Arisaig – Where Community, the Fishery, and Tourism Connect

The vibrant community of Arisaig is comprised of a number of Scottish settlements on Route 245 of the Sunrise Trail.

To the west, at the Pictou-Antigonish County border, is the farming hamlet of Knoydart, settled around 1787 by Martin, Malcolm and Dougald McDonald. They called the community Knoydart after their native home in Inverness-shire, Scotland. Three pioneer settlers of Knoydart had been veterans of the Battle of Culloden – Hugh McDonald, Donald MacPherson, and Angus MacDonald. A rock cairn is erected at the shore to commemorate this event. Every April the Culloden Memorial ceremony is held here. A school was opened in Knoydart in 1850. From Knoydart the panoramic view of the Northumberland Strait is breathtaking.

Traveling east, the next village is McArra’s Brook. Settled in 1791, it was first called Moidart after its namesake place in Scotland. A British soldier named McCara changed the name to McCara’s Brook. It is known internationally as a geological site and in 1891 had a wharf to serve the local fishermen. A school was erected in 1827 and the first post office was opened in 1874.

A spectacular view of Arisaig Harbour can be enjoyed from the scenic look-off on Arisaig hill. Interpretive panels explain the history of the community and describe the view plain.

Continuing east along highway 245 overlooking the warm waters of the Northumberland Strait is Arisaig Provincial Park offering a fascinating window to life on earth some 400 million years ago. One of North America’s most continuously exposed sections of Silurian rock, representing 4 million years of earth history, is found in the park. The 4 miles of coast line from Arisaig point to McArras’s Brook, including the park, exposes a total 47 million years of earth history.

Fossils of brachiopods, nautiloids, trilobites, snails, crinoids, and many other animals are evident in the sea cliffs and in rock outcrops within the park. An interpretive kiosk, trails, and picnic areas help to ensure an interesting and enjoyable experience. The rocks and fossils of Arisaig have been studied by geologists from around the world for over 150 years.

Arisaig, settled in 1785, is the oldest parish of Catholic Highland settlers in Nova Scotia and is the second oldest parish in the Diocese of Antigonish. The first log cabin church was built in 1792 near the present wharf. Today a cairn stands to commemorate the church and our ancestors who endured so much hardship. A second church was built near the existing glebe house in 1816. The present church, of Gothic design, was completed in 1878 and was dedicated to St. Margaret of Scotland.

To enrich these communities the first wharf was built around 1812; a school opened in 1817, a grist mill was built in 1826, and a post office in 1834.

The Arisaig Community Hall, built in 1989 to replace the old school-hall, serves as a gathering place. A well-used community ball field and play ground provides recreational opportunities. A low-impact walking trail winds its way around the ball field through a wooded area and down to the shore – a short hike along the beach will take you to Frenchman’s Barn or a hike westerly to Arisaig Harbour Lighthouse.

Fishing has always been an important industry in Arisaig. In 1895 a lamp was attached to a pole to navigate boats to and from the wharf. The first lighthouse at the Arisaig Wharf was constructed in 1898 and destroyed by fire in the early 1930s. In 2007 community volunteers built a replica of the Lighthouse using the original plans as a guide. The Lighthouse is part of the first phase of a major upgrading of the Arisaig wharf infrastructure. Interpretive panels, located on rocks around the Lighthouse tell the story of our historic fishing community. A successful fish processing plant operated for many years at the Arisaig wharf site. Today much of the processing is done elsewhere but the wharf remains vital to the industry.

From the shores, looking east, Frenchman’s Barn can be seen; a mass of rock shaped like a building, and called Frenchman’s Barn because a French ship was wrecked here in the 17th century.

Doctor’s Brook was named in honour of Doctor Alexander MacDonald, the first physician and surgeon in Antigonish County. In 1864 this thriving community was comprised of a grist mill, blacksmith shop, post office and saw mill.

Malignant Cove is a picturesque community extending along Highway 245 and continuing through the intersection of Highway 337. Settled in 1789 by American 22nd Regiment soldiers, Malignant Cove derives its name from a war vessel, the Malignant, bound for Quebec during the American Revolution. The ship grounded in a storm in the cove and remnants of the ship are believed to still be visible today during major ‘nor-easter storms. A small log chapel was built in 1793 and the first school was built in 1815. There was a large grist mill operating around 1800. A post office was built in 1838 and local service continued until the 1960s. In 1898 a store, saw mill, and lobster factory served the people. In 1915 the Malignant Cove name was changed to Milburn. This name was not accepted by Canada Post and reverted to its original name.

The dam on the Malignant Brook continues to be a popular swimming hole attracting many during the summer months. There are several easily accessible public beaches in the area.

Arisaig parish boundary extends along Highway 245 comprising the westerly population of Maryvale. In earlier times, the entire Maryvale community was part of Arisaig Parish. Originally called Malignant Brook, it was renamed Maryvale in 1871. The school commenced in 1828 and the post office opened in 1871. St. Mary’s church was built in 1840. Church records indicate a portion of Maryvale was called Lennox from 1913 to 1921.

The community of Arisaig is proud of its rich history and Scottish culture. In February 2007 a community economic plan was completed, “Arisaig – Where Community, the Fishery, and Tourism Connect.” This plan, strongly supported by the newly formed Arisaig Community Development Association, incorporated October 23, 2007, provides a guide for continued growth and prosperity of our community.

The Arisaig Parish Community Hall, built entirely by volunteers, serves as a living example of the co-operation and dedication of the families that have built and continue to strengthen our communities. The Hall serves the many needs of all residents. Two traditional major fund-raising events are held to support the facility. The annual Arisaig Lobster Dinner, held on Mother’s Day, attracts over a thousand diners. The Arisaig Christmas Bazaar, held on the first Sunday in November, is also a successful and well-attended community fund raiser.

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