Chéticamp is an Acadian region on the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, on the western slope of Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia. It is located between Cape Breton Highlands National Park to the north and Grand-Étang and Montagne des Écureuils to the south. These magnificent sites stretch for many kilometres along the Cabot Trail. Its settlement begins in the decade following the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, ending the Seven Years’ War between France and Great Britain. Chéticamp takes its name from a Mi’kmaq expression meaning “rarely full”, presumably in reference to Petit Étang (small pond) in La Prairie (the prairie) near Buttereau at the foot of Grande Falaise (big cliff) in the estuary of the Chéticamp River. All these names are the legacy of a rich heritage in the heart of a landscape where wild habitats and the sea merge with extraordinary elegance. A large number of localities accompany them to remind visitors of the local folklores.
At the time when Acadia was a French colony (1604 – 1755), Chéticamp was a hunting ground for the Mi’kmaq First Nation. Even if no permanent establishment has been discovered to date, it nevertheless remains probable that Basque and Breton fishermen, present in the Gulf of St.Lawrence since the 13th century, did build structures at the mouth of the Chéticamp River to dry up cod. According to Anselme Chiasson, an ethnographer and folklorist born in Chéticamp, certain families, notably those of François Chomable and Jean François, did temporarily settle in Chéticamp. In his book Geographical and Historical Description of the Coasts of North America, published in France in 1672, following several trips in the region, the governor of Cape Breton, Nicolas Denys (born in Tours on the banks of the river Loire) makes mention of Chéticamp where a fishing station would have existed.
Chéticamp was born from fishing activities. This ancestral vocation began in the 1770s with a seasonal fishing port managed by Huguenot families from Jersey Island, a small island in La Manche near Saint-Malo, France. Fishermen came mainly from Prince Edward Island (formerly Isle St. Jean) and Arichat (founded circa 1720 on Isle Madame, one of Nova Scotia’s oldest communities). In 1782, there were only two permanent Acadian families in the region, namely the families of Pierre Bois and Joseph Richard, both from Port Toulouse, Cape Breton. One would have settled in Buttereau, the other a little further north in Cap-Rouge. Their ruins are still visible today.
It was in 1785-86 that the first wave of permanent settlers arrived in Chéticamp. They preferred the heights of the “Platin” over the shores of the harbour so as to discern early the approach of any British ship. During this period, Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres (the first lieutenant-governor of Cape Breton and former aide-de-camp to General James Wolfe) also tried to attract Acadians to Cape Breton by offering them land and food. He so acted to prevent Acadians from settling on the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon in large numbers, as this would have been highly detrimental to Nova Scotia’s economic development. Then, in 1790, fourteen Chéticantins, nicknamed the “Fourteen Elderlies”, obtained a first concession of 7000 acres of land.
Twenty localities say a lot about the people of Chéticamp and its region. They are the Abyss, the Bois-Marié Cove, Pierrot’s buttereau, the Cave à Loups, the Chemin des Vieux, the Collet à Orignal, Phirin’s pound, the Four à Pierre Bois, the Nique-du-Corbeau, the Grosse Tête, Marcel’s harbour, Piquet’s panwax, Belle Marche, the Plé des Boeufs, the Pointe aux Pois, the Pointe Enragée, Braquette’s wharf, the Mitan de l’Île stream, Saint-Joseph-du-Moine, Source Bouillante, Bostonais’ spring, the Sucrerie, the Terre Rouge, Terre-Noire, and Pochard’s hole, among several others.