Skmaqn-Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst

Monument commemorating the arrival of the Acadian couple Michel Haché-Gallant and his wife Anne Cormier at the Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst National Historic Site. © Parks Canada Agency

For the week of Monday, August 17, 2020.

On August 17, 1758, French commander Gabriel Rousseau de Villejouin of Port-la-Joye surrendered Ile Saint-Jean (Epekwitk/Prince Edward Island) to British Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Rollo. This ended French rule at Port-la-Joye, which the British renamed Fort Amherst.

The Mi’kmaq lived on the island of Epekwitk for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. At the beginning of the 17th century, they began to establish a relationship with the French colonists whom they met in Skmaqn. Known as a “waiting place,” this region is very important to the Mi’kmaq. They used Skmaqn to await the arrival of travelers arriving by inland waterway, both by the bay and by Elsitkuk (Hillsborough River), a historically important travel route to the north shore of the island. Skmaqn became the site of all relations between the Mi’kmaq and the French, who then established the neighboring colony of Port-la-Joye in 1720. It served as the seat of government for Île Saint-Jean, which was part of the French colony of Île Royale (Unam’ki/Cape Breton Island). The two nations met to exchange gifts, a practice the Mi’kmaq used to express their desire to strengthen relationships with their friends and allies. During these meetings, the French offered precious tools to the Mi’kmaq, such as muskets, in exchange for military support and information on the British forces.

In July 1758, the French surrendered the Fortress of Louisbourg to the British. The following month, British Major General Jeffrey Amherst sent Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Rollo to Île Saint-Jean with orders to expel any French resident refusing to swear allegiance to the King of Great Britain and Ireland. The British subsequently expelled more than 3,000 people, most of them Acadians. Approximately 1,100 Acadians fled to present day New Brunswick and the Gaspé Peninsula, while others took refuge in the woods on Île Saint-Jean. Those who faced deportation endured horrifying conditions aboard ships, where hunger and disease took their toll. Two vessels sank. In total, approximately half of the people forced from their homes during the deportation of 1758 perished, making it the deadliest of the mass deportations carried out by the British between 1755 and 1762.

Skmaqn-Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst is a designated national historic site. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) advises the Government of Canada on the commemoration of National Historic Sites, which can include a wide range of historic places such as gardens, cemeteries, complexes of buildings and cultural landscapes.

The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Information on how to participate in this process is available here: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhc-hsmbc/ncp-pcn

June is National Indigenous History Month. Learn more about the diverse histories and cultures of Indigenous Peoples by exploring articles in our online archives about Skmaqn-Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst, Francis Pegahmagabow (1889–1952), Wii Niisł Puuntk: A Matriarch of the Gitga’at of Hartley Bay, and Weaving Identity: Nlaka’pamux Basket-Making.