In the Beginning
The first inhabitants of Prince Edward Island were transient bands of Mi’kmaq Indians from the mainland. Wintering in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick where game was more plentiful, they migrated to the Island, which they called Abegweit, each summer for a season of hunting and fishing. As they paddled up the Hillsborough, the Mi’kmaq were evidently attracted to a bank of brilliant red clay which stood in mark contrast to the miles of green marsh grass on either side. Now practically obliterated by erosion, Red Bank, located on the farm owned by Bruce Pigot, was the favorite Indian camping ground in the Mount Stewart area. There during the 1870’s, as many as 15 wigwams were located. Ridges marking the location of the kitchen “middens” or garbage heaps could be seen until 1969, when bulldozing operations connected with the installation of the village sewer system erased that potentially fruitful field for archaeological investigation forever
Recollections of the community life at Red bank are remarkable scare. There is the story of “Cold Friday” when the temperature dropped so low that the Indians forsook their wigwams and sought refuge in the warmer dwellings of Mount Stewart. There were also stories of the fishing expertise of the Micmacs, of how the white men would fish all day and catch nothing, and then at the proper moment, an Indian would emerge, from his tent and cast his line, and promptly draw in a fat trout for supper. The camp was abandoned around 1902.
Other centres in the Mount Stewart area with Indian associations are St. Andrew’s, Pisquid and Savage Harbour. St. Andrew’s was the site of an Indian camp, while the word Pisquid is the corruption of the Micmac “Pesegitk” meaning “entering at right angles” or “the forks of a river”.
Savage Harbour, the Havre des Sauvages of the French era, takes its name from an affair This occurred among the “Savages” probably long before the comings of the Europeans. Geological evidence points to a great battle having been fought in the area and the bodies of the dead thrown into a common pit, the top of which was only one foot below the soil. The geologist Abraham Gesner, apparently visited the spot and in his report on the geology of Prince Edward Island, dated Dec. 31, 1846, he explains that “by the encroachment of the sea on the south side of the harbour a number of Indian skeletons have been exposed and washed from the bank.” He comments on the great size of the bones, a feature which led people of a later period to conclude that they were the remains of a race of giants, eleven or twelve feet tall with heads as big as tea kettles. The bones were carefully reburied as soon as they were exposed.
The great dykes raised along the Hillsborough stand as an enduring memorial to the people with whom the Indians were eventually forced to share their hunting grounds. The Acadian farmers soon reached the valleys of the Hillsborough and Pisquid rivers and such adjacent regions as Tracadie, Savage Harbour, French Village and St. Peters. A system of ditches and protective dykes was utilized to drain the salt marshes, and the adjacent forest uplands were cleared of their growth of virgin timber. When parts of these uplands were recleared 150 years later, the old narrow ridges ploughed by the Acadians were still visible. Some of the ditches and most of the dykes are still very much in evidence.
Colonel Frannquet and the Sieur de la Roque, mid 18th century visitors to Mount Stewart were practically charmed by the view up the Pisquid valley. About 3 miles above where Mount Stewart is now, the party arrived at the home of widow Gentil where it was customary for travelers to stop for rest and refreshments before beginning the overland journey to St. Peters Colonel Frannquet description of the area indicates that the in which was on the right bank of the Hillsborough, was located at the point where this stream is joined by Tannery Run. The Colonel later traced the course of the Run, known to the Indians as “Minnewauken” and found that it originated in a spring whose waters were of exceptional purity. The spring, called the “Medical Spring” in Meacham’s 1880 atlas, was know to the French as “La Grande Source”
The economy of the community maybe divided into sectors. The sectors discussed with the economic life of the village of Mount Stewart are agriculture, fishing, shipbuilding, transportation and services.
Agriculture has been the primary activity of the Mount Stewart area throughout its history. With the exception of a small group of full time fishermen and some of the 19th century shipbuilders, the productive workers in the community have either been farmers themselves or those engaged into providing services to a clientele, of whom farmers comprised an important part.
By 1850, the year, which began the decade of Mount Stewart’s initial development as a village distinct from a proprietary estate, half the surrounding countryside was covered by forest and more than half the dwellings on it were log houses.
The farmer had his plough and tooth harrow, and oxen were commonly use a motive power. The harvest was laboriously cut the wheat and barley with a reaping hook, and the oats with a scythe. The potatoes were dug by means of a fork or hoe. Threshing was done by means of a “flail”, and the grain was taken to market on a two-wheeled cart.
By 1861, the farms on the shore were partly ruined by drifting sand. The soil on the north side of the Hillsborough was light and very difficult to clear on account of so much wild tea and ferns. Apart from barnyard manure and lime, the chief fertilizer used was mussel mud.
The fishing interests of Mount Stewart have always been directed their attention to the waters off Savage Harbour and those of the Hillsborough River. Over the years, the Savage Harbour fishing grounds, with their bountiful reserves of lobsters, cod, herring and mackerel, have played host to hundreds of fishermen, while the nearby canneries have provides profitable employment for many hundreds of fishermen, while the nearby canneries have provided profitable employment for many hundreds more.
The village’s rise to pre-eminence in an industry that had been sending beautiful Island built vessels across the seaways of the world for over a century was, however, to be short lived. Today, a depression in the earth or the remains of a wharf is the only tangible evidence to suggest that the 19th century yards ever existed. The first ship built n Mount Stewart was called “Betsy”, a schooner constructed in 1783 by Samuel and Alexander Fullerton at Savage Harbour, and that by 1850, probably with the depletion of the forests in the immediate area, building operations had been transferred to Hillsborough River.
A shipyard was opened in 1860 in Mount Stewart. Mount Stewart specialized in the building of brigantines, and almost all of the ships built in Mount Stewart were floated or towed down the Hillsborough River to Charlottetown. Learn more about shipbuilding on PEI.
During a great part of the 19th century and for much of the 20th, Mount Stewart occupied a position of major importance with regard to transportation in the eastern section of the Province. In addition to being the focal point of a network of roads, and standing at the head of the navigation of the Hillsborough River, Mount Stewart was also the eastern terminus of considerable steamer and schooner traffic.
Mount Stewart has, traditionally, been the service center for the extensive rural community which surrounds it. The Services are Health, Fire Protection Service, Banking, Telephone, Post office, Electric Light, Milling, Hotels, and Retail Stores and Peddlers.
On January 15, 1858 announced that a Board of Health had been constituted for the Mount Stewart area. One of the most persistent problems in early 1825, was the dreaded disease of “small Pox” that had been reported in the Savage Harbour district. The source of infection was traced to the schooner, “Mary”, owned by Mr. James MacDonald of Allisary, which had arrived with passengers from Miramichi.
To read more on this account of Mount Stewart History, look for the book at your local library –
Excerpts taken from “A History of Mount Stewart, Prince Edward Island”
Author: Franklin L. Pigot 1975