Arrival of the Europeans
In 1605, French explorers set up the first permanent European settlement in North America at Port-Royal on the Bay of Fundy, calling this new territory Acadia. The Acadian settlers learned of the Shubenacadie Waterway route from the Mi’kmaq, who taught the newcomers how survive and travel through the Nova Scotian wilderness. One of the first documented references to the name “Shubenacadie” comes from 1689, when Mathieu Martin, seigneur of Cobequid (Truro), was granted land at the mouth of the Shubenacadie River.
The first Europeans to explore the Shubenacadie River were French missionaries lead by Father Abbey in the early 1700s. Sometime around 1720, the Mission Sainte-Anne was established upriver at the village of Shubenacadie. In the 1740s, the Acadians settled along the banks where the Shubenacadie and Stewiacke Rivers meet. The main settlement was known as Ville Hébert. The Acadians formed a good relationship with the Mi’kmaq based on trade and interdependence between the two groups until the Acadians were forcibly deported from the province beginning in 1755.
In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht brought mainland Nova Scotia under British control, while Île Royale (Cape Breton) and Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) remained French. British settlement of Nova Scotia accelerated through the 18th century, peaking with the founding of Halifax in 1749 as a strategic military response to the French Fortress of Louisbourg in Cape Breton. The tension between the neighbouring British and French colonies would ultimately be resolved in 1763, when France ceded these remaining territories, along with Quebec, to Great Britain.
British Expeditions on the Shubenacadie River
In 1754, Captain Matthew Floyer led an expedition on the Shubenacadie River with the help of an Acadian guide. He described it as a waterway lined with prime land for agriculture and forestry, but did not specifically evaluate it as a navigational route.
As the new city of Halifax grew in population, its merchants and leaders began to look to the Shubenacadie River as a possible link between the capital and the Bay of Fundy. In 1767, Captain William Owen and his team set out to determine the suitability of the river and lake system for these purposes. “Owen’s Safari” succeeded in taking measurements, making maps, and recording information about the area, and while it did not lead to immediate development, it was a major factor in promoting interest in a canal in later decades.