The History of Long and Brier Islands


by | May 22, 2022 | Brier Island, Central Grove, Freeport, Long Island, people, Tiverton, Westport | 0 comments

Pjila’si-Welcome; Mi’kmaq

Velkomin-Welcome; Viking

Beceber-Welcome; Portuguese

Bienvenu-Welcome; French

Welcome; English

         There is no archaeological evidence that Nova Scotia was inhabited between 10,000 and 5000 years ago. A rapid increase in temperature and subsequent rise in sea level during this period may have obliterated evidence of any habitation. One archaeological theory proposes that Nova Scotia was occupied by people settled along coastlines that are now under water.

         Norse people reached the shores of Newfoundland and possibly Nova Scotia approximately 1000 years ago. There is no documented evidence that they colonized Nova Scotia. However, butternuts and butternut wood have been found in Newfoundland that can only have come from New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia. Portuguese and Basque fishermen were probably the first Europeans to establish a continuous connection with Nova Scotia, around 500 years ago. It was later that the Kings and Queens of these countries became involved sending explorers to claim land in their names. The environment which the fishermen found, and in which the Mi’kmaq lived, was very different from today’s.

         I have always been interested in where and by whom our local names of places originated from. But before we look at the place names we will look at some of our early documented history to see who all these early explorers where. This is the information I have found. (History is always changing as more information becomes available).

This is What we Know to Date

The Mi’kmaq are the founding people of Nova Scotia and remain the predominant Aboriginal group within the province.

The history of Mi’kmaw people is very long and our homeland, called Mi’kma’ki, is very large. There have been people living here for more than 4,000 years! Mi’kma’ki, is made up of all of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and large areas of New Brunswick, the Gaspé Peninsula and Newfoundland.

When the European settlers arrived, they were landing on territory which had been home to the Mi’Kmaq and other First Nations groups for over 4,000 years. In Digby County, native settlements could be found throughout the area, travelling even to and from the Eastern Seaboard to seaside encampments in Digby County. The French at Port Royal identified the natives as “Indians” and the tribe was known as the Souriquois. When the British gained control of Acadia, the group became known as the Micmac, which is derived from their word “Nigumakh” or “Nikmaq” and means “my people”. The correct term is “Mi’Kmaq”. In early years, a Mi’Kmaq encampment could be found in Freeport, high on the bluff overlooking the St. Mary’s entrance to Grand Passage on what is locally known as Roney’s Point, where a shell midden has been identified. Clay fragments from one yard have dated back 2500 years. In later years, descendants of early native peoples fished for porpoises off Flour Cove on Long Island as well as in Digby Gut. Mi’Kmaq people were a nomadic people, fishing, hunting and trapping animals, growing crops in the spring and summer and who used the bounty of the land and sea to sustain them and produce wonderful craft and decorative items.

The Vikings were the first Europeans to cross the Atlantic. However, the only confirmed Norse site in the Americas is L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. Evidence has also revealed that L’Anse aux Meadows was a base camp from which other locations, including regions further south, were explored.

New dating of the Norse settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland has determined that Vikings were present in North America exactly a thousand years ago, in AD 1021.

They were in fact the first Europeans to discover America, five centuries before Christopher Columbus.

Source; Geography and History of the County of Digby

by Isaiah W. Wilson 1900

          “The inhabitants of frigid Norway possessed the same restive and                               commendable spirit . The explorations of the far famed Biarne, and later of Eric the Red, probably first opened the beautiful and productive waters of the St. Mary’s Bay to the view of the Caucasian family. These, with others of that country, seeing to have examined the Atlantic coasts of Nova Scotia and Massachusetts with considerable precision. These primary efforts, however, were not followed by any permanent colonization. Having been shut off from their colonies in Greenland and Iceland, formed in the tenth century, by huge masses of accumulated ice, all traces of these discoveries were soon obliterated from memory, or rather deemed impracticable by future generations of Northmen.”

Whether the Vikings made it to our Islands, we can only guess. It is believed they were in Yarmouth, so if that is correct I can’t see why they couldn’t have came to our Islands as well.

Yarmouth Viking Stone

Then Came the Explorers and Mappers

The beginnings of modern discovery (From 1492 to 1534)

The Portuguese explorer João Fernandes Lavrador walked along the coast of present-day Labrador (named in his honour) and mapped it around 1500 with the explorer Pêro de Barcelos, but without taking possession of the land.

In search of the Northwest Passage, Venetian explorers Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) and his son Sebastian landed at Bonavista, Newfoundland, in 1497 on behalf of King Henry VII of England. Cabot may have been influenced by the Venetian Zeno brothers’ accounts of a trip to the northwest and the whimsical maps that showed countries like “Frislanda. On the other hand, Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real visited the island of Newfoundland in 1500, but returned to Portugal after capturing Native American slaves.

