The Acadian Region of Cape Breton

This region which includes Cheticamp, St. Joseph du Moine and Margaree is located on the western coast of Cape Breton, along the Cabot Trail, approximately 140km north of the Canso Causeway which links the island to the Nova Scotia mainland. Bounded to the east by the Cape Breton Highlands, to the north by the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and to the west by the Gulf of St. Lawrence, this area, with a population base of over 5,000, is the largest community of Inverness County.

Over 90% of the residents of this region are of French-Acadian descent and French is still the main language of work within the community. The first settlers arrived in 1785. This original group of fourteen families were survivors of the deportation of 1755, returning from exile in the American colonies, France, England and other areas of Nova Scotia. There had been and still was fishing activity off the coast. The company, Robin, Jones and Whitman, from the Channel Island of Jersey, had a fishing establishment at La Pointe on Cheticamp Island since 1766. This company is still in existence today, which makes it the oldest incorporated company in Canada.

Seeking peace, security, as well as a means of survival, these pioneers settled in the Cheticamp area and their descendants remain to this day. Over the last twelve years, the Acadian region has almost doubled its population base from 3,260 in 1981 to 5,149 in 1994. This increase has resulted in the provision of new goods and services which makes the community an ideal location for small and medium size businesses.

Even in a brief history like this one, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the socio-economic impact of the co-operative movement on the people of this area. The pioneers, whose livelihood depended on fishing, were extremely poor in spite of an abundance of fish. They felt exploited by “strangers” to whom they were forced to sell their fish and who did not reimburse them fairly. It was in the early 1900’s that a group of Acadians turned towards the co-operative movement with the hope that by doing so, they would gain some control over their lives. In 1915, the first fish co-op in North America was formed in Cheticamp and over the years that followed at least 16 co-ops have been formed, including one that took over the local hospital. This spirit of co-operation has been expressed in other ways. Groups like La Societe St-Pierre, La Federation Acadienne de la Nouvelle-Ecosse and the Cheticamp Development Commission were formed to address community needs. It is this commitment to community governance that has given the the Acadian region of Cheticamp credibility in the field of rural economic and social development.


The fishing industry has been the main activity in this area for more than 200 years. It seems that the best fishing grounds in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are found at less than 20 nautical miles from the Cheticamp harbour which has five government wharves and numerous private facilities. Historically, the community has been the base for a large fleet of inshore and offshore fishing boats. In addition to the resident fleet, this harbour is used by a number of vessels from other small harbours along the northwest coast of Cape Breton. The harbour has received vessels from New Brunswick, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland since it is the only Class A harbour in the Gulf Region of Nova Scotia.

Up until 1992, the groundfish industry (mostly cod) was the main economic activity in the local fisheries. That year 17 million pounds of cod were landed in Cheticamp harbour. The local fishing industry employed between 550-600 people in 1992. In 1993, less than 5 million pounds were landed with a drastic drop in employment figures in the local fish plants. From 1993 onwards, the local fishing industry has depended primarily on the lobster and snow crab catches to survive. Both these industries are still very lucrative and have created a balancing effect in the local economy. Of the 600 people directly employed in the fishing industry (plant workers, fishers, unloaders, buyers, truckers etc) before the crisis, close to 250 might still be displaced. The Federal Government Adjustment Package will see many of these people through a retraining programme over the next four years.

Besides lobster and crab, mackerel, herring, grey sole, flounder and silver hake are being harvested and/or processed in the community. The local boat building industry also employs between 10 to 15 people depending on contracts. They build mostly wooden vessels like Cape Highland fishing boats ranging from 30 to 70 ft, finished fibreglass hulls and leisure crafts ranging from canoes to historical reconstructions such as a Basque whaling ship.


Tourism is fast becoming the number one industry in the area as it seems to gain momentum every year. The Cabot Trail is a 300km route which offers breathtaking scenery to more than 300,000 tourists every year. Each season has something to offer the visitor around the trail. It is on this route that one will find the entrances to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, one in Cheticamp and the other in Ingonish. The park, which is the last remaining protected wilderness in Nova Scotia covers 950 of magnificent highlands and coastal ecosystems. The visitor has the rare privilege of relaxing in a setting of natural beauty. Staff at the information centres will be happy to answer their questions regarding camping facilities, hiking trails, swimming, golf, tennis, bicycling, trout and salmon fishing as well as winter activities. Les Amis du Plein Air is a non-profit organisation which operates the nature bookstores located inside the information centres.

