Canso Islands National Historic Site of Canada
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Canso Islands National Historic Site of Canada consists of a group of islands located off the eastern tip of mainland Nova Scotia, within easy access of the offshore fishing banks. The site consists of Grassy Island, which is connected by a cobble beach to George Island; and Piscatiqui Island, which was linked to George Island until 1779 when a channel was opened between them. These three islands have at various times been known as Canso Island, the Great Island of Canso, the Canso islands, Great and Little Canso Islands, Canso Island and Cape Ann, Canso and Binney Islands. A number of smaller islands are also included within the site. They are located north of the three larger islands in an area historically referred to as “Back of the islands.” The waters between the islands provide sheltered anchorages. The site includes Grassy Island Fort National Historic Site of Canada, located on Grassy Island itself. The designation refers to the islands at the low water mark.
Canso Islands was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1925 because:
- it was an important fishing base that was developed first in the 16th century by the French and subsequently, during the first half of the 18th century, by the British when it became the economic mainstay of Nova Scotia and a key centre for the English cod fishery;
- it was a point of contention and the scene of several combats between the British and the French and Mikmaq in the first half of the 18th century;
- it was the staging point for the British and New England expedition led by Sir William Pepperrell and Sir Peter Warren against the French stronghold of Louisbourg in 1745.
The heritage value of Canso Islands National Historic Site of Canada lies in the historical associations with the fishing industry since the pre-contact era and with the French-English struggle for control of Canada as illustrated by the combination of natural features and the remains of military and fishing activity found there.
The islands in Canso Harbour have been an important centre for the North Atlantic fisheries since the 16th century, as they offered a safe haven for fishermen. The Canso Islands were first frequented by the French and the Basques in the 1550s, and became the site of an extensive New England fishing establishment during the first half of the 18th century. Here fishermen dried their catch before shipment to markets in Europe and the West Indies. Until its destruction by the French in 1744, Canso was the economic mainstay of the colony of Nova Scotia and a key centre for the English cod fishery. The town of Canso continues this fishing tradition.
The Canso Islands also played an important role in the French-English struggle for control of Canada. For example, it was the scene of several skirmishes between the British and the French and the Mikmaq during the first half of the 18th century. It was also the staging point for the British expedition led by Sir William Pepperrell and Sir Peter Warren against the French stronghold of Louisbourg in 1745.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 2001;Commemorative Integrity Statement, February 2003.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- its location of the islands near the eastern tip of mainland Nova Scotia;
- the morphology of the islands and their spatial relationship to one another;
- the location, extent and materials of above and below ground remnants of 16th- to 18th-century domestic and fishing activities, including fishing establishments identified on Grassy Island, the George and Piscquati Islands, Hearne and Little Cranberry Islands as well as those as yet unidentified;
- archaeological artifacts from the 16th to 18th centuries removed and stored by Parks Canada;
- the footprints, materials, composition and profiles of all remnant fishing structures and sites;
- the orientation and inter-relationship of fishing sites to the sea;
- the cobble beaches and areas of low scrub associated with early fishing stations;
- the Grassy Island Fort National Historic Site of Canada in its location, extent and materials;
- viewscapes between the islands and to the sea;
- viewscapes to Grassy Island Fort National Historic Site of Canada from the other islands.
Government of Canada
Historic Sites and Monuments Act
National Historic Site of Canada
1600/01/01 to 1800/01/01
1745/01/01 to 1745/01/01
Theme - Category and Type
- Developing Economies
- Extraction and Production
- Developing Economies
- Hunting and Gathering
Function - Category and Type
- Nature Element
- Food Supply
- Fisheries Site
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
National Historic Sites Directorate, Documentation Centre, 5th Floor, Room 89, 25 Eddy Street, Gatineau, Québec.
Cross-Reference to Collection