From Saint-Malo on the Armorican coast aboard two ships, Jacques Cartier and his crew of 61 men headed for the New World where they visited Newfoundland, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island. Finally, Cartier landed in Gaspé in 1534 (nicknamed the “Cradle of French Canada”), planted a cross there and took possession of the land in the name of the King of France, François. Thus, Jacques Cartier became the second agent of the King of France to come to America following the voyage of Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524, which ran along the coast stretching from Florida to Nova Scotia and became the first to use the name “Nova France”.

Gaspar Corte-Real (1500-1501) First Map of Canada and East Coast of Newfoundland


In 1603, Champlain made his first trip to North America, to the St. Lawrence River to explore and establish a French colony. In 1604, he returned to northeastern Canada, and over the next four years became the first to map the North Atlantic Coast.

  Along with him came Pierre Dugua de Mons (de Monts) with the foundation of Port Royal in 1605, the first capital of Acadia, in the presence of the explorer-cartographer Samuel de Champlain.

In 1613 Samuel de Champlain wrote a journal called “Voyage of Samuel de Champlain, 1604-1610”. In 1878 this book was translated from French into old English.

The following is Champlain’s description of Long Island in the Bay of Fundy (It was at this time Long Island was named by Champlain).I wonder why when he describes what is now called Brier Island he describes Brier Island as the following “and three or four small rocky islands, where the savages capture many Sea-wolves”. That is all he speaks of our other Island and nothing about our other passage (Grand Passage). On his map of the Bay of Fundy, Brier Island is only represented as three rocks beyond Long Island.

I have translated this from Old English to modern day English.

         “Being distance quarter of a league from the coast, we went to an Island called Long Island (36), lying north-north-east and south-south-west, which makes an opening in the great Baye Francoise, so named by Sieur de Monts.”

         “This Island is six leagues long, and nearly a league broad in some places, in other’s only quarter of a league. It is covered with an abundance of wood, such as pines and birch. All the coast is bordered by very dangerous rocks; and there is no place at all favorable for vessels, only little inlets for Shallops  at the extremity of the island, and three or four small rocky islands, where the savages capture many Sea-wolves. There are strong tides, especially at little passage of the island, which is very dangerous for vessels running the risk of passing through it.”

         “From Long Island passage, we sailed north-east two leagues, where we found a cove where vessels can anchor in safety, and which is quarter of a league or thereabouts in circuit. The bottom is all mire, and the surrounding land is bordered by very high rocks. In this place there is very good silver mine, according to the report of the miner, master Simon, who accompanied me. Some leagues farther on, there is a little stream called river Boulay where the tide rises half a league into the land, at the mouth of which vessels of a hundred tons can easily ride at anchor. Quarter of a league from here there is a good harbor for vessels, where we found an iron mine, which are miner extremities would yield fifty per cent.”

 36:   It still retains the name given to it by Champlain. It forms a part of the western limit of St. Mary’s Bay, and a line drawn from it to St. Croix, cutting the Grand Manan, would mark the entrance of the Bay of Fundy.

Etching of Mi’kmaq in Canoe and Loyalist Vessels at Grand Passage 1770

The Atlantic Neptune, Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1721-1824)

Then came the Surveying of the Land

John DeGreben Surveyor for Long & Brier Island’s Surveyed 1787

The lands on Long and Brier Islands were surveyed by John G . DeGreben , Esquire, in this manner: Commencing at North East Cove, Grand Passage, lower end of the flats, taking entire width of Island, and extending eastwardly to Ledge Street  laid out in Fish Lots of three acres each. These were settled first, except the Tibert and Delaney blocks in Central Grove, which were also occupied in 1784 by those Loyalists. From Ledge Street eastwardly to Petite Block, one hundred acres were placed in each, called Home Lots. Petite Block around that Passage was divided into Fish Lots, similar to that adjoining Grand Passage.

Long Island was inhabited when the Joseph touched there early in December , 1783. No records had been kept before that time, no Grants issued; hence , inability to furnish further details. Nathaniel Bates then held the Island by occupancy as a Fishing Post, probably entirely unknown to authorities in Halifax. He was a native of New England as well as the Pioneers of Brier Island; but living contented and happy, without interference or protection, obtaining commodities from home traders in exchange for products of the surrounding deep; and growing whatever vegetation they desired to cultivate on the lands.

At Freeport, besides Borden Thurber and his sons Samuel, Isaac and Benjamin, who removed thither from Brighton, Neill McNeill, Esqr., Bartholomew Haines, Michael Prime, Senr., James Roney and Michael Prime , Jr. , were Pioneer Loyalists .

Central Grove was founded by Nicholas Tibert, who kept the first Hotel on the Islands where George N. Tibert now lives; also Patrick Delaney, whose property is owned by his descendants.

