Back in time to meet the settlers of Cap-Rouge

December 19, 2023

[This is translation of an article by Daniel Aucoin which appeared in French in the Winter 2023 issue of The Participaper. Read the French version here]

Each Wednesday evening this past July and August, the interpretation centre of the Mkwesaqtuk/Cap-Rouge campground at Ruisseau des Maurice in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park played host to a popular series of rustic evenings. The activity was organized by the Société Saint-Pierre and Les Amis du plein air, with financial support from Parks Canada.

Betty Ann Cormier and Roland Beaudry brought two former Cap-Rouge inhabitants – Zabeth and Charlot – to life. Betty Ann and Roland say that this work fosters reconciliation and brings local people and visitors closer to the history of this once bustling Acadian community.

“We met people from all over the world throughout the summer months. It was a particular joy to meet and chat with descendants of the Cap-Rougiens themselves. Visitors were fascinated to learn about this important part of the history of the Acadians of Chéticamp. It brought a better appreciation for the Cap-Rougiens – our ancestors who lived through a second deportation,” said Betty Ann Cormier.

A man and a woman sit outside a rustic building dressed in early 20th century rustic style.

Lisette Bourgeois, general director of the Société Saint-Pierre, says she is more than pleased with this first series of entertainments at the new Cap-Rouge campsite. She points out that the project received much support from the community locally all throughout the summer. Lisette says she hopes the activity will be expanded upon next year and that the partnership with Parks Canada can be further developed.

A woman and a man dressed in early 20th century rustic style are outdoors. The man is working a vegetable garden while the woman looks on, with the sea behind her.

Over the past few years a number of projects have sought to pay tribute to the former inhabitants of Cap-Rouge, such as commemorative plaques focusing on the people and their way of life. These can be found dotted around the national park. The Vieux chemin du Cap-Rouge trail has been reopened to allow people to follow in the footsteps of the first Acadian pioneers. Several books dedicated to the memory of the Cap-Rougiens have also been published.

The Mkwesaqtuk/Cap-Rouge campground opened on July 1, 2022. It pays tribute to the community of expropriated Acadians as well as to the links that the L’Nu people maintain with the place. The buildings are designed to reflect the region’s distinct Acadian heritage. You feel connected to the local culture as you stroll the coastal paths, explore the pebble beach and watch the spectacular sunsets over the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

In years gone by, Cap-Rouge was a settlement located at the northern end of Chéticamp. During the 1930s the Canadian government decided to open a national park in the Cape Breton Highlands. Located at the northern end of Chéticamp, the communities of Cap-Rouge, Source de la Montain, Buttereau, Presqu’île and Rigouèche fell within the limits of the new national park.

The Cap-Rougiens were people of the sea and the mountains. Generations of Aucoin, Bourgeois, Camus, Chiasson, LeBlanc, Muise and Poirier were born on these proud mountains and in these peaceful valleys. The community included a wharf located at La Bloque, a general store, a post office and a school. Two lobster houses were in operation between 1900 and 1925.

At one time more than 30 families lived in the region, but they were removed from their land when the Cape Breton Highlands National Park was created in 1936. Evidence does not suggest that there was resistance to the expropriation at the time.

A man and a woman face a sunset over the sea iat Cap-Rouge, Western Cape Breton Island

Families were offered land on Chéticamp Island, which was then the property of the Crown. Several families were transported to the island while others chose to settle in Le Havre, La Prairie or elsewhere.

Today, in 2023, the rugged and steep coastlines of Cap-Rouge are still among the most picturesque in Cape Breton. Fallow pastures and a few old stretches of road are the remaining witnesses of the Acadian settlers who dwelt here more than a century ago.