Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Mysterious Isle Haute

I suppose that today's post is in some ways a continuation of yesterday's. Although it is not all that thematically similar, the photograph was taken from the same spot on the waterfront. When you stand on the shore in Morden, Nova Scotia and look across the Bay of Fundy a large, flat island is very evident on the horizon. This is the sort of island which could make for an interesting background in a nineteenth century ship painting. It is also the sort of island which could make you wonder if humans have ever set foot out there. This is the mysterious Isle Haute.

Isle Haute is located in the mouth of the Minas Basin about 15 km from the Annapolis Valley and 10km from Cape Chignecto. The island measures about 2.6km long (about 1 mile) and stands about 100 meters above high tide. While the island has an interesting location, it is relatively inaccessible due to its steep cliffs and the aggressive Fundy tides. Thanks to its rugged nature, the Island has not seen extensive modern development.

In 1995, an expedition led by the Nova Scotia Museum found that Isle Haute was a valuable pre-contact Mi'Kmaq archaeological site. This location was used as a site to produce stone tools (scrapers, projectile points) as early as 7000 to 9000 years ago. Interestingly, the stone used to produce these tools was brought from the mainland to the island by canoe. As there are no European trade artifacts found at the Mi'Kmaq archaeological sites, it would appear that the island was not in use at the time of European contact.

A number of years ago we hosted a archaeological artifacts identification evening at the O'Dell House Museum in Annapolis Royal. One of the artifacts which was brought in for identification was a stone disk which measured about 1 foot across the center. The owner, a local fisherman, explained that he had brought up three of these in a scallop drag but the crew had tossed two back before he claimed the final one. The artifact had been found off the coast of Isle Haute. After some conferring between the experts, it was decided that the piece, an ulu, was used to scrape seal hides and was between 7000 and 7500 years old. This artifact is now owned by the Nova Scotia Museum.

Beginning in the 17th century the island was used by mariners as an anchorage as well as a spot to collect wood and drinking water. To preserve mariners access to these commodities, a application to settle the island in the 19th century was turned down. In 1878 a manned lighthouse was placed atop the island. As a sideline, the lighthouse keepers made various attempts at agriculture with their excess livestock and hay shipped to the mainland. The west end of the island was even used a a location to raise silver foxes in the early 1900s.

For the sake of clarity, I have adapted some of the contents of this post from a presentation I attended a number of years ago. The presenter, Dan Conlin, Curator at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, is decidedly one of the experts on this interesting island as he is with much of our province's marine heritage.

All for now,
RGS

No comments:

Post a Comment