The north arm of Rustico Bay and North Rustico
The north arm of Rustico Bay and North Rustico (Courtesy of the Government of Prince Edward Island)

Before the arrival of the Europeans on Isle St. Jean, the Mi’kmaqs were familiar with Rustico Bay in the middle of the Northern Coast. They even gave it the name Tabooetooetun, meaning “place with two arms”. In fact, the bay is made up of a north arm and a south arm. This geographic observation is emphasized today by the distinct communities of North Rustico and South Rustico. According to historical accounts where today there are heaps of oyster and mollusk shells on the banks, it points out the ancient site of a seasonal Mi’kmaq camp. Although the colonization of Rustico took place after the British deportation of the Acadians from the island in 1758, the bay was occupied for several purposes. We know that it served as a cove for fishermen on the Northern Coast and that the fertile shores of one of its tributaries fed the family of René Rassicot, whose name is at the origin of the name “Rustico” which has nothing to do with the rustic life of the local people.

Rustico Bay is eleven leagues from St. Peter’s Harbour (established in 1719/1720) to the east and three leagues from Malpeque (1728) to the west. The fishermen proceeding between the two seaports had to sail nearly 60 kilometres (one league equals 4 km) according to weather. On the approach of a storm, boats took refuge in the cove of Rustico. It was quickly baptized “La Crique” on account of its geography, including its channel, which offered boats and their crew a highly appreciated shelter. According to legends, La Crique saved several seafarers from certain death.

The current name of Rustico comes from one of the first French settlers, René Rassicot, originally from Avranches (Normandy) facing the Mont-Saint-Michel bay, who arrived in Port-LaJoye in 1724. He then settled in the Wheatley River estuary which flows into Rustico Bay. The first spellings “Racica” and “Racico” (used by enumerator de la Roque in 1752) gradually evolved into Rustico.

On the shores of the “Rivière à Louis”

Along the Wheatley River estuary
Along the Wheatley River estuary, formerly the “Rivière à Louis” (Photo credit : Lindsey Gallant, without modification)

The writings of Joseph-Henri Blanchard reveals that Louis Gallant was the first inhabitant of Rustico following the Great Upheaval of 1758. He came to settle on the shores of the “Rivière à Louis” in 1762 or 1763. Then, his three brothers Jean, Joseph and Basile as well as Jean Pitre came to join him at this location rich in arable and wooded lands. Several other households followed, notably the Blanchard, Buote, Doiron, Gaudet, Gauthro, LeBrun and Martin. Without securing a lease guaranteeing them possession of the island’s Lot 24, they cleared and sowed the land and built “winter huts” from the oak trees that abound in the surroundings and which are displayed on the actual flag of Prince Edward Island. The lot owners, Lieutenant-Colonels Francis MacLean and Charles Lee, unconcerned with colonization, did not disturb the Acadian families. The first leases were signed a quarter of a century later on May 1, 1787.

Flag of Prince Edward Island

“Winter huts” (houses) were part of the Acadian building tradition. Jean Doucet built his house at “Pointe-à-Grand-Père” (now Cymbria). It is said to have served as a place of worship at the time when there was no church.

The beauty of the Rustico’s landscape reminds all visitors and more particularly the descendants of the first settlers of Isle St. Jean that contemporary Acadia is much more than the francophonie, the Acadian flag or Acadian institutions and festivals. Above all, it is the nature in which the people of Isle St. Jean lived their life and worked hard.

The Doucet House
The Doucet House

The Doucet house is the oldest in Rustico and its surroundings and probably in the whole province.