Messrs. Robert Outhouse and John McKay founded Tiverton; then Petite Passage, in 1785 .

North Entrance to Petit Passage (Tiverton & East Ferry)1777

The Atlantic Neptune, Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1721-1824)

Westport was first settled by Judah Rice and his wife, Sarah, David Welch and his family, Robert and Moses Morrell. They were joined in the 1780s by a group of Loyalists, and took up the traditional occupations of fishing, shipbuilding, and merchant shipping, trading with the Acadian settlements across the bay. By 1783 there were eleven families on Brier Island.

South Entrance to Grand Passage (Westport & Freeport) 1777

The Atlantic Neptune, Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1721-1824)

The names of our Bays, Passages, Islands, Townships and Villages that surround us, and who named them.

We will start with “The Bay of Fundy

   “ The Bay of Fundy” was first named “Baye Francoise”  by De Monts, and continued to be so called as will appear by reference to the early maps, as that of De Laet, 1633: Charlevoix, 1744; Rouge, 1778. It first appears distinctly on the carte of Diego Homem of 1558, but without name. On Cabot’s Mappe-Monde, in Monuments de la Geographie, we find rio fonde, which may represent the Bay of Fundy, and may have suggested the name adopted by the English, which it still remains. Sir William Alexander’s map, 1624, has Argal’s Bay; Moll’s map, 1712, has Fundi Bay; that of the English and French commissaries, 1755, has Bay of Fundy, or Argal.

Pierre Desceliers Map 1546

Diego Homem Map of 1558

Samuel de Champlains Map New France 1613

Champlains Map 1613 “bay franco’ise” (Bay of Fundy)

 Nova Scotia Archives Map Collection: F/202 – 1630

baye st marie-Saint Marys Bay

bay st marie-Saint Mary’s Bay

(Long Island Shore on Left) 1777

The Atlantic Neptune, Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1721-1824)

This bay still retaining its ancient appellation was so named by Champlain on his first visit here. On any of the other maps I have looked at, it has always been Bay St. Marys or St. Marys Bay.

Champlains Map 1613 “baye st marie”, Bay St. Marys

Petit Passage

Body of water between Long Island and Digby Neck. When Champlain talked about it in 1604, he referred it as “The Strait of Long Island” but never named it on his map of 1613. The first it was included on a map was in 1733. Henry Popple’s map of the British Empire in America included its name. Who named it? Unknown. At what date was it named? Around 1733.

Grand Passage

A body of water between Brier Island and Long Island. Was first mentioned on a map of Henry Popple 1733.Who named it? Unknown. At what date was it named? Around 1733.

Grand Passage Between Brier Island and Long Island 1779

The Atlantic Neptune, Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1721-1824)


Illes longue-Long Island

         Source: Voyages of Samuel De Champlain (1604-1610)

         “It still retains the name given to it by Champlain. It forms a part of the western limit of St. Mary’s Bay, and a line drawn from it to St. Croix, cutting the Grand Manan, would mark the entrance of the Bay of Fundy.”

           All the maps I have looked at, it still remains the same.  So, it was given its name in 1604 and by Samuel De Champlain. Long Island was inhabited when the Joseph touched there early in December, 1783. No records had been kept before that time, no Grants issued; hence, inability to  furnish further details. Nathaniel Bates then held the Island by occupancy as a Fishing Post,  probably entirely unknown to authorities in Halifax. He was a native of New England as well as  the Pioneer of Brier Island; but living contented and happy, without interference or protection, obtaining commodities from home traders in exchange for products of the surrounding  deep; and growing whatever vegetation they desired to cultivate on the sea-girt lands.

At Freeport, besides Borden Thurber and his sons Samuel, Isaac and Benjamin, who removed thither from Brighton, Neill McNeill, Esqr.,Bartholomew Haines, Michael Prime, Senr., James Roney and  Michael  Prime, Jr., were Pioneer Loyalists.

Bryer Island?-Brier Island?

The Great Mystery

         Well I have been writing our local history now for over ten years now, and I have been stumped in my research, when researching about Brier Island, or is it Bryer Island’s, name and when it received its name.

         There was not much written history about these names of places surrounding us, sometimes we have to go to early maps to find when they started using these names. We find in 1744 a map was made called “The Carte de L’Accadie Map” and it shows that the Island along-side Long Island does not have a name. But in the map of “Des Barres Chart 1775” the island is called “Bryer Island”. So the first time “Bryer Island” was given its name was between 1744 and 1775. Then in 1811 the Island was given another name “Brier Island” as seen in “Des Barres Chart 1811”.These two names were used back and forth on the different maps for over a century.

