Early Missions along Bay Chaleur
byTHE REV. C. J. MERSEREAU
It was the great French explorer Jacques Cartier who on July 3, 1534, sailed northward along Miscou Island and rounded its northern point. He called this point the Cape of Hope because before him lay a great open bay, the fulfillment he thought of his quest for the long-sought passage to the West. He named the bay, the Bay of Heat, because of the heat he experienced there on July 9th. These names, Cape of Hope and Bay Chaleur are the first names applied by any European, so far as we know, to any part of New Brunswick.
Father Pacifique says that Bathurst can boast of being the first mission in New Brunswick. He says “It is true that Father Biard celebrated Mass, passing through the St. John river district on October 11th, but this was only once (Relation, 1611, p. 34). It is also true that the first missionary (Father Bernardin) went to Miscou in 1619 and doubtless celebrated Mass several times there. But he established his mission at Nepisiguit (Bathurst) in 1620.” The name for the little church was “the Cabin of Jesus.”5
Nicolas Denys also described the place most appreciatively in his Description of North America. “The whole extent of this large cove is a league of length. It has behind it large and fine meadows ..... So great a quantity of wild geese, ducks and brant is seen that it is not believable, and they all make so great a noise at night that one has trouble to sleep ... Four rivers empty into this basin of which three come from the hills that are visible at their heads; and the other which is larger falls into this basin on the left side in entering ... There is hardly anything but meadows on both sides of this basin, beyond which the land is crowded with fine trees of all kinds.”
Father LeClercq for he deeply loved Bathurst. He writes22 “Nepisiguit is one of the most charming places in all the great Bay of St. Lawrence. It is distant only a dozen to fifteen leagues from Isle Percé. The land there is fertile and abounds in everything; the air is pure and healthy. Three beautiful rivers which empty there form a very attractive basin, whose waters lose themselves in the sea through a strait which makes and marks the entrance thereto.
Nicolas Denys writes “My establishment of Nepisiguit is on the border of this basin at a league to the right of its entrance. At low water a canoe can scarcely approach it. It is there that I have been obliged to retire after the burning of my Fort of Saint Pierre in the Island of Cape Breton (winter of 1668-9). My house is flanked there by four little bastions with a palisade of which the stakes are 18 feet in height, with six pieces of cannon in batteries. The lands are not of the best – there are rocks in some places.”19
The monument to Denys at Bathurst carries the inscription “Appointed Governor and Lieut: General of the Coast and Islands of the Gulf St. Lawrence from Canso to Gaspe in 1654.” “Pioneer in trade and in the fishing industry. Naturalist and author of a classical work on Acadia 1672. His chief residence was at Pointe an Père (Ferguson Point) on Nepisiguit (Bathurst) Harbor, where he died and was buried in 1688.”
Nepisiguit may claim to be the oldest continuously occupied settlement in all New Brunswick for “it is very likely” says W. F. Ganong26 “that some at least of these Acadians remained at Nepisiguit from this time down to 1778 when we know positively that the permanent occupation of the locality by the Acadians had commenced.” In this case, the Acadian settlement here is one of the oldest, If not. the very oldest, of the continuously occupied settlements of New Brunswick. Bishop Plessis remarked in 1811 “Nepisiguit is one of the first establishments on the Bay, though it is not easy to determine its origin.”27