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  Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada

Management Plan ~ Plan Directeur

St Peters Canal ~ Site ~ Le Canal de St. Peters

July 23, 1915 / 23 juillet, 1915 © Parks Canada / Parcs Canada

(This Parks Canada newsletter is a joint effort of the Cape Breton Field Unit and the Atlantic Service Centre)

Issue 1, Spring 2000

Help us plan the Future


- Hover over Images for Details - Then Click to Enlarge
Images Copyright © Parks Canada

View of St. Peters Canal on August, 1912. (St. Peters Canal.jpg  - 189974 bytes)

St. Peters Canal Today (PeopleSailboat.jpg  - 183566 bytes)

St. Peters Canal Today (Boat House.jpg - 203892 bytes)

The typical navigation season runs from May to October servicing pleasure craft and
commercial and government vessels. More than 1200 lockages were reported for 1999.

An Invitation

You are cordially invited to help us develop the first Management Plan for St. Peters Canal National Historic Site. We recently began a planning program to develop direction for operating the site and working with the community. Inside this newsletter, you will find some initial results of our work and a number of questions and opportunities we would like to discuss with the public.

This spring, we would like to hear your views on the future management of the site and any potential cooperative opportunities so we can prepare draft management proposals. In a few months we will submit these proposals to the public for review.

These consultations will help us prepare a management plan that reflects both Parks Canada's policies and the views of the public. We thank you in advance for helping us to protect and present this priceless site.

Carol Whitfield
Field Unit Superintendent
Cape Breton Island

Why get involved?

If you are a user of the canal or a resident of the area, or are interested in the commemoration of its history, then you have a vested interest in the management of St. Peters Canal and its cultural resources.

View of the entrance of the canal and the Lockmaster’s house in 1915. Parks Canada (St. Peters.jpg  - 234088 bytes)

Please take some time to read this newsletter and see how you can share your views with us. Details of the open house are given on the last page.

Why St. Peters Canal Is A National Historic Site

The national historic significance of St. Peters Canal is tied to its role as a transportation corridor which dates back hundreds if not thousands of years.

In 1929 the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated St. Peters Canal as having national historic importance. The same year, the Board also recognized the national historic significance of the French settlement of Saint-Pierre. In 1931 both sites were commemorated with plaques.

The national historic significance of St. Peters Canal is tied to its role as a transportation corridor which dates back hundreds if not thousands of years. It has evolved from a land-based portage route to a canal waterway.

St. Peters Canal National Historic Site is of national historic significance for the following reasons:

A Word About Parks Canada's Mandate

Parks Canada administers an internationally renowned "Family of National Historic Sites" on behalf of all Canadians. Its mandate is:

St. Peters Canal National Historic Site - Local Setting (SPC Map (EN).jpg  - 225701 bytes)


A Word About Commemorative Integrity

Commemorative integrity refers to the health or desired state of a site. Commemorative integrity is ensured when:

A Word About Cultural Resources

We define a cultural resource as an object, a structure or an area of historic value that gives evidence of human activity or has cultural meaning. For example, St. Peters Canal encompasses the Nicolas Denys fort which is evidence of the historic evolution of the site.

A shared responsibility

Telling the story of St. Peters and protecting its significant cultural resources.

At St. Peters Canal, Parks Canada's mandate is to maintain the commemorative integrity of the site. We fulfill this responsibility first by explaining to Canadians and visitors why this site is of national historic significance. Secondly, we must ensure the protection of its cultural resources. We cannot, however, meet this challenge alone. We need the help and participation of our neighbours and the community. During this consultation, we wish to discuss ways of taking up this challenge in cooperation with the public.

Cultural resources of the site

St. Peters Canal encompasses many significant cultural resources. Some are related to the national historic significance of the canal. They include the Lockmaster's House, built in 1876, a number of masonry features and structures associated with the original canal and the role of the swing bridge.

St. Peters Canal National Historic Site is also enriched by the presence of cultural resources associated with Saint-Pierre. The remains of the 17th-century fortified trading post of Saint-Pierre as well as the excavated artifacts associated with the fort represent this period. Vestiges of the "haulover road" constructed by Nicolas Denys may be present as well.

The remains of the 18th-century small fort and settlement of Port Toulouse are also of national historic significance. The government of Nova Scotia values these below-ground resources and protects them within Battery Provincial Park.

Saint-Pierre National Historic Site - Local Setting (Saint-Pierre Map (EN).jpg - 76584 bytes)

A Transportation Corridor

R. Ferguson (Canal Locks2.jpg  - 144026 bytes)

Since Time Immemorial

Tied to its role as a transportation corridor between the Bras d'Or Lake and the Atlantic Ocean, here is a brief review of the St. Peters Canal Story.

