Thistles are the symbol of Scotland and also have quite a tradition in New Scotland (Nova Scotia to you Latin scholars). Over the years I’ve noticed a few thistles around the province. This morning some comments on Contrarian and Halifax Examiner sent me looking for my images.

First Parker Donham reminded us that lots of our Scottish traditions may be less than accurate.  Tim Bousquet then expanded that theme and went on to suggest that 600 lb  gorilla over in the corner is English.

This “origins” game is complicated territory that only bold journalists would dare venture into.  I just want to show you pictures of thistles without the pesky analysis. So marvel at these arching, sandstone thistles on an 1860s Queen Street house in Halifax.  Not only do you get thistles but also the head of Mary, Queen of Scots.


The best source of thistles is on gravestones.  There are several good examples in Camp Hill Cemetery in Halifax.  I’m particularly fond of the stone for William Paterson (died 1863) who was born in Scotland. His thistle is pulled out by the roots.


A couple more from Camp Hill.



Here are sweet little thistles way up on a dormer in our most Scottish of towns, Pictou.


It is interesting that the colony of Nova Scotia issued coinage from the 1820s to 1840s with a thistle on the back. In the 1850s we changed to an image of Mayflowers. Parse that.


At the time of Confederation, in 1867,  Nova Scotia accepted a coat of arms that consisted of three thistles and a salmon (wild, not open pen).

The former Zellers on Barrington Street in Halifax  has beautiful sandstone carvings of thistles, maple leaves and an English rose.  


And best of all is this brass bowl-o-thistles over the front doors of the Bank of Nova Scotia main branch on Hollis Street.


There are lots more thistles out there both commemorating proud Scots and representing New Scotland.  I’ll be interested to hear of your discoveries.

Post Script

  • The Novascotian was one of our principal newspapers in the 19th century.  Their masthead set a new standard for floral inclusiveness by entwining national symbols: thistle, rose and shamrock; all surmounted by a garland of Mayflowers. The Mi’ kmaq and Acadians were probably not big subscribers to the newspaper.


  • When you are thistle searching in cemeteries don’ t be fooled by tassels that can look temptingly thistle-esque.

summer 08 B


About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.