FRENCH VILLAGE – CAPE BRETON

Entrance to Bras d’Or Gut – Alder Point Wharf

FRENCH VILLAGE – (LITTLE BRAS D’OR – ALDER POINT)

 

In describing this area, Haliburton @ the renowned author and judge called it, ‘French Village.’ He wrote: descendants of the Old French Colonists inhabited Little Bras d’Or from the mouth of the Gut to the part where it grows wide. (This is surely a description of the mouth of the gut up to where the Bras d’Or Lakes begin). He went on to say that the people of this settlement are employed in farming and fishing. … The south shore is settled by Scotch Highlanders with a few Irish…. In 1795, 360 Acadians, who had left Cape Breton for Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and for the Magdalene Islands, returned and settled at Little Bras d’Or and on Isle Madame.” Names associated with this migration were: Jacques Joseph Mermond (Marmeau), Francois and Jacques Lejeune (Young), Francois Fortin (Fortune), Jean Jessot (Jesso or Jessome), Joseph Lijeune and others. The names Lejeune, LeRoi, Jessot are still prominent and numerous but today are known as Young, King, and Jesso or Jessome. Many of the Acadian newcomers and returnees came directly or from Isle Madame, Arichat and River Bourgeois and surrounding area moving to the area of Little Bras d’Or in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s and finally renamed to Alder Point.

@ A.A. Johnston, A History of the Catholic Church in Eastern Nova Scotia.

A Place with many names:

1719 – La Petite Brasd’Or

1752 – Brasd’Or

1803 – Labradors

1813 – Little Brasd’Or

1813 – Little Brador Portage

1813 – French Village

1890 – Little Bras d’Or, and finally

1900 – Alder Point

A number of folks have asked me for information about Little Bras d’Or and area and to describe what was it like in the days before, during and after World War II. My real desire is to relate to those folks information that they may have forgotten and to those who may be interested in just how life was in the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s and the 1960’s. Bear in mind if you will that I left home and went to the Great Lakes in 1949 as a 14 year old so I may have missed out on some events.  I want this article to be about a relatively small part of Cape Breton known as Little Bras d’Or and area. More importantly I want to discuss as best as I can recall those wonderful people who lived there when I was growing up. As I construct this history of what I remember of, I will have changed some names in this booklet as an offering of privacy to those individuals that are cited in it. In most instances the real names are used. Some stories have been embellished to add a little humour and to make them more interesting or less interesting. Remember now when you read this that I am no one special many other young girl and boys found themselves in similar circumstances and left home at an early age to find employment elsewhere – it is no different today. In our day, we went to Ontario or British Columbia, today they go to Alberta. It has been forever so for those of us lucky enough to have been born in Atlantic Canada – more especially Cape Breton Island.

 

Little Bras d’Or Bridge – Under Construction

In several cases I have used the nick names of individuals who lived in Little Bras d’Or when I was growing up. These nick names may sound offensive but I assure you no offense is intended. That is how they were identified and they knew who they were and that is what everyone called them. When you see my use of an offensive sounding nick name do not despair for that is who they were or are.

We often hear today the expression that, “it takes a community to raise a child.” This could have been so aptly applied to Little Bras d’Or when we were growing up. Adults were quick to recognize you and knew who you were. They spoke to you and guided you and if you ‘frigged’ up told you so and your parents. Your parents of course took the word of the reporting adult as gospel and you were disciplined accordingly. It was amazing how everyone knew who you were and as the “Cheers” song goes, “everyone knew your name.” I always felt comfortable about that. As a youth and by the time you reached your teens you were treated as a young man or young lady. We of course always referred to adults as Mister or Missus or Miss. There was true respect for our teachers and of course the clergy. The police on the rare occasions we ever saw them were treated with the utmost respect, yea even fear.

Although part of Little Bras d’Or, I was born and raised in Alder Point which is located near the entrance to the Bras d’Or Gut on the east side. The Point was so named because alder bushes grew in abundance there. This Point was the location of the residence of Poupet de la Boularderie (Acadian born son of the grantee of Boularderie Island) who came to the Island about 1738 and built a large house, barns, dairy, and mills. This spot is reputed to be down at the shore below where Arthur Plant’s gut side hay field used to be and where the present day fish buying outfit is located. Boularderie was captured at Louisbourg in 1745. The orchard was still flourishing in 1768, and the cellar of the house was still visible in 1962. Theresa Dugas MacKay relates the story to me that when her great-grand-father Captain John Arsenault received authority to operate the telegraph office he was by regulation required to have in place a name for the area. This was around the turn of the century on or about 1900 and the whole area was then known as Little Bras d’Or south, east etc. He consulted with his daughter Theresa who suggested, “why not Alder Point’ the place is covered with alders.” And so it came to pass that is how Alder Point came by its name. Theresa eventually became Mrs. Walter Dugas who when operating the post office and a general store also took on the responsibility of operating the telegraph office in Alder Point. It became the unhappy and most dreadful task for Mrs. Dugas  the mother of this young soldier to receive the telegram during world war two announcing that her son Reginald had been killed in action in Europe. How terrible an experience that must have been!

