Minister's Island Pre-contact Sites National Historic Site of Canada

Ministers Island, New Brunswick
Aerial view of Minister's Island showing its relatively large extent, 1939. (© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 1939)
Aerial view
(© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 1939)
Address : Chamcook, Ministers Island, New Brunswick

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1978-06-19

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Passamaquoddy people  (People, group)
Other Name(s):
  • Minister's Island Pre-contact Sites  (Designation Name)
  • Ministers Island Shell Midden  (Plaque name)

Plaque(s)


Existing plaque:  New Brunswick

The shell midden on Ministers Island is one of many sites around Passamaquoddy Bay which attest to an extensive and ancient occupation of the area. Evidence shows that Aboriginal people lived here at least 2500 years ago. The archaeological remains of four houses, dating back some 1200 years, and the mound of shells left from generations of shellfish harvesting indicate that this was probably a coastal winter settlement. The Passamaquoddy people, who continue to live in parts of New Brunswick and Maine, are descendants of these early coastal dwellers.

Description of Historic Place

Minister’s Island Pre-contact Sites National Historic Site of Canada is composed of below-ground archaeological sites located on Passamaquoddy Bay in the southwest corner of New Brunswick. The remains associated with these sites date from 1000 to 500 BCE. The so-called island is connected to the mainland by a natural bar, covered at high tide and exposed at low tide. Comprising some 280 hectares (700 acres), the island was developed by railway baron William Van Horne as a summer estate called Covenhoven, now open to the public as Minister’s Island National Historic Site of Canada. This group of archaeological sites is marked by a commemorative plaque. Official recognition refers to the sites associated with the excavated pre-contact midden site, a small acreage within the estate on the south-west shore of the Island.

Heritage Value

Minister’s Island Pre-contact Sites was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1978 because: it is one of many sites around the Passamaquoddy Bay which attest to an extensive and ancient occupation of the area.

Located on the former grounds of William Van Horne’s summer estate on Minister’s Island, now Minister’s Island National Historic Site of Canada, near the town of St. Andrews, this group of archaeological sites contains the remains of four houses dating back at least 1200 years as well as the mounds of shells left from generations of shellfish harvesting, all indicating that this was probably a coastal winter settlement.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1978; Statement of Commemorative Intent.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements contributing to the heritage value of this site include: its location on Pasamaquoddy Bay; its relatively large extent; the oval-shaped depressions and trenches in their footprint, materials and location; surviving archaeological material in its forms and materials.