New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Cape Tormentine to the Baye des Chaleurs in the 1600s

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From the blog at http://JohnWood1946,

Cape Tormentine to the Baye des Chaleurs in the 1600s

This is a description of the east coast of New Brunswick as it was in the mid-1600s, written by Nicolas Denys, a Governor of Acadia. Denys was the founder of St. Peter’s and Englishtown (St. Pierre and Ste. Anne), Nova Scotia, and of Bathurst (Nepisiquit), New Brunswick. Denys’ book was translated and republished by William F. Ganong as The Description and Natural History of the Coasts of North America, (Acadia), Toronto, 1908.

For information, one league is a variable measure, usually around three miles, and one fathom is six feet.

Bathurst 1860

Bathurst in the 1860s, founded by Denys in the 1600’s

New Brunswick Museum, via the McCord Museum


  • [From Cape Tormentine. to Cocagne, and onward to Richibucto, with a description of the “conceited and vicious” Mi’kmaq Chief Denis:]

Continuing farther [from Pictou, N.S.], following the coast about twelve leagues, one comes upon Cape Tourmentin. It is a great point which advances into the sea, and is only two leagues and a half from Isle Saint Jean [PEI]. This is the narrowest place in all this strait. The coast is only hills and very dangerous rocks, which are far out from shore. In front of it some are visible, while others are uncovered only at low water. This point is between two large bays bordered with hills and rocks. All over the top is hardly anything but Pines and Firs, and some few other trees. Having doubled this point and made about ten leagues along this coast, one comes to another river into which longboats enter. It is necessary to keep close in the channel, and having passed a little island, one is well under shelter, and finds water enough. The anchorage is in front of a large meadow which makes a cove of reasonable extent where one is placed in shelter. I have named this river the River of Cocagne, because I found there so much with which to make good cheer during the eight days which bad weather obliged me to remain there. All my people were so surfeited with game and fish that they wished no more, whether Wild Geese, Ducks, Teal, Plover, Snipe large and small, Pigeons, Hares, Partridges, young Partridges, Salmon, Trout, Mackerel, Smelt, Oysters, and other kinds of good fish. All that I can tell you of it is this, that our dogs lay beside the meat and the fish, so much were they satiated with it. The country there is as pleasing as the good cheer. The land is flat and covered with trees which are very fine, as well in their stoutness as in their height, of all the kinds which I must have already named. There are also great meadows along the river, which runs about five to six leagues inland. The remainder is only navigable by canoe, and many more Pines than other trees are found there.

Continuing our route we went into the river of Rechibouctou, which is about ten leagues from the latter of which I have just finished speaking. This river has great sand flats at its entrance, which extend almost a league. In the midst of them is a channel for the passage of vessels of two hundred tons. After one is inside there is found a basin of great extent, but shoal in some places. Vessels cannot go very far into this river, but longboats navigate there for nearly three leagues. Two other rivers fall into this basin, of which one is little and the other rather large. By the latter the Indians go to the River Saint Jean, twice portaging their canoes in crossing from one river to the other [from head of Richibucto and by portage to Salmon River, and down the latter to Grand Lake]. From the head of the latter they proceed into a large lake, and then reach another river which falls into that of Saint Jean. They employ two days in making this passage when they do not want to tarry; this latter hardly ever happens, for they are never much in a hurry. It is by this means that the Indians of the River of Saint Jean and those of this place often visit one another. With regard to the little [Aldoane] river which is on the right in entering, it serves, with the aid of another portage, for communication with Miramichi, which is the establishment that I have in the Baye des Chaleurs. The Chief at Rechibouctou, named Denis, is a conceited and vicious Indian. All the others of the Great Bay fear him. He has upon the border of the basin of this river a rather large fort of stakes, with two kinds of bastions; inside is his wigwam, and the other Indians are encamped around him. He has had a great piece of wood placed upright to the top of a tree, with large pegs which pass through it in the manner of an estrapade and serve as steps for ascending to the top. There from time to time he sends an Indian to see if he can perceive anything along the coasts. From this place one can see far out to sea. If any vessels or canoes are seen, he has his entire force brought under arms with their bows and arrows and their muskets, places a sentinel on the approach to ask what persons they are, and then according to his whim he makes them wait, or has them come immediately. Before entering it is required that they make a discharge of their guns, as a salute, and sometimes two. Then the leader enters, and his suite after him. He never goes out from his wigwam to receive those who come to visit him. He is always there planted upon his haunches …, his pipe in his mouth if he has any tobacco. He never speaks first. He expects that he shall be paid a compliment; and sometime later he replies with the gravity of a magistrate. If he goes to the wigwam of some Indian, on arriving he has a musket discharged to inform the other Indians, who come out from their wigwams, and go to meet him with their muskets. Then he lands from his boat and sets foot upon shore, and all the Indians who are there discharge their muskets. Then they accompany him to the wigwams, [and] when he goes inside they again fire each one a shot from his musket. Such is the manner in which he makes them receive him, more through fear than through friendship. They all wish for his death; he is not liked by a single one. If they are delinquent in their duty, he beats them, but not when they are together, for in this case he could not do it with impunity. But when he catches them alone he makes them remember their duty. If the Indians make a debauch, he is never of their number, [but] he hides himself; for in drunkenness they are as great chiefs as he, and if he were to say to them something which made them angry, they would murder him. At such times he is wise, and never speaks of his greatness. It is well to observe that the Indians of the coast use canoes only for the rivers, and all have boats for the sea. These they sometimes buy from the Captains who are about to leave after having completed their fishery; but the greater part they take from the places in which the Captains have had them hidden on the coast or in the ponds in order to make use of them on another voyage. But when the proprietors, or others having a right to them, recognise them, they make no more ceremony of taking them back than the Indians do in making use of them. To return to Chief Denis, his country of Rechibouctou is beautiful; the lands are good, and not too low nor too high. The hunting there is plentiful, and also the fishing for Mackerel, which are very large. As for the woods, they are like those of other places, intermixed with Firs and Pines.

