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A Brief History of the Gaspé Peninsula, the "Birthplace of Canada"

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The Mi’kmaq occupied this land centuries before the first Europeans arrived and were probably the first Indigenous people to have regular contact with Europeans.This may have occurred as early as the eleventh century with the early Viking settlements on the coast of North America.The Mi’kmaq were skilled hunter-gatherers, attuned to the shifting, seasonal resources of the area and were noted for their fishing skills and their distinctive birch bark canoes that were capable of crossing open water.

1534 Jacques Cartier finds a safe harbor in Gaspé Bay and erects a cross, claiming the land for King Francis I of France.This marks the beginning of the French presence in North America.

1750s Channel Island immigrants begin to arrive in the Gaspé.

1758 The British raid the Gaspé Coast under General James Wolfe and take command of many French settlements in the region.

1760 Acadian refugees begin to arrive in the Restigouche area and gradually move eastward to Chaleur Bay settling mainly in Tracadièche (Carleton), Bonaventure and Paspébiac.

The British win the Battle of the Restigouche, the last naval battle between France and England for possession of the North American continent.

1760s Fishermen from Newfoundland, Ireland and the American Colonies begin to settle in the Percé area and inhabit Bonaventure Island.

1763 The Gaspé officially becomes a part of the ‘Province of Quebec’.

1767 Charles Robin, a native of the Channel Islands arrives in Paspébiac and sets up a fishing establishment, eventually building a monopoly.

1770 Shoolbred & Smith (British businessmen) receive a large grant of land in Restigouche and set up a salmon exporting business, bringing in a number of men from Aberdeen, Scotland to work as fishermen, coopers and packers.Pirates from the American Colonies attack and destroy the operationa few years later and the Scottish settlers move eastward along the Coast.

1777 One of the first recorded sailing vessels to be built on the Gaspé Coast is constructed in the Chaleur Bay area by Louis Vachon.From this date until 1925 there were at least 600 sailing ships built on the Coast.This estimate does not include the many whaling ships built in and around the Gaspé Bay area during the 18th and 19th centuries.

1784 Following the end of the Revolutionary War, the Loyalists – British Americans who had remained loyal to the British Crown after the 13 American colonies gained their independence – arrive and establish farming communities mainly in New Carlisle, New Richmond and Douglastown.

1796 The first post office is established in Carleton.

1816 A famine strikes the Gaspé Coast in the winter of 1816-1817.

1820 Scottish settlers begin to make their way to the Coast, often sailing back to Canada on privately owned vessels that had carried cargos of lumber, fish and furs to Great Britain.

1825 A smaller group of settlers come to the Coast after losing their homes and livelihood in the Great Miramichi Fire, which destroys thousands of acres of woodland and all homes and buildings on the north side of the Miramichi River for hundreds of miles in all directions.

1840s Waves of Irish immigrants arrive when potato crops fail in Ireland.

1847 Irish brig Carricks carrying Irish immigrants to Montreal, is destroyed during a storm at Cap des Rosiers, with a loss of 120 lives.Some passengers survive and settle in the area.

1850 All communities make up a total population of less than 20,000, of whom half are English-speaking.The population is primarily located in the Chaleur Bay area.

1906 The Bonaventure and Gaspé Telephone Company is founded.

1911 The railway from Matapedia to Gaspé is completed.

1914 On October 3, the 1st Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, bound for Europe, sails from Gaspé Harbour.Consisting of 32 transport ships and 7 warships, it is the largest convoy ever to sail from Canadian waters. The vessels carry a total of 30,617 officers and soldiers and 7,679 horses, as well as other equipment for the war effort.

1920sA road (Highway 132) is finally completed around the entire peninsula.

1922 René Lévesque is born in Campbellton, NB to parents living in New Carlisle, where René grows up.He later becomes a war correspondent and then enters politics, eventually becoming premier of Quebec for the Parti Québécois.

1940 Gaspé Bay becomes a strategic point for the Ministry of National Defense during World War II.

1942 The Battle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence takes place.German U-boats sink 23 ships between 1942 and 1944.The HMCS Fort Ramsay naval base is inaugurated in Gaspé.A German spy, Werner von Janowski, is captured in New Carlisle and later used as a double agent in Canada and Britain.

1951 Roads are first opened in the winter.

1954 Wilbert Coffin is found guilty of murdering an American hunter and sentenced to death by hanging.Coffin is hanged at Montreal’s Bordeaux prison on February 10, 1956.

1955 Noranda begins mining copper ore in the Gaspé, starting a period of growth and employment for the new town of Murdochville.

1970 Forillon National Park is created, following the expropriation of the property ofhundreds offamiliesliving within the boundaries of the eventual park. These families are forced to re-settle in the surrounding areas.

1971 Bonaventure Island is purchased by the Quebec government which expropriates the entire island.Parc national de L’lle-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé is created in 1985 and is now one of the largest bird sanctuaries in the world.Editor's note: In 1954, Wilbert Coffin was found guilty of murdering one of the three American hunters that were found dead -- not three, as stated in the above article.Coffin was later executed for this crime. To this day, some people believe Coffin to have been innocent.