Nicolas Denys at St. Peter's
Nicolas Denys was born in Tours, France, in 1603. He came to Acadie with Isaac de Razilly in 1632, full of hope. He wanted to develop trade in fish, furs, and lumber, but he was beset by bad luck. He first established a lumber business east of the LaHave River, sending wood to France on returning supply ships, and a fishing station at what is now Brooklyn. His fishery failed when his ship was seized in Portugal while unloading a cargo of fish at the outbreak of war between France and Spain. His lumber operations continued until Razilly’s death in 1636, when Charles de Menou D’Aulnay, who seized control of Acadie, refused to allow him to export wood on his ships, and much was left to rot.
Denys then developed a fishery at Miscou, which was seized by D’Aunlay in 1647. He was equally unlucky with the fortified fishing post he established at St. Pierre (now St. Peter's). D’Aulnay died in 1650, but his widow’s men raided Denys’s fort and took him prisoner. On his release and return to St. Pierre, his fishing station was raided again on behalf of D’Aulnay’s creditor, Emmanuel LeBorgne, and Denys was taken to Port Royal as a prisoner.
Once he was freed, Denys went to France and obtained a grant from the Company of New France for a monopoly on the fur trade and the fishery from Cape Canso to Gaspé. He returned to St. Pierre and resumed control of his business for the next few years. He developed a short Mi’kmaq portage route between the Atlantic Ocean and the Bras D’Or Lake as a haul-over for his boats. The outline of Denys’s fort is still visible on the west side of the canal that replaced his haul-over.
Denys also established a fortified fishing station and trading post and cleared 30 acres of land for farming at Chedabouctou (Guysborough). He employed about 120 workers and moved his family there from St. Pierre, and for a while, Chedabouctou became his centre of operations. His ship sailed back to France each fall with fish and furs for sale and returned in the spring with fresh supplies. Misfortune struck again when Sieur de la Giraudière, who held the neighbouring concession on the Saint Mary’s River, disputed the boundary and seized Denys’s supply ship, demanding the surrender of his Chedabouctou settlement. With no fresh provisions, Denys was forced to send most of his men back to Cape Breton.
Denys travelled back to France, where his claim to Chedabouctou was upheld by the Company, but meanwhile, La Giraudière’s brother seized the post at St. Pierre. Denys was forced to negotiate with the brothers, and in the end, he surrendered Chedabouctou in exchange for St. Pierre, where he hoped to recoup his losses. Some Mi’kmaw traders brought him two boatloads of furs, which he could have sold for a good profit, but once more, disaster struck: a fire broke out one night in a granary and spread to the other buildings, consuming almost everything and forcing Denys and his remaining workers to flee in their nightshirts. They were able to save only half a cask of brandy and some wine plus a quantity of wheat from a barn that had not yet caught fire.
This misfortune completed Denys’s financial ruin, and he retired to his post at Nipisiguit (Bathurst, New Brunswick) where he wrote his memoirs in a remarkable account of the early history of Acadie. Description Gégraphique et Historique des Costes de L’Amérique Septentrional was published in Paris in 1672. Denys died a disappointed man in 1688 at the age of 85.
Today, St. Peters Canal has replaced Denys’s haul-over and is a National Historic Site. A small community museum recalls the history of the area.