Our cultural legacy

A Brief History of Cape Jourimain

American Groundnut, a staple food of local Indigenous Peoples, has been found 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 point to Prince Edward Island (PEI).

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 Jourimain Islands is Wuk'ta'mook, a Mi'kmaq term which roughly translates to "a crossing place".

European Expansion

By the early 1600s, French colonists (Acadians) settled throughout the region, including on the Jourimain Islands. They engineered special one-way gates, called aboiteaus, which they built into their dykes. This allowed their farm fields to drain, but prevented saltwater from flooding in. As a result of this technology, the Acadians were able to farm vast areas of nutrient rich marshland.

In 1754, conflict broke out between France and England, who both claimed sovereignty over the Maritimes. In the years following, many Acadians 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.

In the 1800s, Cape Jourimain was home to a thriving hay-based economy.

Some of the iceboats had sails for crossing sections of open water.
The final ferry to serve the crossing, the MV Abegweit, ceased operation in 1997.

Crossing Service

In 1827, the first winter crossing took place between Cape Jourimain and Cape Traverse, PEI. The iceboats traversed dangerous ice-floes to transport mail and passengers across the Strait, resulting in several 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 ships around Cape 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 family to remain was the lighthouse keeper's, who departed in 1969 when the light was automated.

Contemporary History

In 1969, a roadbed was built across the Jourimain Islands. This cut the salt marshes in half, blocking tidal flow to their western basins. Freshwater runoff mixed with the landlocked salt marshes created a brackish marsh ecosystem. This provided valuable habitat for waterfowl and migratory birds, which contributed to the establishment of the National Wildlife Area in 1980.

After the opening of the Confederation Bridge in 1997, an influx of travellers and tourists were drawn to the area. A committee of experts and community members was established 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 in Bayfield, NB.
Cape Jourimain Nature Centre opened in June, 2001

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.