Beaubear’s Island National Historic Site

Beaubear’s Island National Historic Site
by Cyril Donahue

In the spring of 2002, MP Charles Hubbard, on behalf of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, recognised Beaubear’s Island for two designations of historical significance. First, as an Acadian refuge and second as shipbuilding site. Its official name is now Beaubear’s Island National Historic Site.

In 1755-56, after the fall of Fort Beausejour to the English, Charles Des Champs de Boishebert, a French commandant, brought 3500 Acadian refugees to this island and the adjacent Wilson’s Point. This “Le Camp d’Esperance” later became, through many misspellings, known as Beaubear’s Island.

Over 500 of these Acadians, due to famine and scurvy, died during the winter of 1758-59. The remainder fled to safer locations throughout Northern New Brunswick and Quebec.

In 1760, Commodore John Byron, grandfather of poet Lord Byron, burned to the ground what was left of the French settlement.

Beaubear Island
The view from Wilson’s Point
Beaubear’s Island, located at the confluence of the Northwest and Southwest Miramichi Rivers, is approximately one kilometre wide by two kilometres long. For over 4000 years it was known by the Mi’kmaq as Quoomeneegook (Island of the Pines) or Niktawaak (at the river forks). This natural meeting place was the centre of much trade throughout the history of the Miramichi.

The first non-native settler of the Miramichi was Richard Denys, Sieur de Fronsac. In 1653, his father, Nicholas Denys, had been granted all the land between Canso and Gaspe. Nicholas made as his home base the vicinity of Bathurst.

Richard, about 1669, established Fort Fronsac, on the Miramichi. Although the exact location is in dispute, evidence seems to indicate that it was at present day Flett’s Cove at the mouth of what was, in the days of Denys, named Riviere de Mission, in Nelson.

He arrived here with 12 families, built a house of freestone, a fort with four bastions, a trading post and homes for his men and their families.

William Davidson, a Scotsman, arrived at Beaubear’s Island in 1765. He established a fishery and shipbuilding business on the island and in 1773 launched the first sailing ship to be built on the Miramichi, a 300-ton schooner aptly named, the “Miramichi”.

Over the next century the shipyards on Beaubear’s Island passed through the hands of James Fraser, Joseph Russell, George Burchill, John Harley and Peter Mitchell, one the Miramichi’s two Fathers of Confederation.

Beaubear's Island
View of Beaubear’s Island from the park in Nelson

The shipbuilding site on Beaubear’s Island is the only known extensive undisturbed archaeological site in Canada that is associated with wooden ships and the days of sail.

The shipyards along the river, as many as 24 at one point, made the Miramichi the third largest shipbuilding centre in the Commonwealth.

The Honourable J. Leonard O’Brien bequeathed the island to the people of Canada in order to provide them with a “tranquil setting of peace and solitude”.

The Friends of Beaubear’s historic group have been working hard to assure that this untouched heritage treasure is indeed preserved for the enjoyment of this generation and those of the future.

This summer the public will again be able to enjoy guided tours of Beaubear’s Island.

Boat tours will leave Bicentennial Park on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 6:30 as well as on Saturday and Sundays at 1:30.

Beaubear Island Interpretive Center
Beaubear Island Interpretive Center

Costumed guides will provide an interpretative and entertaining history of Beaubear’s and the surrounding area.

Private tours are also available.

This year we are happy to be working in conjunction with the Governor’s Mansion, the historic home of J. Leonard O’Brien, where they will be providing refreshments and tours of his home.

This summer as well, at Bicentennial Park, there will be a replica “Trading Post” built of the Richard Denys era.

On each Sunday throughout the summer there will be a re-enactment of the trade that was being carried out between the Mi’kmaq and these early French settlers.

For further information check out our website at, call 506-622-0828, e-mail and by all means, this summer, visit our Trading Post at Bicentennial Park.

It will be located directly across from Nelson Rural School at 26 St. Patrick’s Dr. in (Nelson) Miramichi.