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  • St. Peters (Cape Breton Island)
    – The veterans gave back Port Toulouse its original name
Monument on the site of Nicolas Denys' post
Plaque of the monument on the site of Nicolas Denys’ post at Saint-Pierre (author Wreck Smurfy, licence CC BY-SA 3.0, without modification)

Following the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht ceding peninsular Acadia to Great Britain, France encouraged the settlement of Acadians on Isle Royale in French territory. Port Toulouse was thus founded in 1713 by Acadians from Port-Royal, the Minas Basin, Cobequit, Beaubassin, Cap-Sable and Mouscoudabouet. They settled near a former trading post established in 1650 under the name of Saint-Pierre (St. Peters) by merchants from La Rochelle and fortified by Nicolas Denys, born in Tours, France. Given the strategic importance of the location, that is to say its close proximity to New England, a fort was built on the shore in 1715 to protect Port Toulouse, which became the naval base’s supply port of Louisbourg located 120 kilometers to the northeast. According to research published by Lucie LeBlanc Consentino, the first inhabitants of Port Toulouse bear the name of Aubois, Bonapetit, Belliveau, Boucher, Boudart, Boudreau, Bourisse, Bourque, Comeau, Corporon, Coste, Doucet, Dugas, Fougère, Gaudet, Gentil, Henri, Jassemin, Landry, Langlois, Lapierre, Larose, Lasonde, Latreille, Lavigne, LeBlanc, Martin, Michel, Mirande, Petitpas, Pitre, Poitiers, Préjean, Richard, Samson, Savoie, Simon, Tillard (Tétard), and Vigneau. The place is far from ideal for Acadians. But they settled there because the Mi’kmaq First Nation had a village on the site. In 1726, the population of Port Toulouse reached its peak with 275 white people divided into 45 families.

Port Toulouse depending on Louisbourg

Drawings of the defenses of Port Toulouse
Drawings of the defenses of Port Toulouse about 1734 (author Etienne Verriere the younger, public domain)

Port Toulouse’s fort also protects a short portage to Bras d’Or Lake and the interior of Cape Breton. In addition, it strengthens the alliance with the Mi’kmaqs. From 1731 to 1734 ambitious plans were developed for substantial enhancements to the fort, but it is not known to what extent they were implemented. Once the fortress of Louisbourg was completed, Port Toulouse and its fort then became a dependency of Louisbourg. A dirt road, often called the French Road (le Chemin des Français), links the two places, but not without concern. For many colonists saw it as a weak link that could offer the British a secondary attack route to destroy or conquer the fortifications of Isle Royale.

Most of the inhabitants of Port Toulouse are coasters. They are so called because they sail along the coasts to transport goods and/or passengers over short distances between French colonies in the region. An examination of the censuses of the time reveals that many Toulousans married women from Canada, Port-Royal, the Minas Basin or elsewhere. It goes without saying that each trip is in itself an opportunity to meet people. That’s what it is. Perhaps this amazing particularity of Port Toulouse constitutes a potential clarification to the nebulous origins of the saying “Who takes husband takes country”. Be that as it may, the comings and goings of cabotage mean that many Toulousans benefited from their migration to Isle Royale. For those unable to coast the two brickyards near the fort, as identified on the 1734 map of the site, offered work. The colony prospered until the British attacked Isle Royale’s capital. The two times they besieged Louisbourg, they came to destroy Port Toulouse’s fort, the first time in April 1745. The daring Toulousans rebuilt the fort four years later. But after the fall of Louisbourg in 1758, the small fort on Jerome Point was set on fire and the village came under British control.

Site of Fort Toulouse on the atlantic coast
Site of Fort Toulouse on the atlantic coast (Courtesy of The Maritime Explorer)

It was veterans of the French and Indian War, also called War of the Conquest, (1754 – 1760) who gave back the village its original name, namely Saint-Pierre / St. Peters. The old portage trail (800 meters long) used by Mi’kmaqs and Acadians between the Atlantic Ocean and Bras d’Or Lake was transformed into a canal in 1854. Route 247 toward Louisbourg is still dotted with French names such as Grande Grève, L’Ardoise, Anse Michaud Cove, L’Archevêque, Saint-Esprit, Framboise, Fourchu and Garabus. There is even the French Road as a souvenir.

St. Peters Canal
St. Peters Canal (Photo credit: Village on the Canal Association, including a short video, courtesy of Todd Thompson)