  • [Along the sand flats between Richibucto and Miramichi, including the Kouchibouquac River, Miramichi Bay, and the Nepisiquit River where Denys established Bathurst. Miscou, the Baye des Chaleurs, Caraquet and Shippagan areas are also described:]

Setting out from Rechibouctou to go to Miramichi, on the left one finds great flats of sand which advance far out into the sea; and the same [is true] of all this coast, which it is necessary not to approach too near for a space of eight to ten leagues. After this one comes to a great bay which enters more than two leagues into the land, and which has fully as much of breadth. All this bay has also flats, of which the greater part are uncovered at low tide. The sea there is very dangerous in bad weather, because it breaks everywhere. There is nevertheless a little channel which leads into the [Kouchibouquac] river, but it is very crooked; and it is needful to know it well in order to enter. Even then it is only passable for longboats of a dozen to fifteen tons, at high tide. The entire extent of these flats includes even to the mouth of the river of Miramichy, of which the entrance is very narrow because of a little island which is on the right in entering [and] which closes the opening. This being passed, one reaches a fine river, a cannon shot broad, which is rather deep. The two sides are of rocks somewhat elevated, upon which there are fine woods. One finds, nevertheless, some little low coves where it is possible to approach and land with boats or canoes. This river has five to six leagues of length through which vessels can ascend, and there one finds two other rather large rivers, which empty into it, and both come together in a point which forms a fork. But it is possible to ascend them only in canoes because of the rocks which are scattered here and there [This is an error. It is more navigable than described]. That which is on the left in ascending goes towards the Rechibouctou river. The other which is on the right leads in the direction of the Baye des Chaleurs. From the head of this river, one goes, by means of a canoe portage, into the river of Nepigiguit which is in the extremity of the Baye des Chaleurs. The Indians have told me that on the upper parts of these rivers the lands are fine and flat, that the trees are fine, large, and in open formation, and that there are no little trees which hinder them in the hunting of the Moose. They are of the same species of woods that I have previously named. In the valleys where the waters make a swamp, there are a great many Firs, but small and very dense. As for the lower part of the rivers, where they make their fork, on the left there are rocks, and on the right is a flat country where there is a great meadow, of more than two leagues in length and a half league of breadth in one place, and of three-fourths of a league in another. There are some little trees on it, much removed from one another. On it are found also a great quantity of Strawberries and Raspberries, and here collects so great a number of Pigeons that it is incredible. I once remained there eight days towards the feast of Saint Jean, during which every morning and evening we saw flocks of them passing, and of these the smallest were of five to six hundred. Some alighted on the meadows, and others opposite upon a point of sand on the other side of the river. They did not remain on the ground more than a quarter of an hour at most, when there came other flocks of them to rest in the same place; the first ones then arose and passed along. I leave you to imagine whether they were not killed in quantities, and eaten in all fashions. If the Pigeons plagued us by their abundance, the Salmon gave us even more trouble. So large a quantity of them enters into this river that at night one is unable to sleep, so great is the noise they make in falling upon the water after having thrown or darted themselves into the air. This comes about because of the trouble they have had in passing over the flats, on account of the paucity of water thereon; afterwards they enjoy themselves at their ease when they meet with places of greater depth. Then they ascend into the rivers, which extend far inland; these descend from some lakes which empty one into another. On all these lakes is found abundance of Beaver, but little Moose. As for the hunting of small game, it is also very good and very abundant. Shellfish are not wanting there; the flats are always full of them. The Indians live on those rivers in much greater numbers than on any others.

