I stood on the old wharf below Babin’s Hill and waited for the setting sun to produce the image that I thought might take place. I wasn’t disappointed.
There were just enough clouds to hide the sun at the horizon and suddenly everything turned a rich blue. Except for the red of the lighthouse’s beam streaking across a mirror-like sea, the blue of the sky melted into the blue of the narrow body of water.
The lighthouse stood by itself on the top of Jerseyman’s Island across a narrow passage known as Crid’s Passage at one entrance to Arichat Harbour. Many small islands, sandbars, and shoals dot the western shores of Isle Madame from Lennox Passage to Cape Auguet.
Jerseyman’s Island is just one of those small islands. It is rather round in shape, not much more than a mile-and-a-half in circumference, partially wooded, with sandbars and a small interior lagoon.
The automated light on the island shines on the dark nights, but it wasn’t always automated. Like so many more islands and headlands of Cape Breton and coasts of Nova Scotia, it has lost its lighthouse keeper and his family. From 1955 to 1981, Abel LeBlanc was the keeper of the light. He was the last to man this light before it became automatic. The island had a small house for the keeper and his family. Today several small buildings still stand. Apparently, a vicious storm a few years ago broke through the existing sandbars and created a separate island that the light now stands on, somewhat removed from the main island.
The island’s name suggests a rather interesting history that is not always evident to us. In the early days of fishing on the coasts of Cape Breton, Arichat Harbour became known for is excellence as a safe harbour.
Charles and John Robin from the Channel Islands (islands in the English Channel) of Jersey and Guernsey were heavily involved in the fishery around Isle Madame and Arichat. Their first buildings in the form of wharves, fish plants, warehouses, etc. were established on Jerseyman’s Island in 1764. It wasn’t long before they were sacked and burned by the American pirate, John Paul Jones. Still the name of Robin continued as an enterprising business in the larger village of Arichat. For a period of time, the British Admiralty maintained the light and something of a command post on Jerseyman’s Island.
Today only the ripples of incoming waves break the silence on the island. Occasionally, summer visitors make their way over with small boats to picnic, pick blueberries or beachcomb. Not much is left to remind us of that great struggle between France and England for the new land for their settlers and for the riches that the surrounding seas had to offer.
It has been said that some cannonballs and a few minor artifacts were found over the years. These might gives us an insight into the past history of the island when indeed so much history is lost.
The historical silence is deafening.