William Russel was an early settler in Alder Point having built houses, stages, and flakes by 1768. He died late in 1792 and in that year his wife Maria G. T. Russell obtained a grant of “Russel Fields” which we have later learned included most of what today is Alder Point.

New Alder Point School – 1948

A new four room school house was constructed in 1948-49. It in fact was reconstructed from the Administration Building which was located at the No. 7 Military Base (Fort Oxford) at Little Pond. The general contractor took it apart and moved it to its location across from the old two room school and reassembled it. Mr. Jack MacLellan was the general contractor for this move. A new Roman Catholic Church was erected and dedicated to St. Anne and was formally blessed October 12, 1959.  In 1956 the population of Alder Point was said to be approximately 750 souls.

 

Little Bras d’Or School – Ball Field to the Left

The human history in this northern region of Nova Scotia dates back at least 5,000 years, and the geological history over some 1.25 billion years so says the experts. There is evidence of human non Indian habitation in this area from as far back as the early 1700’s. The poor French settlers seemed to just get settled in and were then kicked out by the English. Relations between England and France would settle and the French would return. This occurred several times and didn’t settle down until the 1890’s. The opening of the coal mines changed the complexion of Alder Point. Initially this village was made up of fishermen and farmers with a scattering of tradesmen and a minor amount of commercial activities such as retail outlets. The coal mines brought an influx of people from across the Island and from other parts of the country and from Europe. By World War One, the community was starting to grow with coal mining and boat building being added to the traditional fishing and farming activities. To support these activities was the need for other tradesmen and commercial outlets such as general stores, fish plants, smithies, coopers and lobster factories and canneries.

Alder Point Post/Telegraph Office – Walter & Theresa Dugas

The history of coal mining on Cape Breton began over 270 years ago. In the early 1700′s, coal was needed in the construction of Fort Louisbourg by the French. Coal was extracted from exposed seams along the cliffs which included those around Alder Point where the coal fell from the seams protruding out from the bank fell off and lay on the shore making it easily accessible. This coal was available on the shores right up until the 1950’s. In 1720 the first coal mine was officially opened at Port Morien. In the 1800′s, rows of company houses could be found at what is now known as Port Morien along with hundreds of miners.
During the period of 1784-1820, coal deposits were mined on a small scale by either the colonial government or through lease by private individuals.

Alder Point looking towards Point Aconi – Note Power Plant in Distance

 In 1826, Frederick, Duke of York, was granted sole right by the Crown to all coal resources of Nova Scotia. The Duke subleased these rights to a syndicate of British investors called the General Mining Association who then sunk shafts mainly at Sydney Mines. The Association built workshops, company houses, a foundry and a railroad to North Sydney.

Lobster Traps in the Gut

In 1856, the General Mining Association surrendered its mining rights and the province invited independent operators to apply for leases and subleases. From 1858 to 1893, more than 30 coal mines were opened in the province, producing 700,000 tons.

 In 1873, there were eight coal companies operating in Cape Breton. The miners were paid from 80 cents to a $1.50 per day and boys were paid 65 cents. The first large mine, the Hub Shaft of Glace Bay opened in 1861 and several other mines in Glace Bay and Sydney Mines opened within the next few years. In total, Glace Bay had 12 coal mines. In 1894, the government gave exclusive mining rights to an American syndicate, the Dominion Coal Company. By 1903, the Dominion Coal Company was producing 3,250,000 tonnes per year. By 1912, the company had 16 collieries in full operation and its production accounted for 40% of Canada’s total output.

 Typical Crop Pit Hoist – Note Covel

(Drawn by Simon ‘Doc’ Fraser)

Early in the 1900’s three coal mines opened: number 3, number 4 and the Toronto Mine nearby to Alder Point. This brought a flood of newcomers to the area many settling in Little Bras d’Or and many in Alder Point where some of the family continued in the traditional roles of small mixed farming along with seasonal fishing. The younger men went into the pits and many of the daughters invariably went to the “Boston States.” During the hard times especially during mine layoffs many of these young men left and went to the United States and to Western Canada. I remember my father introducing me to an old gentleman in the 1940’s whose name I cannot recall who worked as a boy in Number 4 Colliery for sixty cents a day in 1910. Things didn’t change too much over the years, Chester LeBlanc (Little Chester) told me he used to hoist alone 60 tubs (covels) # for the princely sum of $2.00. He would do two of these 60 tub hoists at Stricklen’s pits walk out to Poppa Burton’s brook, get a bottle of water then go up to Sollie Thurbide’s and hoist another 60 tubs. For this day’s work he made $6.00 total for the day and walked to and from home a distance of several miles. And this was in the 1950’s.

