Seely Hall

A Legacy of Shipping, Shipbuilding, and Community

Three generations of Seelys conducted business out of Port Medway and their story is one of great success and misfortune, very much in step with the nineteenth-century shipping and shipbuilding economy of Nova Scotia's South Shore. Seely Hall was built for commercial operations downstairs and is the only local surviving example of a store that had public space above. The hall upstairs housed political, religious, and cultural meetings plus community events. Caleb Seely (1787-1869) was a privateer who was among the captains of the famous Liverpool Packet during the War of 1812. After the war, he began exporting timber and fish out of Port Medway to Newfoundland, New England, and Great Britain. In 1838, he built the Superior in Port Medway, which at that time, was the second largest ship ever constructed in the province.

In the late 1850s, his son, Edwin Collins Seely (1830-1881), began selling timber and fish from Port Medway to the West Indies. In the early 1860s, he moved his growing family there and became the most important ship owner and exporter in the community. It is likely that Seely Hall was constructed at this time, becoming a general store and office for his shipbuilding, shipping, and lumber business on property adjacent to his house, which fronted Long Cove Road. (The country music star, Carroll Baker, would later live in a house on that same site.) We know something of Seely's political activities in 1867, as he was very involved - like other South Shore merchants in the West Indies trade - in unsuccessful efforts to prevent Confederation with Canada.

In 1875, Port Medway shipbuilders finished the barque Nyanza, the largest vessel ever built in the community. Seely owned most of the vessel's 64 shares but included on the list of shareholders was one of Liverpool, England’s leading shipbrokers. Aspirations of a family dynasty are hinted at, as fifteen-year old his son, Arthur Yelverton Seely (1860-1944), held a single share. The barque was valued at $40,000, roughly $1.1 million in today's money. The presence of an English shipbroker among the shareholders indicates that the Nyanza was intended for immediate resale on the Liverpool, England, market where low-cost Canadian vessels were sold to international buyers.

On its initial voyage, under command of Seely's long-serving Captain Jabez Freeman Park, the Nyanza ran into trouble. After six days at sea in heavy fog and current, the barque went aground just south of Placentia, Newfoundland. The captain, his new bride, and the crew of twelve were all saved, as was some of the lumber cargo, but the Nyanza itself was a total loss. According to accounts told to folklorist Helen Creighton in the 1940s, Seely had arranged for Captain Park to insure the Nyanza, but for some reason he had not. The devasting loss was absorbed primarily by Seely.

This personal disaster coincided with a general crisis in the Nova Scotia shipping and shipbuilding economy, culminating locally in the collapse of the Bank of Liverpool in 1873 and its failure in 1879. The general store in Seely Hall was also declared insolvent that year, and Seely died in 1881 without a will. His son Arthur, only 21, became responsible for four minor siblings. A.Y. Seely continued in Seely Hall on a much smaller scale until 1891 as a "general dealer," outfitting fishermen. Then, like many other young men in the community, he went west for better economic opportunities.

Subsequently, Seely Hall was purchased by Captain John Hutt as a store and office for his small fleet of coastal schooners. Throughout the twentieth century, later owners used it for dances, election polls, evangelical meetings, concerts, pie socials, local theatre, political meetings, a radio repair business, storing fishing gear, and an antique and kayak store. It is now, once again, available for community use.

Adjacent to Seely Hall is the Old Port Medway Cemetery, a Provincial Heritage Site. The oldest extant stone is 1783.



1640 Port Medway Rd, Port Medway