ST. PETER’S: A new tourism hub at the St. Peter’s Canal National Historic Site combines a unique visitor experience with the opportunity to learn the history of the ground beneath your feet.
In the 17th century, the site boasted a trading post built by French trading merchant Nicolas Denys. Inspired by an existing portage route developed by the local Mi’kmaw people – his frequent trading partners – Denys also built a haul-over road that led to the development of the present-day canal. The canal, which links the Bras d’Or Lake and St. Peter’s Bay on the Atlantic coastline, is marking its 150th anniversary season in 2019.
Today the partnership between Potlotek First Nation and the village of St. Peter’s continues with the Canal Landing project.
More information on the history of the two communities and the development of the canal site is also available at the nearby Nicolas Denys Museum.
“We have two sheds to represent the two villages that used to be here, long before contact. Our community used to be on the other side of the canal,” noted Potlotek chief Wilbert Marshall in his remarks.
The canal landing project was initially conceived as one part of a larger tourism plan for the municipality, but in 2017 Richmond municipal council changed course and opted not to provide one-third of the funding for the $6.6 million initiative, so there was an effort to “downsize.”
“We took what we could from it and pieced it together,” before approaching the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) for funding, said Sherry MacLeod, a director with the St. Peter’s Economic Development Organization (SPEDO).
The federal government invested a $79,551 non-repayable contribution to the project through ACOA’s Business Development Program (BDP).
MacLeod also credits early work from Potlotek band councillor Anita Basque in bringing the project to fruition, in part with the hiring of Tahirih Paul, as the economic development officer for Potlotek First Nation.
Paul, who is also a director with SPEDO, said she was grateful for the community support and to be able to offer a number of activities, both cultural and recreational, for visitors to the site, as well as locals.
“Here at the Canal Landing we’ll be renting out kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, standup paddle boards, bicycles, we rent out fishing equipment, we’ll have some experiential tours including a medicine display, and a sweet grass walk through the park,” she said on June 29 at the grand opening of the hub.
Inside the two buildings – dubbed Nicolas Denys’ Trading Post and The Heart of Mi’kmaki, respectively – locally-made artwork, crafts and other souvenirs are available for purchase.
Maria O’Hearn spoke on behalf of Parks Canada, which operates the site, and said they are thrilled to have the canal landing on site “to enrich the tourism experience in St. Peter’s while also fostering strong relationships with community partners.”
Amanda Mombourquette, the executive director of the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, said Cape Breton is on track for a successful tourism season and Canal Landing is a strong part of what the St. Peter’s area will offer.
“The partnerships that have driven the project forward have demonstrated that when we work together anything is possible, especially when you’ve got Sherry and Tahirih driving the car,” said Mombourquette, a longtime volunteer in the community.
The team behind the Canal Landing project operates a Web site at: www.canallanding.ca and a Facebook page with information about their services and pricing.