 # Bootleg coal miners used a covel as a means of measurement. I am unable to find the definition of covel. Bootleg miners took a 45 gal drum cut into two and  fitted it with a set of straps on opposite sides (handles) so it could be maneuvered and hooked and winched to the surface and dragged to the front of the truck box etc. The covel when full contained roughly 200 lbs of coal. At the bootleg pit head you purchased12 covels for a ton. It depended upon how honest and scrupulous you were as the bootleg coal truck operator whether you passed along the identical measurement to the customer – admittedly some bootleg coal haulers were less than honest in their measurement.

The Killer Mine – 12 Colliery, New Waterford, NS

 (The Killer Mine – 12 Colliery New Waterford – In July 25, 1917 this mine had an explosion that was determined to be the fault of management in which 65 men and boys were killed – boys as young as 17 years of age. My uncle, George Fraser, who was 19 years of age at the time was killed in this disaster in– 12 colliery.  I was called after him. My grand-parents, Mr. and Mrs. John R. & Sarah (MacLellan) Fraser never so much as received a letter of condolence concerning the death of their nineteen year old boy resulting from this preventable disaster. – CAPER) 

Beginning early in the nineteenth century, thousands of Canadian boys, some as young as four and five and including girls seven and eight, laboured underground – driving pit ponies along narrow passageways, manipulating ventilation doors, and helping miners cut and load coal at the coalface to produce the energy that fuelled Canada’s industrial revolution. Boys died in the mines in explosions and accidents but they also organized strikes for better working conditions but were instead expelled from the mines and lost their jobs.

(No. 12 Colliery Mining Disaster July 25, 1917, New Waterford, NSThe No. 12 Colliery Explosion in New Waterford, July 1917, is another of Nova Scotia’s significant mining disasters. About 270 men were in the mine at 7:20 a.m. on 27 July when there was an horrific explosion concentrated between the Nos. 5 and 7 levels, 2000 feet down the slope. Ninety men were still missing several hours after the explosion; 25 of them were subsequently rescued. John McKenzie and Phillip Nicholson, two 17-year-old surface workers, died after they entered the mine to provide assistance. Miner William Cook made nine trips into the depths to rescue fellow-miners, before being overcome by gas. The final tally of 65 killed included 22 Newfoundlanders, seven of them from one small fishing village; their bodies were returned to their home community for burial. By this time, many European immigrants were employed in the Cape Breton collieries, and one of the miracles of the No.12 Colliery disaster was the story of a German miner stranded underground, who remained alive by holding onto an air line until finally rescued. Comments provided by Tom King)

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11 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Nancy Swan on November 25, 2010 at 11:42

    Great information on the rich history of Little Brasdor…saddly once again an important part of the true history has been left ou. not only was my ggg Grandfather Francois Lejeune of Acadian Descent he was also Mi`kmaq as they all were!

    Their descendants in Newfoundland are reconized as Status Indian by our Canadian Government.

    The area was also known as Indian Village. I wish people would include all of our history in the telling of Little Bras D’Or. Its long overdue I think. Francois Lejeune was forced by the Government of the day as they all were to use Young…this is when this surname was used.

    Nancy Swan
    Little Bras D,Or

    Reply

  2. Posted by Nancy Swan on November 25, 2010 at 11:49

    I also want to add the plot of land the old St. Joseph School was built was land that belonged to Francois Lejeune 470A. land grant.

    In modern times the land the new Bras D’Or Elementary School is built is also land that was confiscated from thew SWan fanily land that was our relatives and part of Francois Lejeune land grant. We have 33a. left in our family from his land grant and if any come for it… be prepared for a fight like no other Little Bras dÒr has ever seen.

    Nancy Swan
    Little Bras D’Or

    Reply

    • Nancy your comments are appreciated. My Blog is not a forum for having a fight nor is it meant to be contraversial. I dont know if you remember but there were some great fights at the St. Joseph’s Bras d’Or Hall from time to time – real knock em down and drag em out fights lol.
      Seriously though pass to me the true history that you refer to and a copy of the land grant belonging to Francois Lejeune 470A. I need something to refer to and to quote. Of special interest would be the “True History” of Indian Village that you make reference to. Thank you.

      Reply

  3. Posted by Nancy Swan on November 25, 2010 at 13:27

    Thank you George,

    I will send his land grant map. His wife Margerite Lejeune is the daughter of Marie Guedry she was the daughter of Madeleine d ‘Azy Mius her brothers three of whom were the Mius Chiefs of LeHeve NS. who signed the Treaties Honored by our Canadain Government.