Being at the entrance to the National Park and on the Cabot Trail, Cheticamp is an ideal location to develop a tourism industry based on cultural and eco-tourism themes. Based on the Nova Scotia Visitor Traffic Flows for 1992, the figures for Cheticamp are as follows:

Party Pass Throughs36,800
Party Stops13,400
Party Visits15,100
Overnight Party Trips19,000
Total Party Trips84,300
Party Nights35,700

These statistics indicate that 82,400 unique non-resident parties passed through, stopped, visited or stayed overnight in the community of Cheticamp. The bulk of this tourism flow is between July 15th to September 5th of each year, although the shoulder season in late Spring and the Fall is becoming more and more important given increased marketing in Europe and the abundance of motor coach operators taking advantage of the fall colours around the Cabot Trail.

The tourism industry is serviced by the Cheticamp Development Commission (CDC) via its agressive infrastructure program and the Cheticamp Tourism Association (CTA) which coordinates many community based marketing campaigns. Both the CDC and CTA have been focussing their energies on promoting the region as a destination for cultural and eco-tourism activities. The unique Acadian tradition of Cheticamp is a major selling feature in the tourism industry and is being marketed not only by the community, but also outside groups such as Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the Provincial Dept. of Tourism and the Cape Breton Tourism Association.


It is through the observance of Acadian feast days, through their folklore, their music, their festivals and their arts and crafts that the Acadians of this area manifest their cultural heritage. They still celebrate “La Chandeleur” or Candlemass on February 2nd as well as “Mardi Gras” or Shrove Tuesday, but it is “La Mi-Careme” which is more popular than ever. For this occasion, which occurs the 3rd week of Lent, people don all sorts of costumes and disguise themselves to go from house to house with the hope that they will not be recognised. Social evenings are organised throughout the week where micaremes and the general public can go to sing, dance and frolic till the wee hours of the morning.

This Acadian region is known for the richness of its folklore. Story-telling is no longer very popular and, as a result, many of these old stories have been lost, but there seems to be no end to the repertory of songs. Eleven song books “Chansons d’Acadie” have been put together by Fr. Daniel Boudreau and Fr. Anselme Chiasson and may be purchased at Les Trois Pignons.

The best known musical instrument in these parts is probably the fiddle and many well known fiddlers hail from here. Years ago, the fiddlers accompanied songs, provided music for traditional Acadian dances as well as “quadrilles” (form of square set popular in Quebec). Today, the sound of the fiddle is still heard in concerts, festivals and in clubs/lounges.

The Acadians relive their ancient customs and traditions during the “Festival de l’Escaouette” on the first weekend in August. Here you can enjoy singing, dancing, parades and special events. A very innovative way of developing culture into an economic venture has been “Le Theatre des Moineaux”, a local summer dinner-theatre which employs 10 to 12 people full-time for a period of three months, with part-time productions over the winter.

The main cultural industry is the making of hooked rugs which employs well over 300 women in a cottage style manufacturing milieu. Hooked rugs, wall hangings, doillies, etc are made by hand with a hook and wool on a canvas. These women work mostly for the local gift shops which buy and sell their products to tourists. Some of these “hookers” have taken the medium to a more professional level and are producing individual works of art. Although this activity has been popular in this area for a very long time, it was the work of Dr. Elizabeth LeFort that transformed it into real art. Known as Canada’s Artist in Wool, Dr. LeFort has made over 300 tapestries, many of them hanging at the gallery which bears her name at Les Trois Pignons.


