Historic and cultural town
Gaspé - Gespeg: a Micmac word meaning "land's end". More than 15 000 people are living on its territory that extends over 1 440 km2 and 130 km of coastline.
In 1534, the navigator Jacques Cartier from Saint-Malo, then on his first voyage to North America, found a safe harbour in Gaspé Bay. There, he erected a cross by way of taking possession of the territory on behalf of François 1er, King of France. That is why Gaspé is called the "Birthplace of Canada".
Gaspé has a rich and diversified cultural life. One third of the population is bilingual.
The Micmac nation of Gespeg is present in the territory of Gaspé.The community is composed of approximatively 700 members. Out of that number, 40% live outside of the municipality. Contrary to some other aboriginal nations, the Micmac of Gespeg do not live on a reserve but inside the community. They take an active role in the social and economical development of the region. They are also very proud of their culture that they share within the Gespeg Interpretation Center, a reconstructed traditional Micmac village, located in Pointe-Navarre.
Later on, English-speaking people joined the Micmacs and the French in Gaspé. In 1765, after the Conquest, demobilized British officers and soldiers were given land gifts in Gaspé, and in 1784, some 315 Loyalists also arrived. The coming of English-speaking people to Gaspé coincided with the founding of fishing empires: LeBoutillier Brothers Company, Charles Robin and Co, Hyman and Sons etc.
Fishing is omnipresent in the history of Gaspé Peninsula. Still today, many communities rely on this industry, especially Rivière-au-Renard, often called the provincial fishing capital.
Development and Transportation
Gaspé innovated on many levels. In 1804, Gaspé operated the first post house of the Gaspé Peninsula, though there are only four of them in the whole Lower Canada. From 1861 to 1866, the port of Gaspé was a duty-free port. Every year, 40 to 50 European ships docked here, and the residents mainly made their living from activities relating to the ships. Starting in 1862, many countries opened consulates in Gaspé.On December 9, 1873, Gaspé was established as a municipality.
In 1911, the railway linked up with the recently renovated port. Fifty years later, the seaport was an important center of merchandise transit. While the Canadian International Paper made Gaspé its shipping center for pulpwood, Gaspé Copper Mines used it for shipment of copper anodes. Besides, because of the possibility to be open all year round and shelter the fleets, Gaspesian elite sought the opportunity for Gaspé to become an international port. This dream never came true: the activities of Halifax and Montreal ports rapidly supplant Gaspé.
Gaspé was also part of the early days of modern aviation, when Count Jacques de Lesseps was mandated by the Quebec government to make a photographic portrait of the Gaspesian forest from the air. In 1926, the pilot set up a first piloting base in Gaspé Bay to fulfill Quebec 's expectations. On October 18, 1927, however, de Lesseps came to an untimely end in the St. Lawrence River . In accordance with his last wishes, he was buried in the Gaspé cemetery.
Since the Gulf of St. Lawrence was a strategic spot for enemy invasions (German submarines were known to be there starting in 1941), Gaspé became a strategic spot for the Ministry of National Defence. A naval base with 3000 men was built at Sandy Beach in order to patrol the Gulf. Strategic forifications were sprinkled over the territory, and vestiges of that time still exist today, such as the Fort Peninsula at the entrance to Forillon National Park , the Fort Ramsay naval base at Sandy Beach, and the shoreline batteries at Cap-aux-Os and Fort- Prével.
Amalgamation of Gaspé and creation of Forillon National Park
On December 24, 1970, Quebec unilaterally decreed the merger of 12 localities, thus creating from Anse-à-Valleau to Fort-Prével one of the most sprawling cities in North America, with 130 kilometers of coastline and 1440 km 2 in terms of area.
The creation of Forillon National Park in 1971 by Ottawa was certainly one of the most important milestones in the history of Gaspé. Recognizing the beauty and splendour of Forillon Peninsula , the federal government authorized numerous expropriations in order to protect this symbolic spot. The broad sweep of expropriations freed up 23,900 hectares of land, and eliminated 350 buildings and 1690 woodlots.