Nicolas Denys Museum
350 years of history can be found in a building inspired by a trading post Nicolas Denys built here in 1650. Learn more about the earliest European settlers in Cape Breton and history of St. Peter’s and the surrounding area. Genealogical records from the St. Peter’s area are also available at the museum.
Nicolas Denys was born in Tours, France in 1598. Little is known about his early life, but volumes could be written about his dealings in San Pedro, St. Pierre, Port Toulouse, and St. Peter’s – all former names of this historic village at the Centre of Cape Breton’s early trade. Louis XIV appointed him Governor and Lieutenant General of the vast area of Acadia (Cape Breton, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, the Magdalen Islands, most of the Gaspe Peninsula and the western shores of Nova Scotia) and together with Newfoundland, with a monopoly of the fur trade and fishery.
Nicolas Denys of France established several shore based fisheries and trading posts on the Atlantic Coast in the 1600’s including one at St. Peter’s. Denys built his fortified settlement in 1650 and began trading with the Mi’kmaq. He soon constructed a “haulover” road across the isthmus that later became the canal. He used oxen to haul his ships on skids across the land bridge between the Atlantic Ocean and the Bras d’Or Lakes.
Fire destroyed his home and business in 1669, and at the age of 70, Denys moved his family to a trading post in New Brunswick. There he turned to a new career – that of author, writing history of the area he had spent much of his life changing. He wrote and published two volumes that gave a detailed account of the coasts, islands, rivers, woods, wild life, hunting and fishing, and Native customs of this region. Nicolas Denys had good relations with the Mi’kmaq and his son married into the Mi’kmaq culture with the name Denys hence found today in Mi’kmaq communities.