This industry has also played a very important role in the lives of people in this region. At first, wood was cut for firewood and for building material. It was only after the opening of the pulp mill in Point Tupper in 1961 that forestry became a major industry. For many years, there were five pulp wood contractors in the region. These contractors employed around 150 wood cutters as well as a number of machine operators, truckers and mechanics. However, things began to change in 1974 with the arrival of the spruce budworm which wrecked havoc on the forests of Cape Breton until 1982. During this time, several contractors came from outside Cape Breton in an effort to save as much wood as possible. As a result, there is little softwood left and the market for paper is at an all time low. In the area, there are now only two pulp wood contractors providing employment for about 50 people. A great deal of effort is being put into regenerating our forests through silviculture. Through these efforts, a possible rise in the market price for paper and the development of new products to add value to a very important primary resource, we hope to be able to rebuild this local industry.

Cheticamp Development Commission

This umbrella economic development agency serves the Acadian region of Inverness North - comprising 11 distinct communities - in the areas of strategic planning and economic development. The CDC works very closely with community based organisations such as Le Moine Development, La Societe St-Pierre, Le Conseil Co-op de Cheticamp, La Federation Acadienne de la Nouvelle-Ecosse, Le College de l’Acadie and l’Association Touristique de Cheticamp. The CDC also works with the communities of Pleasant Bay and Margaree on specific projects at their request.

As a community based development agency, the CDC receives its operational funding from a variety of sources but mostly through community contributions, contracts and project administration fees. Membership fees are based on $10 for individuals and between $25 to $100 for businesses, depending on their ability to pay. Depending on project funding, the Commission employs a secretary-receptionist and managers are hired on a project by project basis.

With a membership of over 400 local residents and/or businesses, the CDC is under the direction of a Board of Directors composed of 21 people representing various community groups or interests. Various working committees of CDC are formed every year depending on the need and the number of projects to administer.

In light of a major fisheries collapse, the CDC plays a key role in addressing the impact of this crisis by working with local industry representatives in restructuring and diversifying in an attempt to create a long term sustainable fisheries. In developing an economic strategy of balance, the Commission also focuses much of its energies building the tourism industry as their second most important sector of job creation. In developing a stronger tourism base, the CDC will endeavour to involve displaced fishers as much as possible in the identification of new job creation projects and industries.

The CDC has put together its three year action plan entitled “Vision 1997”, a document that outlines the various programmes and projects to be developed over the next three years to address the economic renewal of the community:

Fisheries Infrastructure & Projects

  • Strategic Plan for Grand Etang harbour.
  • Experimental fisheries to look at groundfish biomass and underutilised species such as northern stone crab, herring and seaweed.
  • Composting of fish waste to develop an organic fertilizer.
  • Support services to displaced fishers and plant workers impacted by the crisis in the groundfish industry.

Tourism Infrastructure & Projects

  • Waterfront development project to include boardwalk extension to the government wharf.
  • Basque interpretive complex to include a 17th century Basque whaling ship that will take daily trips to Pleasant Bay and special island wide two day trips to visit Louisbourg and other attractions. The complex will also feature a small interpretive centre, with walkways, landscaping and parking.
  • Magdalen Islands/Quebec - Cheticamp Passenger Ferry Service: a seasonal venture to develop a new tourism market in the Acadian region.
  • Building of a golf course and club house in Cheticamp.
  • Designing and building a visitors service centre at Joe’s Scarecrows to introduce tourists to the Acadian region. Collaboration with Les Trois Pignons Tourist Information Bureau and Le Moine Development.
  • Whale interpretive centre in Pleasant Bay.
  • Designing and building a multi-purpose recreational facility in collaboration with Le Centre Acadien and La Paroisse St-Pierre.

Support to the Business Community

  • In collaboration with the College de l’Acadie develop entrepreneurship courses and specialised courses for various aspects of the local economy.
  • Work with InRich Business Development Centre and the Strait Area Development Commission to provide assistance to existing and new business ventures in developing business and marketing plans.
  • Work with local businesses in accessing venture capital from government and private sources.
  • Carry out studies to determine the feasibility of new commercial initiatives for the community.

Other Services

  • Coordinate the planning process for the community in the areas of long term economic development, strategic partnerships and local government decision-making.
  • Coordinate the communities waste management strategy.

If a community maintains its language and traditions, then that community becomes stronger. Cheticamp is a good example wherein affirmation of the Acadian identity and way of life has helped to provide community solidarity and commitment that has been translated into economic progress.

This article is based on material given to the editor when he visited Cheticamp last year as part of a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship.