A Cape Islander

David Davies

Weymouth, Canada

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A Cape Islander fishing boat tied up at Daniel’s Head on Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia, Canada.

The world-famous Cape Island Boat, a common sight at Daniel’s Head wharf and many other Maritime ports, was designed and built on Cape Sable Island. Ephraim Atkinson is most commonly credited with designing and building the first “Cape Islander” in 1905. The boat is famous for its long, low lines, tall step-up to the bow and having exceptional stability in rough seas.

(Wikipedia) Cape Sable Island, locally referred to as Cape Island, is a small Canadian island located at the southernmost point of the Nova Scotia peninsula. Sometimes confused with Sable Island, Cape Sable Island forms the eastern limit of the Gulf of Maine, opposite Cape Cod.

The island is situated in Shelburne County south of Barrington Head, separated from the mainland by the narrow strait of Barrington Passage, but has been connected since 1949 by a causeway. The largest community on the island is the town of Clark’s Harbour, Nova Scotia. Other communities are listed below. At the extreme southern tip is Cape Sable.

Cape Sable Island was inhabited by the Mi’kmaq who knew it as Kespoogwitk meaning “land’s end”. It was first charted by explorers from Portugal who named it Beusablom, meaning “Sandy Bay”.

Cape Sable and Cape Negro, Nova Scotia were first settled by the French who migrated from Port Royal, Nova Scotia in 1720. The French governor of Acadia, Charles de la Tour, colonized Cap de Sable giving it the present name, meaning Sandy Cape. La Tour built up a strong post at Cap de Sable beginning in 1623, called Fort Lomeron in honour of David Lomeron who was his agent in France. (The fur trading post called Fort Lomeron was later renamed Fort La Tour although identified as Fort Saint-Louis in the writings of Samuel de Champlain.) Here he carried on a sizable trade in furs with the Mi’kmaq and farmed the land.

In 1627, Cape Sable was the only major French holdig in North america. As a result, La Tour appealed to the King of France for assistance and was appointed lieutenant-general in Acadia in 1631.

By 1641, La Tour lost Cape Sable Island, Pentagouet (Castine, Maine), and Port Royal, Nova Scotia to Governor of Acadia Charles de Menou d’Aulnay de Charnisay.

La Tour retired to Cap de Sable with his third wife Jeanne Motin, wed in 1653, and died in 1666.

The British Conquest of Acadia happened in 1710. Over the next forty-five years the Acadians refused to sign an unconditional oath of allegiance to Britain. During this time period Acadians participated in various militia operations against the British and maintained vital supply lines to the French Fortress of Louisbourg and Fort Beausejour. The Acadians and Mi’kmaq from Cape Sable Island raided the protestants at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia numerous times.

During the French and Indian War, the British sought to neutralize any military threat Acadians posed and to interrupt the vital supply lines Acadians provided to Louisbourg by deporting Acadians from Acadia.

In the late summer of 1758, the British launched three large offensives against the Acadians. One was the St. John River Campaign, another was the Petitcodiac River Campaign, and the other was against the Acadians at Cape Sable. Major Henry Fletcher lead the 35th regiment and a company of Groham’s Rangers to Cape Sable. He first cordoned off the cape and then swarmed over it. 100 Acadians and Father Jean Baptistee de Gray surrendered, while about 130 Acadians and 7 Mi’kmaq escaped. The Acadian prisoners were taken to Georges Island in Halifax Harbour.

Following the Acadian Expulsion in the 1750s, the island was settled by the New England Planters from Cape Cod and nearby Nantucket Island. The waters off southwestern Nova Scotia had been well known to them since the days of French settlement in the early 17th century. While the tides of the Gulf of Maine may have brought a few exploring fishermen from Nantucket to the island, it was an entirely different tide that spawned the eventual permanent English settlement—a political tide.

Many Cape New Englanders took advantage of the offer of 50 acres (200,000 m2) of land to each male adult who would leave his home and live on those vacated lands in Atlantic Canada. Cape Sable Island was well known to Cape Cod fishermen and they moved north in 1760 to take advantage of a new life. The Cape Sable settlement soon became, and remains today, an important base for inshore fisheries. It is famous as the birthplace of the Cape Islander fishing boat, a motor fishing boat which emerged about 1905. Ferry service provided transportation to the island in the early 20th century. A causeway was eventually constructed for pedestrian and automobile traffic, opening on August 5, 1949. Today the lobster fishery is the island’s biggest industry.

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