Aboriginal and Mi’Kmaq
The earliest evidence of human habitation in the Atlantic region comes from the discovery of many stone and bone artifacts, mainly spear points. These artifacts have been dated as far back as 10,500 years and have been found in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island. These early residents, Paleo-Indians, were believed to have been a nomadic culture whose bands of hunters followed herds of caribou and supplemented their diet with fish, berries and other plant material. These people are thought to have migrated out of the area or were assimilated by other cultures which moved into this region. Shifts in the hunting patterns of this region from land animals to sea mammals lends credence to the theory that people migrating along the St. Lawrence River occupied this region. The culture of this new group was strongly tied to the marine environment and is recognized as the Maritime Archaic Tradition.
Following the Paleo-Indian and Maritime Archaic Tradition (3,500 years ago) were people whose culture revolved around the hunting and gathering of much smaller game. Shellfish played a large part in the diet of these new peoples. The piles of discarded shells, or “middens”, found at their camp sites has led to their being referred to as “Shellfish People”. Some historians speculate the Mi’Kmaq, a branch of the Algonquin Nation, moved into the area and that the Shellfish People were assimilated into this new group creating a hybrid culture that was unique to this region. Others hypothesize that the Mi’Kmaq have been in the region from time immemorial.
Old Mi’Kmaq Wigman, PEI
Native cultures have a long history of association with the Hillsborough River. The Mi’Kmaq people did not have a written language, and much of the information we have comes from anecdotal evidence, early European accounts, or archaeological evidence. Shell middens found in the Tracadie region suggest that the Hillsborough River was once a major transportation route of the early native people. The portage routes that were adopted by the French and documented by Holland in 1765 were probably in use for many hundreds of years before the arrival of the European. John Stewart, in 1806, mentioned that there were no roads in existence except for an ‘Indian path’ along the south side of the Hillsborough River. Later accounts of Mi’Kmaq settlement describes the 1870’s encampment at Red Bank, east of the present day Mount Stewart Bridge of the south side of the river, as having as many as 15 campsites, a graveyard, and a number of houses. Another encampment was located in St. Andrew’s.
Teepees Along the River
Port La Joye and nearby Rocky Point area has had a long association with the Mi’Kmaq. During the French regime, the Mi’Kmaq from all over Acadia would gather in the Hillsborough Bay area in early to mid-summer for the presentation of gifts and to attend a feast hosted by the French. Today, there are two communities of Mi’Kmaq associated with the Hillsborough River Watershed, one within the watershed at Scotchfort and one outside the management area at nearby Rocky Point near Fort Amherst.
Les Autochtones et les Micmacs
Les premières évidences d’occupation par des humains dans la région sont le résultat de la découvertes d’artefacts de pierre ou d’os, surtout des pointes des lances. Ces artefacts ont été datés de 10 500 années, passées et ont été trouvées en Nouvelle-Écosse, au Nouveau-Brunswick, à Terre-Neuve et à l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard. On croit que les premiers habitants, les Paléo-indiens, étaient des nomades dont les bandes de chasseurs suivaient les troupeaux de caribous et complétaient leur régime de poissons, de baies et d’autres plantes. On croit également que ces gens auraient migré à l’extérieur de la région ou auraient été assimilés par d’autres cultures qui ont déménagé dans la région. Les changements dans les modes de chasses de la région passant de la chasse aux animaux terrestres à la chasse des mammifères marins, donnent du poids à la théorie que les gens qui migraient le long du fleuve Saint-Laurent ont occupé la région. La culture de ce nouveau groupe avait des liens forts avec le milieu marin et est reconnue comme la tradition archaïque maritime.
À la suite du paléo-indien et de l’archaïque maritime (3 500 ans passés) est venu un peuple dont la culture tournait autour de la pêche et de la cueillette de plus petits gibiers. Les crustacés et les coquillages constituaient une grande partie de la nourriture de ce nouveaux groupe de gens. C’est à cause des tumulus de débris de coquillages trouvés autour de leurs camps qu’on leur a donné le nom de “les gens des coquillages”. Selon les historiens, les Micmacs, une branche de la Nation algonquine, ont déménagés dans la région et ont assimilé le peuple des coquillages, créant un groupe hybride qui était particulier à la région. D’autres ont émis l’hypothèse que les Micmacs sont établis dans la région depuis des temps immémoriaux.
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Culture and Heritage
The Hillsborough is rich in culture and heritage sites.
Thirteen of the many sites are described below.
1. Prince Edward Battery, first built on this site during the Napoleonic Wars in 1805, features interpretive displays at this historic site which once guarded the entrance to Charlottetown. Prince Edward Battery is located on the west side of Charlottetown on the Hillsborough River at Victoria Park. It is on Park Roadway, an extension of Kent Street, and lies opposite Park Driveway. For more information visit www.historicplaces.ca .
2. Fanningbank – Government House is the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Prince Edward Island, the personal representative in the Province of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. This impressive, wooden structure was designed by architect Isaac Smith and was completed in 1834. The famous picture of the Fathers of Confederation was taken on the front steps. This site features interpretive displays in the gatehouse. Fanningbank is located on the west side of Charlottetown at the junction of Kent Street and Government Drive.
