Mermaid woodcut superimposed on ocean horizon

Mermaids in Nova Scotia

Mermaids have been fascinating people since the earliest of times. From the great Syrian goddess Atargatis, who makes a splash in 1000 B.C., to modern sightings, that continue to our day.  The enchanting mermaid surfaces in many cultures and civilizations around the world.

With Nova Scotia being surrounded by water, the mermaid has been a part of our folklore for centuries. Mi’kmaq legend talks about the Halfway People, whose upper bodies are human, while fish form their lower bodies. These mermaids warned fishers of impending storms by singing to them. Mermaids have shown up as tattoos on our sailors, with the earliest mermaid tattoos said to help control storms on the seas. Beautiful mermaids have adorned the prows of sailing ships as figureheads.

One of Nova Scotia’s most interesting mermaid stories occurred just up the coast from Guysborough, just off Gabarus. The Cape Brooklyn Eagle newspaper reported the following on August 22, 1886:

“The fishermen of Gabarus, Cape Breton, have been excited over the appearances of a mermaid, seen in the waters by some fishermen a few days ago. While Mr. Bagnall, accompanied by several fishermen, was out in a boat, they observed floating on the surface of the water a few yards from the boat what they supposed to be a corpse. Approaching it for the purpose of taking it ashore, they observed it to move, when to their great surprise, it turned around in a sitting position and looked at them and disappeared. A few moments after [,] it appeared on the surface and again looked toward them, after which it disappeared altogether. The face, head, shoulders and arms resembled those of a human being, but the lower extremities had the appearance of a fish. The back of its head was covered with long, dark hair resembling a horse’s mane. The arms were shaped like a human being’s, except that the fingers of one hand were very long. The color of the skin was not unlike that of a human being. There is no doubt, that the mysterious stranger is what is known as a mermaid, and the first one ever seen in Cape Breton waters.”

Who knows when the next mermaid will appear off our shores? Somewhere in the mists off the coast of Nova Scotia, a mermaid is waiting to be seen by those pure of heart.

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