The Mi'kmaq

The area was used for thousands of years by the Mi'kmaq, who portaged their canoes across the isthmus separating Bras d'Or Lake from the ocean. Access to the seacoast allowed them to reach other parts of their territory throughout Atlantic Canada. As well, they established seasonal camps here to harvest natural resources. It is likely that the presence of the Mi'kmaq brought Portuguese, Basque and French fishermen to the area as early as the 1500s. The Portuguese may have established San Pedro in the area in 1520.

Saint-Pierre and Nicolas Denys

Historic postcard, not dated. Entrance of the canal, circa 1920. Parks Canada (St. Peters.jpg  - 234088 bytes)

In the 1630s, merchants from France built a small fortified settlement on St. Peters Bay, and named it Saint-Pierre. They were granted the rights to the fur trade and fishery in the region by the New France Company. In 1650, Nicolas Denys, an entrepreneur and merchant, took possession of the post. During his stay, Denys traded with the Mi'kmaq. To facilitate shipping and transportation, the traditional portage trail became a "haulover" road where oxen, or people, could pull Denys' ships from one shore to the other.

During the winter of 1668/69 a fire destroyed all the structures at Saint-Pierre. The post was abandoned and Denys moved to New Brunswick. In 1924, Nicolas Denys was declared to be of national historic significance because of his pioneering role in the fur trade and fishing industries in the Gulf region.

View of the shore of St. Peters Bay at Battery Provincial Park, site of the former settlement of Port Toulouse. F. Marineau (Bay_small.jpg - 1653 bytes)

Port Toulouse

The next chapter in the St. Peters story began in 1713 when the French established themselves on Cape Breton Island following the loss of mainland Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to the British. Saint-Pierre was renamed Port Toulouse. The core of the settlement was located about 1 km east of the old 17th-century trading post, within the current boundaries of Battery Provincial Park. The area of the trading post was renamed Petit Saint-Pierre.

Port Toulouse became one of the three principal ports established on Isle Royale. It was a major supply center for Louisbourg. To protect the settlement, the French built a small fort on the shore. In spite of optimistic plans for masonry walls, Fort Toulouse had to settle for earthworks protected by palisades. Inside the defenses were the commandant's quarters, soldiers barracks, a chapel and other structures.

During that period the French maintained close contact with the Mi'kmaq. In 1745 and 1758, both the fort and the settlement were destroyed by the British during the wars for control of North America. In 1793, the British built Fort Dorchester on the summit of Mount Grenville, the highest point in the region. A prominent Irish merchant, Lawrence Kavanaugh Jr., whose family contributed significantly to the growth of St. Peters, established himself close to the ruins of Port Toulouse.

The Construction of the Canal

Beginning of the construction of the present-day canal, August 1913. Parks Canada (SPC Expansion.jpg  - 140679 bytes)

The present village of St. Peters was founded in the 19th century. The new residents used Denys' haulover road to transport craft across the isthmus. Plans were soon made to replace the old portage road with a navigation channel. Work on the canal began in 1854. After 15 years of digging, blasting, and drilling, a passage about 800m long and about 8m wide had been cut through a solid granite hill 20m high. In 1869 the canal finally became a reality. Additions and renovations, which included widening the channel and lengthening the lock, continued until 1917.

St. Peters Canal Still in Use

In 1985, Parks Canada completed a major restoration of the canal, which is used by pleasure craft and some commercial vessels. Today, St. Peters Canal is the only working canal of national historic significance in Atlantic Canada.

The only surviving structure from the 19th century is the Lockmaster's House. Nicolas Denys' fort lies buried in the garden of this house. To the east, archaeological work has confirmed the presence of the ruins of some structures of Fort Toulouse along the shoreline of Battery Provincial Park. In the same park, the ruins of Fort Dorchester atop Mount Grenville overlook the canal.

The mounds of Denys’ fort. F. Marineau (Grounds.jpg  - 314304 bytes)


The Lockmaster’s House today, built in 1876. Parks Canada (Lockmasters_House_small.jpg  - 1550 bytes)

Messages Of National Historic Significance

The messages of national historic significance explain why St. Peters Canal is commemorated. They can be communicated through exhibits, educational programs, publications or other media aimed at visitors and the public.

Our goal is to ensure that the residents of Richmond County, as well as visitors, understand and appreciate the roles St. Peters Canal played in the history of Cape Breton Island and of Canada. The messages describing the national historic significance of St. Peters Canal are:

The Mi'kmaq Portage

The French/Acadian Period

The Canal

The canal today, 1999. F. Marineau (BoatCanal.jpg  - 212177 bytes)

Messages Of Local And Regional Historic

View of the bridge located at the north end of the canal, July 1915. Parks Canada (Bridge_small.jpg - 1713 bytes)



The messages of local and regional significance link the history of the canal to the history of the surrounding area. They are generally of great interest to the community because they reveal the story of the local heritage. They can be presented in much the same way as those of national historic significance.

We Need Your Feedback.

We would like to discuss these messages with the public and interest groups. Here are some examples of messages we are considering:

The Mi'kmaq Presence

The French/Acadian Settlement

The Design and Role of the Canal

The Development of the Community

What Do You Think?

