Wolastoq National Historic Site of Canada

Saint John River, New Brunswick
Traditional territory and contemporary communities of the Wolastoqiyik around the Wolastoq watershed © Culture and Sport Secretariat, New Brunswick
Wolastoq watershed
© Culture and Sport Secretariat, New Brunswick
Traditional territory and contemporary communities of the Wolastoqiyik around the Wolastoq watershed © Culture and Sport Secretariat, New BrunswickPicnic shelter on north shore of Wolastoq, overlooking Kani Uten © Parks Canada / Parcs CanadaPortaging a birch bark canoe at Quumquatagook (Green River) © Public Archives of New Brunswick / Archives Publiques du Nouveau-Brunswick, P5-137
Address : Saint John River, New Brunswick

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 2011-07-19

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Wolastoqiyik  (People, group)
Other Name(s):
  • Wolastoq  (Designation Name)
  • Saint John River  (Other Name)
Research Report Number: 2010-030

Description of Historic Place

Wolastoq, Saint John’s River National Historic Site of Canada consists of the cultural landscape along the river extending 700 kilometres in a broad arc from its headwaters in Québec and northern Maine to its mouth at Saint John Harbour, Bay of Fundy. Located principally in the province of New Brunswick, eastern Canada, the watershed represents the traditional territory of the Wolastoqiyik First Nation. The river has three components: the upper leg, from its headwaters in Quebec and Maine, flows into New Brunswick past Edmundston; the middle leg, from the confluence of the Aroostook and Tobique rivers, flows southeast to Mactaquac; from Mactaquac the lower leg, an extensive tidal estuary of lakes, wetlands, and islands, runs 140 kilometres to Saint John Harbour. The entire drainage system has nurtured the Wolastoqiyik, who travelled it, and gained nourishment from plants and animals in and around its waters. Official recognition refers to three geographically definable locations within New Brunswick, circumscribed by selected natural features and watercourses.

Heritage Value

Wolastoq (Saint John River) was designated a national historic site of Canada in 2011 because: as the river running the length of their territory, it has nurtured the Wolastoqiyik physically, culturally and spiritually over millennia. Tradition tells that the watershed itself was created by a great man who saved the people and brought water to them by felling a tree on the monster Aglebe'm, and the Gluskup stories record the creation of many of the river's features; the watershed contains countless historical sites that bear evidence of past Wolastoqkew settlements and activity sites, as recorded in elders' stories, in place names and in archaeological sites; places along the length of this Aboriginal cultural landscape have been chosen to speak to the importance of "the Beautiful River" to the Wolastoqiyik: their 17th-century habitation at Menahkwesh near the mouth of the river; their Grand Council Chamber and annual gathering spot on Kani Uten, an island at the head of tide; and on land located at the divide between the middle and upper parts of the river valley that became part of a Wolastoqkew reserve in 1801, at Brother's Garden in Tobique.

The heritage value of Wolastoq (Saint John River) is reflected in the cultural landscape along the river. It also resides in the river’s important role in the life, culture, and spirituality of the Wolastoqiyik First Nation. The Wolastoq River, its lakes and tributaries connect with the Wolastoqiyik people through their oral histories that give meaning to the history of the landscape as the Wolastoqiyik know it. Wolastoq means “the Beautiful River” in the Maliseet language, while Wolastoqiyik means “the People of the Beautiful River”. While this territory includes many sites of settlement, communication, resource utilization, and spirituality, it is specifically the Wolastoq itself, its lakes and tributaries that connects these sites and unites the Wolastoqiyik as a nation. The watershed represents the traditional territory of the Wolastoqiyik and includes many sites of settlement, communication, resource utilization and spirituality. The many Aboriginal place names throughout the watershed link past and present, complementing elders’ stories of traditional uses and evidence from archaeology.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, April 2010

Character-Defining Elements

The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include: - the Wolastoq (Saint John River) River in its location, form and constituent geographical elements running from its headwaters in Québec and northern Maine to Saint John Harbour and the Bay of Fundy; its rapids, streams, lakes and tributaries, beaches, creeks, wetlands, tidal estuary and the evidence of human impact from pre-contact to modern times; - the three locations along the river chosen to speak to the importance of "the Beautiful River" to the Wolastoqiyik - including their 17th century habitation at Menahkwesh near the mouth of the river; their traditional gathering place on the island Kani Uten; and the location at Brother's Garden, Tobique on an open shore lot by the river shore; - the integrity and materials of the surviving archaeological remains, features and artifacts in their original placement and extent, including in situ vestiges, both identified and as yet unidentified, that relate to First Nations, and particularly to Wolastoqiyik use, including camps, settlements, gathering places, fisheries, connecting trails and trail heads, burial places, ritual and sacred places; - the health and wholeness of the riparian ecosystem (its water quality, quantity, rates of flow, sandbars and siltation, fish quality, and the health of species); - the retention of traditional Wolastoqiyik knowledge relating to the river including place names; - the undisturbed visual and landscape character of the river, including the unimpeded viewscapes from various vantage points to and from the river.