The narrow peninsula on which Lunenburg was built was first settled formally in 1753 when German, Swiss, and Montbeliardian French immigrants were brought to Nova Scotia under a British colonization plan. A rigid gridiron plat was superimposed on the slope of the steep hill rising up from the harbour. The new settlement was named Lunenburg after the Royal house of Brunswick-Lüneberg, from which the Hanoverian Kings of England were descended. The 1453 largely German-speaking Protestants who migrated to Lunenburg in 1752-53 represent the most northerly German settlement in North America in the 18th century. German customs and the German language survived an unusually long time in Lunenburg, owing to its relative isolation.
Lunenburg was the second British colonial “model” town plan, after Halifax (1749). The model town was an important aspect of imperial policy for the British, to provide the functional space thought necessary for the smooth working of a colony. The model for laying out new towns in the colonies was created by the Board of Trade and Plantations. The Lunenburg plan (1753) incorporated all the principles of the model town: geometrically regular streets and blocks, the allocation of public spaces, an allowance for fortifications, and a distinction between urban and non-urban areas. Of these all but the fortifications survive in present-day Lunenburg.
The town is home to the oldest continuous worshipping Lutheran and Presbyterian congregations in Canada, both having been founded in 1753.
During the 19th century the town developed a strong economy based on fishing and shipbuilding. These industries expanded in the 20th century. In the 1850’s it sent the first fleet to the Grand Banks; in the 1870’s it revolutionized the industry with the introduction of “double dory” trawl fishing; in the 1920’s it was at the forefront of the development of fresh-fish processing in Canada; and today it is the base for Canada’s largest fish-processing plant and fleet of deep-sea trawlers. Lunenburg was, and remains, an important centre for shipbuilding and related industries. It is one of the very few communities in North America where traditional shipbuilding skills are still to be found.