Feel free to comment on these messages. Do you have any ideas on how best we can present them? Are there other messages that should be communicated on site and/or offsite? You may want to suggest types of facilities or cooperative initiatives with potential partners which could help visitors learn about the rich local heritage. Please share your views with us. 

Planning Issues And Opportunities To Address

Aerial of St. Peters Canal (SPC Arial.jpg - 222434 bytes)

Later this year we will prepare draft management proposals. Initially, we will study a number of questions we have identifiedon this page. Before we start, however, we would like to consult the community. This consultation will be an opportunity to find out the public's views on these issues. It will also help us identify other issues and opportunities.

    Ensuring the Commemorative Integrity of the Site

Detail from historic map of Port Toulouse, 1734 (1734 Plan.jpg - 291494 bytes)

It is Parks Canada's mandate to ensure protection of the site's cultural resources. One of our challenges is to protect the Lockmaster's House. Major conservation work will be required to preserve its integrity.

A second issue pertains to the below-ground cultural resources such as the vestiges of the Nicolas Denys Fort. We will develop management strategies to ensure that these buried resources are not threatened either by natural elements or human interventions.

There are important resources located outside Parks Canada's property such as the remnants of Port Toulouse. We will continue providing information on historical and archaeological research, conservation measures or other aspects of interest to the public. What kind of cooperation should we explore to ensure adequate protection to these resources?

Presenting the story of St. Peters

Communicating the reasons for the historic significance of St. Peters is also an important goal. Some interpretation services are available at the site but we would like to review them as part of this planning project. Interpretation messages and visitor needs are examples of issues we want to address in the plan.

Local and regional messages are important in our presentation. Which messages would best reflect your community, its history, and the links to the canal? For example, should we emphasize the centuries of Mi'kmaq presence, the establishment and growth of the village of St. Peters, and Fort Dorchester? How can we present these messages cooperatively with partners?

Providing Quality Visitor Services

Some facilities are presently offered at the site such as picnic tables, benches, and washrooms. What types of service do people need when using the canal or visiting the site? Are there potential partners interested in providing new services?

Over the last five years, in accordance with Government of Canada policy, Parks Canada has established service fees at national parks, national historic sites and historic canals. At historic canals, fees are in place for passing through the lock and other services. This policy must be implemented at St. Peters so fees will be established for use of the canal and revenues will be reinvested in the maintenance of the canal. It is Parks Canada's intention to ensure that fees will be fair, appropriate and in line with the value of the service offered. We want to discuss this topic with users of the canal and the community during the public consultation. There are various ways of structuring the fee schedule, particularly for frequent users, so we need your input.

Encouraging Community Involvement

Interest groups, partners, and community groups can make important contributions to the management of historic sites. How should we build on existing cooperative arrangements with others such as the Nicolas Denys Museum, the Chapel Island community, and the N.S. Department of Natural Resources? Are there projects you would like to explore with us? This planning program is a good occasion to discuss these opportunities with you.

A Word About Management Plans

A Management Plan outlines what Parks Canada will do to protect as well as promote and present St. Peters Canal National Historic Site. It also explains how Parks Canada will serve visitors and work with the community. When completed in the year 2001, the Management Plan will be submitted to the Minister of Canadian Heritage for approval, tabled in the House of Commons, then distributed to the public.

What happens next?

What are your views? Are there other issues or opportunities you would like us to address in the plan?

Your input at this stage is very important to us and we are looking forward to receiving your suggestions.

Wednesday, March 29, we will be holding an open house. The public is invited to meet with members of the planning team and discuss the information presented in this newsletter. We also plan to contact a number of organizations to seek their views. After the consultation, we will analyze all the comments and prepare preliminary management proposals to address the issues and opportunities. These proposals will be submitted to the public for review and comments late in the year.

After this second consultation, we will integrate public comments into the preliminary proposals and prepare the Management Plan. All these steps will allow us to achieve the goal of this planning program: to prepare a sound Management Plan which will reflect the views and expectations of the community.

R. Ferguson (Canal Locks.jpg  - 198977 bytes)

How you can participate?

Attend The Open House

We invite you to visit us at the open house being held in St. Peters at the United Church Hall, 9917 Grenville Street, on March 29, 2000. The open house will be held from 2:00 to 8:30 pm.


You can either write a letter or send in a written brief. We would appreciate receiving your comments and briefs before April 28, 2000. Please send them to:

Carol Whitfield, Field Unit Superintendent,
c/o Fortress of Louisbourg NHS,
PO Box 160, Louisbourg, Nova Scotia B0A 1M0

or send an email to:

Get More Information

If you would like more information about Parks Canada programs, St. Peters Canal National Historic Site, the site's cultural resources or any other information relating to the commemoration of St. Peters Canal, you may contact us by calling (902) 733-3551.

Surf The Web

You may visit the site's website at: default.htm

Or Parks Canada's website at:

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obtenir votre copie immédiatement au (902) 733-3551.