        Then in a book of Canada 1905 called “ Seasonal Papers Vol 9 First Session of the Tenth Parliament of Canada Session 1905” there is a section about names of places in Canada. There is a section for Nova Scotia and in it there is the two names again, Brier and Bryer. My question is why did the Island have two different names over all this time and does it still have two different names? It is not in language translation as the words does not even come close.

The Island’s name is believed by some to come from the wild brier roses found there, another possibility is that the original name of the Island was “Bryer’s” after a sea captain from New England who was one of the first settlers to spend any time on the island.

If someone can help me with this, contact me.

Carte de L’Accadie Map 1744(Not Named)

Des Barres Chart 1775(Bryer Island)

Atlantic Neptune Chart 1802(Bryer Island)

Des Barres Chart 1811(Briers Island)

1821 (Briers Island)

The Great Map 1834( Bryer Island)

The Columbia Navigator Sailing Directions 1894

(Bryer Island)

A History of Nova Scotia or Acadie 1867(Brier Island 1806)

Seasonal Papers Vol 9 First Session of the Tenth Parliament of Canada Session 1905(Brier-Bryer)

Brier Island was visited by fishermen at an early period. David Welch, Senior, a native of Maine, United States, set out on a voyage to this Island in the spring of 1769, as a fishing Post. He was accompanied by Mrs. Welch and children. They were afterwards joined by Robert Morrell, also known in Maine, but a resident of Sissibou just previously. Finding fish plentiful, affording ample means of subsistence, they remained, becoming pioneers; and lived almost unknown to other sections of the country until arrival of loyalists in 1783. They owned vessels, in which they captured produce of the deep. These were carried to the older colonies and sold. Provisions were brought there, and freighted the crafts on their homeward journey. They lived in log houses, built near the shore, and thoroughly corked with moss. Limited parcels of land were also tilled by aid of the fish and refuse, which raised splendid crops of potatoes and other vegetables. They, however failed to procure Grants at this time, and were unknown and unprotected by Government. After the Tories came, all improved lands were secured to their occupants by the King’s Letters Patent.

         Eleven families cast their lot of Brier Island in 1783; many followed in after years. In addition to those already named, Messrs. Hubbard and Fillis settled on this Island at the Harbour before arrival of the loyalists. Messrs. Samuel Buckman, Jacob Medlar, Charles Richards, Ethel Davis, Christian Klingsaehr, Captain Luttit, Peter Putin, Andrew Coggins, Alexander Long, Elisha Payson, Mitchell Lincoln, Jonathan Payson, Dennis Sullivan, George Lafoley, Moses, John, William and Simeon Rice, brothers; also, William Bailey; Moses and Loce Denton, Robert Morrell, who settled in the middle of the Island, near the harbor.

Township of Westport

         The Township of Westport comprising Long and Brier Islands, was first mentioned in Records of General Sessions for December Term, 1839. As the local officers for that portion of the County, had previously been appointed for“ Long and Brier Islands, ”the Township was doubtless founded in that year, though no Act of Parliament for the purpose, was discovered. Brier Island especially, from its peculiar location, enjoyed but little intercourse with the County settlements on mainland, until the Ferry across Grand Passage was established.

         No record of the Township of Westport being legally established was found. The Court of General Sessions appointed officers for “Settlements of Long and Brier Islands” till 1839. The earliest mention of “Township of Westport”  in County Archives, appeared in Apportionment of County Tax of £260, 6d, by the Grand Jury of General Sessions in December, 1839 . At that time the appointment of Township officers for Westport commenced, and continued to the present. Hence, the Township was practically founded in December, 1839 .

Township of Petit Passage

This was the area of what we now know as Tiverton and East Ferry.



Brier Island Settlement-Westport, 1839

Digby County was established in 1837. Previously to that the Islands belonged to Annapolis County. So any one living here on these Islands would of lived in the Township of Westport in the county of Annapolis. Because of this change in 1837 a name had to be created for the villages of Brier and Long Island. Westport was chosen on Brier Island in 1839.


Lower Cove, 1839-Freeport, 1865

What now is Freeport started off being “The Township of Westport”. Then in 1837 when Digby County became established the name changed to “Lower Cove”. In 1865 the name changed again to Freeport and has remained so ever since.

Revised Statutes of Nova Scotia Volume 2

Central Grove:

Mesadek-Central Grove, 1937-1838

It is not certain when Central Grove received its name but indications point to somewhere around 1837-1838 when the rest of the villages received their names. Before 1837 it was considered to be in “The Township of Westport”


Petite Passage-Tiverton 1867

Tiverton was originally known as “Petite Passage” in 1785. and changed to Petite Passage around 1837-1838. It was then changed to Tiverton in 1867 with the start of Canada. It has remained so ever since.

Messrs. Robert Outhouse and John McKay founded Tiverton; then Petite Passage, in 1785.


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