The Gulf of St. Lawrence from the Greenwich sand dunes
The Gulf of St. Lawrence from the heights of the Greenwich sand dunes, PEI (Photo credit: Stephen DesRoches, without modification)

According to the first census of Isle St. Jean by the French government in Louisbourg in 1728, François Douville (fisherman) was the first to permanently reside in St. Peter’s Harbour. Although written history of the place does not reveal the circumstances of his arrival, it can be inferred from his stated occupation that it was mainly the proximity of the cod fishing banks. As fish behave according to atmospheric conditions, the heights of the local dunes offered him a panoramic view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence for his fishing risk assessment. The 1728 census clearly indicates that Douville settled in St. Peter’s Harbour in 1719, one year prior to the official settlement by the colonists recruited in France and in Acadia by the Compagnie de l’Isle Saint-Jean. Besides, he is duly listed in the death register (1685-1757) of the cemetery of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord parish, as being the “first inhabitant” of the island who arrived in 1719. At the outset, it should be known that St. Peter’s Harbour was during the French regime not only the first and largest mercantile centre on the island, but also its busiest fishing port and most populous settlement. The Mi’kmaqs called St. Peter’s Bay Poogoosumkek Boktaba meaning “a place to gather clams.” For the province of Prince Edward Island, which is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year (2020), St. Peter’s Harbour / Havre Saint-Pierre is a must-see historic site of great heritage value.

After ceding Newfoundland and the Acadian peninsula (Nova Scotia) to England under the 1713 Treaty of Utrech, France decided to consolidate its positions around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In August 1719, King Louis XV conceded the islands of St. Jean, Miscou, Magdalen and Brion to the Count of Saint-Pierre who had just founded the Compagnie de l’Isle Saint-Jean for settling this lovely island, deemed most conducive to colonization. St. Peter’s Harbour takes its name from the concession holder.

The mercantile capital

The compass rose puts North towards the bottom of this ancient map (Source: University of PEI)

François Douville does not appear on the listing of those (a hundred men accompanied by thirty women) who undertook before a notary to colonize Isle St. Jean. Most of the settlers recruited in France come from La Rochelle and the neighboring parishes in Normandy. Some are Bretons. None of them claim to be fishermen. They all cross the Atlantic Ocean on the frigate La Mignonne, commanded by Captain Louis Fourneau. They did arrive in Port LaJoye, the administrative capital of Isle St. Jean, in August 1720. The majority of them choose to settle in St. Peter’s Harbour, which then takes the nickname “mercantile capital”. If all roads lead to Rome, this is also the case with St. Peter’s Harbour. However, following the bankruptcy of the Comte de Saint-Pierre’s enterprise in 1724, a noticeable demographic change did occur. It is confirmed by the 1728 census.

Atlantic code
Atlantic code (source: Azkuene)

The 18th century road network of the island confirms the standing of St. Peter’s Harbour. The 1728 census indicates that St. Peter’s Harbour is the island’s largest settlement and the home port for more than half of the schooners and rowboats. Moreover, 85 percent of the male population declare themselves fishermen. Almost three-quarters of all kilograms of cod caught at sea are unloaded at St. Peter’s Harbour. François Douville, with 62,400 kilos to himself, is the colony’s most prolific fisherman. We know that he was born in Lower Normandy in 1685 and that eleven children were born from his union with Marie Roger, an Acadian. He died on January 29, 1757 at the age of 72. Douville now rests in the cemetery of Saint-Pierre-du-Nord parish, at 94 Cairns Road in Morell on private land, alongside at least sixty other first settlers of St. Peter’s Harbour. No visible marker identifies this historic site that the owners have kept undisturbed out of respect.

Courtesy of Google, 94 Cairns Road, Morell, IPE