Cable Wharf- a brief history of an historic pier

In the 1800s, the introduction of telegraphs by way of undersea cables allowed messages to be transmitted across the ocean in a matter of minutes - rather than weeks or months. This significant accomplishment was realized through transatlantic cabling which included a vital connection on the Halifax waterfront. The over 3,200-kilometre-long cable stretched across the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean reaching depths as much as 3.2 kilometers.

A black and white photo of the Cable Wharf area of downtown Halifax, taken from on board USAT General R.M. Blatchford. The photo was taken on October 29 or 30, 1950.

The cable was made from an insulated copper conductor protected by a rope-like metal sheath, and was designed to carry “messages” in the form of signals which translated letters of every word into Morse Code. The transmitted message was then decoded by a telegraph operator in Halifax. The telegraph changed the world just as technologies continue to change our world today.

Halifax played a vital role in building this communication network, becoming a base for cable ships to receive supplies and conduct repairs - the city held this role for nearly a 100 years.

Crewmen carefully storing cable in large cable tank.Credit: MARITIME MUSEUM OF THE ATLANTIC, Bloomer Collection, M2009.48.88

Built in 1913 by the Western Union Telegraph Company, Cable Wharf served as a the primary cable ship port and service call depot for the transatlantic cable. The cable ships, two of which were Lord Kelvin and Cyrus Field, were specifically designed to lay and maintain cables. In later years, the cable ship Minia, one of four vessels used to search for victims of the 1917 sinking of the Titanic, would also make her home at Cable Wharf.

The telegraph changed the world just as technologies continue to change our world today.

To mark the historical connection of the transatlantic cable with Murphy’s the Cable Wharf, Waterfront Development Corporation (now Build Nova Scotia) and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, launched the Cable Wharf interpretive walkway project.  A series of 10 panels highlighting the stories of ships and crew that were part of the cabling era in the 1900s, were officially unveiled on May 17, 2011 on Cable Wharf.

Photo of a Cable Wharf interpretive panel

"The Cable Wharf interpretive panels will inform visitors and residents of Nova Scotia's prominent place in the history of global communications," said Percy Paris, then Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.

Photo of a Cable Wharf interpretive panel

As one of the last original structures on the harbour, Cable Wharf is a rare gem among the constantly changing Halifax Waterfront. Visit Cable Wharf at 1751 Lower Water Street to experience the Cable Wharf interpretive walkway and discover so much more about this important part of Halifax’s history.

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