an offense. The smell and the sounds – the clang of the anvil and the whoosh of the huge bellows – complete the picture. It was on this land, acquired in 1893, that Thomas Walters established a ship’s smithy, a metal forge specializing in iron work for the ships being built within sight along the harbour front. Oh sure, the oxen did get fitted with better shoes here too, but primarily it was Lunenburg’s other work horses – the Salt-Bank schooners – that got outfitted from within these walls.
Notable clients like the original Bluenose, HMS Rose, replica HMS Bounty, countless visiting tall ships, and our beloved Bluenose II wore the wares of the Walters’ family business, operated continuously by one generation after another until a family of all girls ended the tradition. The business was later sold to Gregg Ernst (famed at the time as Canada’s Strongest Man), who operated the forge until 2005.
While the building’s distinctly industrial structure has seen little change since some early 20th century modifications, the course of times has brought dramatically contrasting usage to this site, first as an iron works, later as an art gallery, and since 2010 as a distillery. Ironworks produces spirits and liqueurs onsite from Maritime-sourced fruit and materials and has earned a fine reputation in local culinary circles. Come in, have a sip, and slip back in time as the sights and smells overtake you.
And like so many areas along this historic street, all you need to do is turn around to catch a glimpse of more memorable sites. Directly across the parking lot, the corporate offices of Clearwater Seafoods Limited continue to operate, reminding us of the modernization of the fishing fleet. Founded in just 1976, operating out of the back of a pickup truck, John Risley and Colin MacDonald built a business that would become one of the world’s leading seafood companies. From this location, Clearwater manages five distinctly different shellfish harvesting operations, as far away as Argentina. Their Fleet Operationsassures quality products that have set the standard in the industry.
To the left, Foodland harkens back to the days of the company store and reminds the old timers of when they still bought their groceries at Robin, Jones, and Whitman (once a boneless salt-cod operation) or when their son’s pay cheque carried a tab with the Scotia Trawler Company.
And again, listen with your mind’s eye and you might hear the spirits of dozens of other businesses – primarily ship builders – that kept this sea-side town abuzz with constant activity.