02 AM | 15 Aug

History of St. Peters Bay

WebPicThe community of St. Peter’s dates back as early as the 1700s with the French settlers. In 1720 the Village of St. Peter’s (Saint Pierre) was established and 1953 was incorporated into the Community of St. Peter’s Bay.

But long before the area was settled by Europeans, the area in and around St. Peter’s was covered in forest- Spruce, Fir, Beech, White and Yellow Birch, Ash and Maple trees. The forests were inhabited by deer, bears, raccoons, foxes and wolves. All the waters were abundant in salmon, oysters, clams, quahogs, trout and lobsters.

The earliest inhabitants of the area was the Aboriginals. Aboriginal People have lived in the St. Peter’s area for more than 8000 years. Proof of their existence was unearthed at Greenwich, which is just a few minutes from St. Peter’s Bay.

In the 1960’s, two amateur archeologists-Rollie and Jeanette Jones-began exploring the sand dunes at Greenwich for native artifacts. This site turned out to be one of the most significant archaeological sites in Eastern Canada.

artifactsThe artifacts that were found proved that the Greenwich Peninsula had been occupied by all three of the different cultural areas of Aboriginals; The Paleo-Indian (8600-3500 B.C.), The Archaic of “Shellfish” People (3500-1000 B.C.) and the Algonquin tradition, of which the Mi’kmaq are descendants.

The Mi’kmaq people called St. Peter’s “Poogoosumkek Boktaba” which, when translated, means “the place of clam digging”.

The French occupation of St. Peter’s Bay began in the early 1700s. St. Pierre as it was known at that time, was one of the most important settlements on the Island. The French settlers and the Mi’kmaq people got along well and co-existed in peace together.

The French families were attracted to St. Pierre because it offered a harbour and superior fishing grounds-this was also the reason why the aboriginal people were attracted to the area as well.

St. Pierre was once considered to be the “Commercial Capital” of Isle St. Jean because the area thrived. Several French officials believed that St. Pierre should have been chosen as the Island’s capital over Port La Joye.

In 1758, the Fortress of Louisbourg surrendered to the British Forces and in doing so, this meant that Isle St. Jean was also surrendered. Most of the French population of St. Pierre, as well as Isle. St. Jean as a whole, were subsequently deported.

This was a very significant event in St. Peter’s history because the French Period of the area was over. Although the French Period of St. Peter’s past was short-lived, it was very successful and prosperous. Although the settlers had a rocky start, they built their settlements and eventually thrived from them.

When it all ended with the deportation in 1758, the era was over and many never returned. Descendants of the French Period can be found in East Point, The Souris Line Road, Souris, and St. Anthony’s Parish in Bloomfield.

After the French were deported, the British started to settle in St. Pierre and the name was changed to St. Peter’s. While the Aboriginals had a good relationship with the French, the same could not be said about their relationship with the British.

The forests quickly disappeared along with the animals that lived in the areas, making it very difficult for the Aboriginals to survive. Eventually only a small settlements that were scattered around the area were all that was left of the Aboriginal population.

In 1844, the people saw the need to help the Aboriginal people and land was allocated to the Indian population.

hilary mcissacThe British settlement, in the beginning, was not as prosperous as the French settlement had been. The fishing industry out of the area was hindered by siltation at the mouth of the bay. When this sector closed, the British turned to shipbuilding. This turned St. Peter’s into a thriving community again. Between 1841 and 1850, 27 ships were built in St. Peter’s Bay.

In the village alone, there were three shipyards. These shipyards were controlled by Martin MacInnis and William Coffin. In the surrounding areas there were other shipyards as well. Two of them could be found at the mouth of the Midgell River.

The North Shore of Prince Edward Island was once considered to be a graveyard for many large ships. The follow is a list of some of the documented wrecks off of the North Shore:

  • 1837: “Aimouell”
  • 1839: “Asia”
  • 1840: “Mary Elizabeth”
  • 1840: “American Lass”
  • 1850: “Young Henry”
  • 1851: “Washington”
  • 1851: “Forrest”
  • 1851: “Charles Augusta”
  • 1851: “Triumph”
  • 1883: “Thomas”
  • 1899: “Our Hope”
  • 1902: “Richard B”
  • 1906: “Turret Bell”
  • 1910: “Empress”
  • 1951: “Mary Lenore”

 

This is a list of the shipwrecks that were recorded after the British settlement. The number is most likely much higher due to the fact that so many wrecks were not recorded. The records also do not include all the shipwrecks that occurred during the French period or before.

wreck of the turret bell

When the Turret Bell ran ashore during a large and powerful storm in 1906 at Cable Head, it quickly became a local tourist attraction. The Turret Bell remained beached just off the shore for over three years!

During St. Peter’s history, the community has seen a number of businesses and trades come and go. Some of the businesses that used to be found here include several Grist and Saw Mills and a Starch Factory.

The first Grist and Saw Mill was known as Leslie’s Mill and was built in the 1800’s near Schooner Pond. Some other mills in the area included a mill in Forest Hills, the Cardigan Road Mill and another mill located where Lewis Dam is today.

A Starch Factory was opened up in 1880 and ran until 1945. Back in the early days, there were Lobster Factories located every few miles along the Northside and these factories and mills provided most of the employment at the time.

Over the years there has been a variety of entertainment venues located in St. Peter’s Bay. In 1929, the residents built a racehorse track. This brought the community together in a variety of social gatherings. The track closed down for a period of time but was re-opened in the 1970’s. It ran for a number of years but is now closed.

Leestock Anderson built a theatre, known as Anderson’s Hall, and plays and movies were watched by the residents on a regular basis. The theatre could hold up to 300 people and was a very important aspect of the community.

courthouseThe St. Peter’s Courthouse Theatre & Museum is an impressive piece of St. Peter’s history. Originally built in 1874 as a courthouse, the building has served as a courthouse, schoolhouse, museum and theatre.

Now, you can visit this historic building, take a tour of the museum and learn about the rich history of St. Peter’s Bay. While you are there you can take in a live performance at the theatre portion of the courthouse.