History of Clifton - House and Inhabitants

Photo of Clifton Park in mid-summer with overcast sun. Two stone gate posts stand with a black chain link fence between them. Clifton is carved in thick letters along the top of one.  Underneath a plaque with small, unreadable lettering.  Behind the gate a driveway stretches into the background, with large deep green hemlock trees and rolling green hills.

On a sunny July afternoon in 1940, “Clifton” Haliburton Memorial Museum, officially opened with great fanfare and crowds. The property was purchased and operated by the Nova Scotia Department of Highways to encourage travel and tourism after a huge expansion of paved roads in the 1930’s. Thomas Chandler Haliburton and his Sam Slick character were well known at the time, making the museum a popular destination for day trips and bus tours from across North America. In 1960, Clifton officially became part of the Nova Scotia Museum as one of the first “branch” locations – along with Uniacke Estate Museum Park and Perkins House Museum.  

Clifton, print by William Bartlett, published in 1842. Nova Scotia Archives.

The Clifton house and grounds have undergone many renovations to suit the changing needs of its varied occupants, used as everything from a gentleman's estate to poor relief housing, a hotel, a gypsum mine, and a tearoom.

A vertical timeline graphic starting in 1830 and ending in 2030.  To the left are the names and dates of owners in orange and tenants in green. To the right are the many different names for the property in dark green.   Owners 1833 TC Haliburton 1856 JP Pellow 1871 E Churchill and heirs 1920 N Corstophen 1939 Government of Nova Scotia  Tenants 1884-87 WH Smith  1887-95 DK Hobart 1895-1904 JA Woodworth 1904-07 G Towell 1907-08 Annie Daniels 1909-11 Mrs Murphy and Mrs Cox M. Claude 1913-20 Beckles Wilson 1918-20 Chiderick Hill    1924-25 Dunlop family 1927-33 J Elliot Smith 1936 Doran  Property Names 1835 - Clifton 1864 - Clifton Cottage and Park 1884 - Clifton Summer Resort 1899 - Clifton House 1904 - The Sam Slick Hotel 1902 - Sam Slick House 1907 - Clifton Grove & Sam Slick’s House 1927 - Clifton 1920 - Clifton House 1939 - Clifton Haliburton Memorial Museum 1965 - Haliburton House Museum 2024 - Clifton Museum Park

Haliburton’s Clifton

When Thomas Chandler Haliburton decided to build his estate in Windsor, Nova Scotia, in the 1830s, the township had a reputation for beauty, social prestige, and, of course, King’s College – where Nova Scotia’s elite sent their sons to be educated. Windsor was also home to Haliburton – where he had been born and educated. And so, it made sense for the up-and-coming author, lawyer, judge, politician, and businessman, with his family of eight children, to build his estate in Windsor on land he already owned overlooking the town.  

Clifton, named for the English birthplace of his wife Louisa Neville, was designed and built to enhance Haliburton’s status as a ‘gentleman’ in Nova Scotian society. The house was often the center of upper-class social events in Windsor, hosting dinners and parties with dancing, music, and cards for the “proper sort” of guests from Windsor and travelling from Halifax.

Watercolour believed to be painted by one of Haliburton’s daughters between 1846 and 1840. NSM 89.95.5 & .6

An Early Sunset

The touches of Louisa Neville Haliburton were seen throughout Clifton – from the estate gardens to the elegant drawing room. In 1841, only five years after Clifton had been completed, Louisa died at the age of 48. With the help of his children, Haliburton continued to maintain the estate until 1856, when he moved permanently to England.

Reception Room at Clifton Museum Park

Reception Room at Clifton Museum Park


Changing Owners, Changing Estate

In 1856, Haliburton sold Clifton to James P. Pellow, a resident of Windsor who had made money in the California Gold Rush. Pellow was a successful merchant and owned several properties and gypsum mines in the area, including the Clifton Hotel. Pellow's largest gypsum mine was the Clifton Quarry, located on the estate. It was one of the largest gypsum suppliers in Nova Scotia, providing twenty to thirty thousand tons a year. Pellow, his wife Mary Smyth, and four children lived at Clifton until Pellow’s death in 1871, when the property was sold, and his remaining family moved away.

Senator Ezra Churchill of Hantsport bought the property in 1871 to better host large gatherings in his retirement. His Dominion Day celebrations were particularly grand, with musicians and singers brought in to entertain the crowds. When he passed three years later, his sons had little use for the property. They chose to rent it out to a long series of tenants for the next 47 years.

In 1904, the house was turned into the Sam Slick Hotel. This resulted in an extension with 10 bedrooms being added to the east side. The hotel was not financially successful and closed shortly after.

Clifton, circa 1923, with new porte-cochère. NSM 89.81.17.


The final private owner, Norman Corstophen, added a new raised roof, which evened out the previous collection of small room peaks and valleys that had a long history of leaks, as well as the porte-cochère (carriage porch) to the main entrance. The old roofs are still intact and visible from inside the attic.

Haliburton House Museum 2016 (Paul Illsley)


Clifton would pass through sixteen owners and tenants and many cycles of neglect and repair before the province opened it as a museum in 1939. Each owner changed Clifton in their own way to suit their own purposes for the property. The architectural changes seen in the house provide glimpses into the evolution of Nova Scotian life and society.

Today, visitors to Clifton Museum Park still find echoes of how the estate would have functioned during Thomas Chandler Haliburton's aristocratic days. However, the spirit of Clifton as a gathering point most closely reflects its history. In addition to the historic house museum and large public park, it hosts the Birthplace of Hockey Museum and the Clifton Disc Golf Course.