It all started in June 1732 with the arrival at Brudenell Point of three French merchant vessels coming directly from France without any soldiers. One of the ships brought fishermen and navigators to Isle St. Jean, a second transported 80 “indentured servants” meaning workers who contractually subscribed for three years of work, and a third imported a full cargo ” of wine, whiskey and other effects ”. After having built two piers at the foot of a small cape and having established themselves properly on the wooded heights of the promontory, the crew then gave the place to be colonized the name of “Three Rivers” after the three waterways in the immediate surroundings flowing into Cardigan Bay. Today, these three rivers are called the Brudenell (formerly Ascension River), the Cardigan (Achée River) and the Montague (St. John River). Since 2004, they have been included in the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, collectively designated as the “Three Rivers”. This fishing and trading establishment was an attempt by France to permanently colonize Isle St. Jean and make it an international trade center in the heart of the Louisbourg, Quebec and French West Indies axes. Despite several setbacks, the first commercial enterprise in Prince Edward Island prospered to the point of being able to repay its debts. In 1745, following the capture of Louisbourg by New England militiamen, supported by the British navy, Anglo-American corsairs disembarked in Three Rivers and burned to the ground 13 years of work in a few hours only ending the Three Rivers colony founded by Jean-Pierre Roma. But what is the story of this visionary entrepreneur?
A visionary entrepreneur
Jean-Pierre Roma at Three Rivers was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1936. The plaque displaying the reason for designation underlines that his settlement and business post enhanced the French presence on Isle St. Jean (now Prince Edward Island). In July 1731 Roma, apparently from Bordeaux, and three of his associates from Paris received from King Louis XV of France the eastern coast of the island, as a concession. It was named Compagnie de l’Est de l’Isle Saint-Jean (a royal chartered company) and Roma became its operating administrator. The charter, however, contained several obligations, notably to operate a sedentary fishery, and to populate Three Rivers in 1732 with 80 inhabitants and 30 every year thereafter. In addition, any new settler had to clear the land and erect buildings. It is worthy of note that the few Acadian families who did settle in the area were hesitant to become tenants of the company. In consequence, they made sure to settle outside the company grounds.
In order to connect Three Rivers, also named “Rommanie” on certain 18th century maps, Roma and his team built several rudimentary paths connecting Three Rivers to Port-La Joye, St. Peters Harbour and other neighbouring communities. Together, they constitute Prince Edward Island’s first road network. On this 18th century plan of Three Rivers the location of “Rommanie” can be seen on the right, in yellow, between the St. John and Ascension rivers.
The import-export business carried out by Roma and supported by five tall ships was a profitable one. Essentially, he sold cod, lumber and beer brewed in Three Rivers to the French West Indies, in exchange for molasses and rum, which he then sold in Quebec for food supplies such as flour for supporting Louisbourg.
Three Rivers’ fishermen preferred to leave their boats at St. Peters Harbour (formerly Havre Saint-Pierre), in the north of the island, where Acadians also lived, because at this location the cod fishing schools were closer to the seashore. Certainly, there are some remains of the two piers and nine buildings of “La Rommanie” (discovered in the 1960s), but the most wonderful living cultural heritage of Three Rivers is the old fashioned bread offered daily in celebration of the story of Jean-Pierre Roma in the partial reconstruction of his establishment. It is baked in an outdoor brick and clay oven, heated with wood, as it was then. In the 18th century Acadia bread represented a high percentage (60 to 85 percent) of the daily total food consumption.