    I only ask that their truth be told along with everyone else that has been denied for many years be shared. In mentioning the fight I ment for our land… not a fist fight…but if need be..haaa.

    We will be hosting our first Xmas Potluck Gathering in Mill Creek Hall, Point Aconi Rd. Sat. Dec. 11th 7pm..all families are welcome to join us in the Celebration of our history in Little Bras D’Or.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Nancy Swan on November 25, 2010 at 13:38

    Interesting Historical fact:

    Mr.John Brennick who owns and runs the Arm of Gold Campground in Little Bras D’Or, is also a direct descendant of Francois Lejeune/Francis Young….Francois daughter Rachel Lejeune/Young married William Cantwell from Ireland….she inherited her fathers house and land…this is the spot where Francois Lejeune lived.

    Nancy Swan

    Reply

  5. Posted by Nancy Swan on November 25, 2010 at 13:54

    George this will indeed help tellabout the history-

    I would like to direct all to read the true story of Little Bras D’Or, now that all issues of cape breton magazine is online…in issue 56…you will find the story of Bishop Plessis journey in 1815 his very first visit to Little Bras D’Or. please google capebretonsmagizine.com issue 56.

    Bishop Plessis was the very first RC Bishop given total power over the whole area. He writes gggGrandfathers name Francois Lejeune in his journal…this story translated from his journal is also part of the Colonial Papers of Canada..known as the RED FILES.

    What is important this gives the reader a clear window on the time and place. It puts you in their footsteps.

    Most importantly it makes clear who the people are who live in the village.

    Nancy Swan

    Reply

  6. Posted by Tom King on November 26, 2010 at 17:42

    George,
    My King family is also from Little Bras D’or. Though I lived in Florence, my grandfather, Edward King
    lived there with his relatives. His father was George Albert King who left CB for NYC to find work. Edward was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is one of my brick walls in my quest into family history. He was returned to CB by his step-mother when she wanted to remarry. At the time he was only about 8 years old and he travelled by himself with a note pinned to his coat giving his name and his destination. Our name was originally LeRoi or LeRoy.
    Tom

    Reply

    • Brave little guy to travel so far alone. Thank God he survived.
      Reminds me of the ‘DPs” displaced persons in the late 1940’s who you would see on the trains from the Maritimes going west with name tags and brief instructions on their clothing explaining where they were headed. They were all ages, some families and many alone from war torn Europe without a word of English. I often wondered what they ate because you never saw them go to the dining car certainly. George

      Reply

  7. I am interested in learning anything about John alexander Bruard/Campbell born in Little Bras d’or
    in March of 1875, and died in the plaster mines of
    Ingonish on July 29, 1927. His father was Joseph Campbell, his mother was Mary Bruard?/Bruar,Briard.
    She may have been a Bruard-Young Lejeune dit Briard?
    God parents of J.A. were Angus Benoit & Elizabeth Young(maybe they were parents of Mary, or Elizabeth
    was Mary’s aunt). Confusing or what??
    In 1876 a Mary was a godparent of her sister’s? child, David Lewis Campbell. I am interested in
    the Campbell ancestry and more of Mary Bruard, as
    she was my gg grandmother. JA Campbell may have
    lived with the MacDougal’s in Grand Narrows for a
    time. At this point we believe he was illigetimate.
    As I am not very good with the computer searching
    side, any response to my E-mail (dovenest@kos.net
    would be appreciated. Please respond as Subject:
    Campbell/Bruard/Bruar ancestory.

    Reply

    • Interesting question Claudia. I will leave it here in the comments section and who knows somebody may indeed have an answer for you. I do not unfortunately have any definitive information on John Alexand Bruard (maybe Briard)/Campbell for you.

      Reply

  8. Posted by Lorne J. Fortune on February 16, 2011 at 20:12

    Francois Sr. Fortin (Fortang) He Born about 1743. There were no official birth records.
    Spouse unknown. He died after 1818 at Little Bras d’or. His second marriage was Nancy Orum married March 31, 1802, No children recorded and no birth records of this woman.

    Children: of Francois and first wife.

    Francis Fortin (Fortune) B. 1793 in French Village, Little Bras d’or
    *Francois Fortin born 1800? Little Bras d’or
    Mary Fortin born 1776, Little Bras D’or

    *Francois Jr. married Susanna Catherine Boutilier September 23, 1811. She was the daughter of Frederick Nicholas Boutilier and Anna Barbara Hirtle. Susanna Catherine was born July 25, 1792, Little Bras d’or.

    I am hoping that you may be able to tell me who Francois Sr. first wife was? As well I do not seem to be able to trace my family back before they arrived in Little Bras D’or. Any information would be great.

    Best regards

    Lorne J. Fortune

    Reply

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