Our cultural legacy

A Brief History of Cape Jourimain

American Groundnut, a staple food of local indigenous groups, was discovered growing at Cape Jourimain.

Early Years

Ever since glaciers retreated from the region 9000 years ago, Indigenous People have inhabited the Jourimain area. Archaeological evidence suggests that Cape Jourimain was frequented by Native American hunters, who used it as a crossing place to Prince Edward Island.

Up to 5000 years ago, a land bridge connected PEI to the mainland, but overtime a channel was eroded and the Northumberland Strait became flooded. No longer able to walk, Indigenous Peoples employed birch bark and dugout canoes to travel across.

The earliest known name for the area is Wuk'ta'mook, a Mi'kmaq word which can be roughly translated to "a crossing place".

European Expansion

By the early 1600s, French colonists known as "Acadians" settled throughout the region, including on the Jourimain Islands. They engineered special one-way gates called aboiteaus, which permitted runoff to flow out of their fields, but prevented tidal waters from rushing back in. This allowed them to farm vast areas of nutrient rich marshland along the region's coast.

In 1754, conflict broke out between France and England, who both claimed sovereignty over the Maritime region. In the years following, Acadian people were forcibly removed from their lands in an event known as the Great Expulsion. With a new English government, settlers from Great Britain and New England began emigrating to the area.

Throughout the 1870s and early 1880s, Cape Jourimain reached its economic peak.

In addition to paying the price of passage, male passengers were expected to help drag the boats.
The final ferry to serve the crossing, the MV Abegweit, ceased operation in 1997.

Crossing Service

In 1827, the first winter crossing between Cape Traverse and Cape Jourimain took place. The iceboats traversed dangerous ice-floes to transport mail and passengers across the Strait, resulting in a number of casualties. The iceboats continued to operate until 1917, when they were replaced by a more reliable winter ferry service.

In 1869, a lighthouse was built to guide the ferry and other visiting ships around Jourimain's dangerous reefs and shoals. It served as a beacon for the ferry and other ships travelling through the Strait. In clear weather, the light could be seen from a distance of 19 kilometres.

In the early 1900s, a series of storms destroyed the causeway linking the Jourimain Islands to the mainland. Instead of paying for repairs, the Provincial Government bought-out all of the landowners and relocated them to the mainland.

The only person to remain was the lighthouse keeper, who departed in 1969 when the light was automated.

Contemporary History

In 1969, a highway was developed across the Jourimain Islands for the construction of a causeway over to PEI, but the project was later suspended. The highway cut through the saltwater marshes, blocking tidal flow to their western basins. Freshwater runoff mixed with the landlocked salt marshes, creating a brackish marsh ecosystem. This provided valuable habitat for waterfowl and migratory birds, which helped contribute to the establishment of the National Wildlife Area in 1980.

After the opening of the Confederation Bridge in 1997, an influx of travelers and tourists were drawn to the area. A committee of experts and community members formed to investigate opportunities for engaging visitors before they departed to PEI.

In 2001, Cape Jourimain Nature Centre opened to the public, with a mandate to provide educational services exploring the site's natural and cultural heritage.

Components for the Confederation Bridge were built in Borden Carlton, PEI and Bayfield, NB.
Cape Jourimain Nature Centre is a non-profit organization led d by a volunteer board of directors.

For more information on the history of Cape Jourimain, visit our on-site Exhibit Hall.

Click here to read "The Busy East of Canada", an article from 1921 exploring the history of our region.