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Chapel Island National Historic Site of Canada

Chapel Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2003/06/03

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Other Name(s)

Chapel Island
Chapel Island National Historic Site of Canada
Île Chapel
Potlotek / Vachelouacadie
Potlotek / Vachelouacadie

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2005/07/15

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

Chapel Island, approximately 2 kilometres long and one kilometre wide, is located in the southeastern corner of the Bras D'Or Lake on Cape Breton Island, where it forms part of the larger Chapel Island First Nation reserve. Since pre-contact times it has been a traditional gathering place and a site sacred to the Mi'kmaw people. The designation refers to the cultural landscape that includes the entire island across which are believed to be many unmarked burials, and archaeological remains as well as visible evidence of human activity concentrated in the southern portion. Here are found marked graves, a boulder associated with the 18th-century Abbé Maillard, two circular depressions, stations of the cross, dozens of summer cabins, and a small church.

Heritage Value

Chapel Island was designated a national historic site of Canada because:
- For many centuries, this site has been an important gathering place, a location for government and a site of spiritual significance to the Mi'kmaq;
- since the mid-18th century, when the French first erected a Catholic church here, Chapel Island has been a centre of the Roman Catholic faith for the Mi'kmaq, and the location of an annual pilgrimage celebrating the Feast of St. Ann in late July; and
- the Grand Council of the Mi'kmaq continues to meet, twice a year, on the island to hold discussions and make decisions.

Chapel Island is a major gathering place for the Mi'kmaq in Atlantic Canada and has been used as such, according to Mikmaw oral tradition, since before contact with Europeans. During the 18th-century the French missionaries, of whom the best known was Abbé Maillard, established Roman Catholic missions. Ongoing missions on Chapel island are central to the spiritual significance of the island. The annual gathering in late July for the Feast of St. Ann draws Mikmaq people from all over the Atlantic region. Chapel Island continues to be regarded as a place of great spirituality and the cultural cradle of the Mikmaq peoples.

Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, December 2002.

Character-Defining Elements

Elements central to the heritage value of this site include:
- the location of the island on an ancient travel corridor linking Bras D'Or Lake to the Atlantic Ocean;
- the viewplanes across the water to and from the island and the larger reserve lands;
- continued use by Mikmaq First Nation peoples, particularly by the Mikmaq Grand Council and for the annual Festival of St. Ann;
- the undeveloped state of the island save for the more heavily used south end;
- presence of burial sites, often unmarked, throughout the island;
- evidence on the south side of the island of long-term human activity including: two clear depression rings in their extent, locations and spatial relationships to other heritage resources, a large boulder associated with the Roman Catholic missionary Abbé Maillard, stations of the cross, and a cemetery with its grave markers in their found locations, forms and materials;
- the existence of a number of small cottages and a church in their general locations, small scale, vernacular forms and simple materials;
- potential archaeological sites associated with pre-contact and post-contact use, including the chapel, presbytery, chief's house and translators house associated with the French mission




Recognition Authority

Government of Canada

Recognition Statute

Historic Sites and Monuments Act

Recognition Type

National Historic Site of Canada

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Building Social and Community Life
Religious Institutions
Governing Canada
Government and Institutions
Peopling the Land
Canada's Earliest Inhabitants

Function - Category and Type



Civic Space

Architect / Designer




Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Indigenous Affairs and Cultural Heritage Directorate Documentation Centre 3rd Floor, room 366 30 Victoria Street Gatineau, Québec J8X 0B3

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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