3. Beaconsfield Historic House was built in 1877 for James Peake Jr. a prominent shipbuilder on the Hillsborough River and a leading Charlottetown merchant. This symbol of Victorian elegance overlooks the entrance of the Hillsborough and is now an historic site operated by the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation. Guided tours are offered at this site for a small fee. For more information visit PEI Museum and Heritage Website.
4. The Prince Edward Island Regiment Museum features displays of military artifacts as well as an impressive collection of historic photographs. It is located on Haviland Street at the western terminus of Water Street. For more information visit the Virtual Museum Canada Website.
5. Province House National Historic Site is the Birthplace of Confederation and is the second oldest provincial legislature in Canada. Completed in 1847, this magnificent building was designed by Isaac Smith and is built of stone quarried in Nova Scotia. Parks Canada staff at this site offer tours. It is located at 165 Richmond Street and lies opposite Great George Street. For more information visit the Parks Canada Province House Website.
6. The Honourable George Coles Building has played an important role in Island history since it was first opened in 1875. First constructed to house the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island, it later became the known as the Law Courts and served this role until a fire badly damaged its interior and roof in 1976. Shortly thereafter, it was renovated to serve as the PEI Government Officer and the Public Archives. A reading room allows access to the thousands of historic documents in the archives. For those interested in history and genealogy, the Public Archives reading room is a must. The Coles Building is located adjacent to Province House National Historic Site at 175 Richmond Street.
7. Founders’ Hall – Canadian Birthplace Pavilion uses multi-media, innovation and modern technology to engage visitors as they move along “The Time Travel Tunnel”. The site features special headsets to narrate your passage through three dimensional art displays, holovisuals, on-screen trivia games, cupboards, and much more. It is located at 6 Prince Street on the south side of Charlottetown beside the Hillsborough River. For more information visit the Founders’ Hall Website.
8. There are two Historic Monuments featuring the Hillsborough River which was the first river on Prince Edward Island to become part of the Canadian Heritage River System. The Charlottetown Hillsborough River monument is beside the Waterfront Extension boardwalk overlooking the Hillsborough River just east of Founders’ Hall. Its English, French and Mi’Kmaq text describes some of the features which led to the designation of the Hillsborough as a Canadian Heritage River. The Island’s first Canadian Heritage River System monument was erected in Scotchfort about 24 km (15 mi) east of Charlottetown on Route 2.
9. HMCS Queen Charlotte Naval Artifacts display celebrates some of the Island’s naval history. It is located at 10 Water Street Parkway adjacent to the river between the Historic Monument and the Hillsborough Bridge.
10. Ardgowan National Historic Site was the home of William Henry Pope, a colonial secretary and newspaper editor whose advocacy for the union of the British colonies in North America led to his becoming nominated as a delegate to the Charlottetown Conference. Thus, he became a Father of Confederation. The once proud Victorian gardens for which Ardgowan was known have been restored by Parks Canada and the structure houses the administrative headquarters for the PEI National Park. Ardgowan’s interpretive displays and gardens provide a pleasant stroll. It is located on Mount Edward road between Palmers Lane and Confederation Street.
11. Abegweit First Nation is one of two Mi’Kmaq first nation bands on Prince Edward Island. Aboriginal people have been on the Island for at least 10,000 years and their sea going canoes allowed their people to cross the Northumberland Strait after the land bridge was lost. The Abegweit First Nation is located in the Hillsborough River watershed in Scotchfort about 24 km (15 mi) east of Charlottetown on Route 2. For more information visit the Abegweit First Nation Website.
12. The Hillsborough River Eco-Centre celebrates the natural history and culture of the peoples who lived within the Hillsborough River watershed. There are displays, maps, and artifacts to entice the viewer and a loft from which to see the Hillsborough. A map points visitors to birding and other sites of interest to natural history and outdoor enthusiasts. The Eco-Centre is located at the junction of the Confederation Trail and Main Street in Mount Stewart and lies 28 km (18 mi) east of Charlottetown.
13. St. Andrew’s Chapel and Bishop A.B. MacEachern National Historic Site lie side by side overlooking the upper reaches of the Hillsborough River at the head of tide just above Mount Stewart. Father Angus MacEachern, a Catholic priest from Scotland who came to the Island in 1790, replaced Father James MacDonald who had died five years earlier. As the only priest, he served not only the Island’s Catholic Mi’Kmaq, French, Scots, and Irish but also parts of the mainland. His treks across the Island and mainland during this pioneer period are legendary. In 1819 he was appointed auxiliary (assistant) Bishop to the Diocese of Quebec and, upon the creation of the Diocese of Charlottetown in 1829, he became the Bishop for the new Diocese which covered the Island, New Brunswick and the Magdalen Islands. He also served the people in the St. Andrew’s parish and, in 1831, his home became the Island’s first college. After 45 years of service on the Island, he died at age 76. His remains now rest in the small crypt chapel at St. Andrews. These two sites lie south of Route 2, 2.4 km (1.5 mi) east of Mount Stewart. Click HERE to see a historic map of Old Mount Stewart.
Photo and Illustration Credits: Beaconsfield Historic House courtesy of Government of PEI; Province House courtesy of Parks Canada, John Sylvestre; and Mount Stewart circa 1880 from Meacham’s Illustrated Historical Atlas of Prince Edward Island courtesy of Museum and Heritage PEI.