To leave this place, it is necessary to pass all these flats, then to follow the coast as far as the Isle of Miscou, which is distant therefrom some ten to twelve leagues. The coast is well-nigh entirely of sand. There occur many coves, great and small, in which are meadows, and ponds of salt water formed by the sea in rising. There are also found some large streams; and in all these places the hunting for birds of all kinds never fails. The coast is all filled with woods like the others, with the exception that the Cedars are more common there. Two leagues before coming to the Isles of Miscou, one finds a large cove, which is the passage of Caraquet, ending at the Baye des Chaleurs, where there are islands of which I shall speak in the proper place.

After having made two leagues along the coast, one finds another little entrance for longboats, which is between the two Isles of Miscou. The entrance is dangerous in bad weather, because of a bar of sand which breaks furiously. From the two sides of the islands there are points of sand which make the entrance narrow, but immediately one has passed inside, then it enlarges. On the right in entering is the small Isle of Miscou, which has four or five leagues of circuit. Having passed the point, there appears a part of it which is like a great extent of land without trees. This is only morasses all filled with heaths. When one walks upon them, they are made to tremble for more than fifty paces around him. There the Wild Geese come to produce their young, and to moult during the spring. Those which moult do not lay eggs that year, and the others which do not moult lay eggs. I shall tell you the details about it when I come to speak of the peculiarities of the birds of this country.

In continuing the route, after having passed the morasses, one comes to land all covered with Firs intermingled with some little Birches. After this a long sand point is met, which makes a cove of considerable size. It is there that the vessels anchor, which go to make their fisheries under shelter of the two islands. One can say that he has there his ship in safety. I have seen as many as five or six ships here making their fishery. They make flakes upon this point of sand, for there is no gravel on it, a matter which I shall explain more at length when I come to speak of the fishery. Fresh water is far removed from this place, but, as a recompense therefore, some two hundred paces from the coast, opposite or about the middle of those woods of which I have just spoken, there issues from the bottom of the sea a spring of fresh water as large as the two fists, which preserves its freshness for a circuit of twenty feet without mixing in any manner whatsoever, either by the flowing or the ebbing of the tide. Thus the spring of fresh water rises and falls with the tide. The fishermen, to obtain their water, go there with their boats full of barrels, which they fill with buckets as if they were drawing from the basin of a fountain. At the place where this extraordinary spring occurs, there is a fathom of water at the lowest tides, and the water is salt all round like the rest of the sea.

The large Isle of Miscou has seven to eight leagues of circuit; it has several large coves, near which are some meadows and ponds into which the tide rises, and where is found a plenty of hunting of all kinds of birds. There occur here also many Partridges and Hares. There are four streams which empty into the sea, of which two can carry canoes, the others not. The woods are as in other places, but there are, however, more Firs. The land is sandy, but is nevertheless good. All kinds of herbs thrive very well, and when I had an establishment [on Shippegan Island] there, I planted many nuts of Peaches, Nectarines, and Clingstones, and of all kinds of nut fruits, which came on marvellously. I also had the Vine planted there, which succeeded admirably. But two years later D’Aunay dispossessed me of it by virtue of a Decree of the Council, although I had a concession from the Company, in consideration of which he made an arrangement with the one who commanded there for me. Inventory was made of all the merchandise and provisions which I had there, for the value of which he gave his promissory note payable the following year, with the risks of the bottomry. [He is speaking of 1647.] But of this I have never been able to recover anything. Thus, just so long as there is no order there, and one is not assured of the enjoyment of his concessions, the country will never be populated, and will always be the prey of the enemies of France.

The exit and entrance for ships is between the large island and this long sand point of the small island. It is necessary to coast along the large island to take the good channel, which has everywhere a fathom and a half and two fathoms of water. Setting out from this place, it is necessary to enter into the Baye des Chaleurs and to make the circuit of it, in going to Isle Percée.


Written by johnwood1946

August 27, 2014 at 9:26 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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