In the spring of 1978, the senior high students of Port Hood Consolidated School put on a series of performances of William Gibson's three act play, The Miracle Worker. The majority of furnishings and artifacts for the set came from an historic local home that was a treasure trove of holdings telling the story of our community. When it was learned that the owners were going to hold an auction to sell the contents, it was the impetus for the calling of a public meeting from which came the decision to form the Chestico Museum and Historical Society and the purchase of the home's contents. The first meeting of the Society was held on May 1, 1978 and the following Executive was voted into office:
President: John Gillies
Vice President: Earl MacDonald
Treasurer: Alfred Reynolds
Recording Secretary: Margie Holder
Corresponding Secretary: Betty Watts
Newsletter Editor: Betty Ann Lloyd
The artifacts acquired from the estate of Lee Hart – son of prominent Port Hood merchant, John Smith Hart – became the foundation of the newly established Chestico Museum. The artifacts reflect the household of a middle class family living in the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Furnishings, dishware, photographs, clothing, and books form the backbone of our collection. In addition, we have such unique items as a printing press belonging to former Port Hood Greetings printer D.W. Jones, a bottle manufactured by the Port Hood Bottling Factory, a 1919 Thomas Edison working gramophone with original Amberol cylinder records, and a collection of antique clothes irons dating back two hundred years.
A former Harbourview School (built in 1937) was purchased from the Inverness County school board and renovated to accommodate the collection. This opened to the public in July of 1986 and has been the scene of many activities over the years. During the year, special events highlight many cultural and heritage aspects of Port Hood’s history.
Our Archives, also located in the museum, has been growing over the years. A large collection of records, maps, photographs and family histories have been catalogued. Histories of many of Port Hood’s heritage buildings have been written to help researchers dig into their Port Hood “roots.” We have an extensive amount of genealogical material on Port Hood families, including a number of published books that help the budding genealogist get started. The Smiths of Cape Breton by Perley Watts Smith (1967), which was reprinted by the Chestico Museum & Historical Society, has always been in demand. In 2015 the Historical Society was proud to publish our own book - Safe Harbour: A Brief History of Port Hood, Nova Scotia.
Numerous research projects have been undertaken by our volunteers highlighting our World War veterans, war brides, Premier Angus L. MacDonald (who lived in Port Hood in his early years), and our local heritage properties. Slide presentations and small ceilidhs are held throughout the year. Other special activities include creating a heritage float for the Chestico Days parade each summer and honouring Chestico Couples and Pioneer People during the festival.
The Chestico Museum & Historical Society first initiated Chestico Days, Port Hood’s well-known summer festival, and has been a co-sponsor of this event, along with the Port Hood and District Recreation Commission, every year since its inception. The society also hosts the Celtic Colours Close to the Floor concert each year. This highlights the Cape Breton step dancing tradition which has been strongly supported in the area.
Our many activities and undertakings are made possible by a dedicated core group of Historical Society volunteers who bring a wide variety of skill sets to our organization. From creating parade floats for inclusion in local festivals, to organizing walking tours, to researching genealogical inquiries, to completing grant applications – there is always someone to step up, take charge and not only see that things are done but that they are done well. Our people have helped to make the museum the vibrant welcoming place it is today and we welcome opportunities to expand our reach. A thriving Chestico Museum is not just our success. The community cannot help but benefit as we move forward with our work of preserving, promoting and celebrating Port Hood’s rich history.