Ingonish: A puzzle

OK, folks in Cape Breton and everywhere else, what do you think?

The top picture was painted in 1801 showing a Mi’kmaq camp by a river flowing into the sea. The bottom picture was taken on the east side of the Clyburn looking up the Clyburn towards Franey. It was taken from the place where local tradition (Uncle Albert Doyle and my father, for example) said the Mi’kmaq camped within living memory. The salmon fishing was so good there before the highway and the cod fishery was rich. Archaeologists have found artefacts there too. So do you think it could be the same spot?
Here’s an even darker version, digital altered by me to remove some of the fading. I am a trained water colourist and know how fugitive some pigments and how quickly some water colour paint fades.
Digitally altered. Is that Franey we see in the background at top?

Digitally altered. Is that Franey we see in the background at top?

And here is a closer and darker look at the 1801 painting:



Here’s some background:

How old is First Nation occupation of Ingonish?
Archaeologists have uncovered native activity at Ingonish back to the Paleo-Indian period. This large site was occupied by Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic Indian people. Artifacts found there date back 7,000 to 9,000 years ago.
What does “Ingonish” mean?
The site is named “Geganisg” or sometimes transcribed as “Kegannagwetch” a Mi’kmaw word meaning ‘remarkable place’ or so some sources say. Samuel de Champlain called it “Niganis”. It became “Niganiche” and eventually “Ingonish”. Contemporary Mi’kmaq people say it means “it flows out” and that’s a good description of the Clyburn Brook. ncidentally, if there’s a disagreement about the meaning of a First Nations place name like Canada, Ontario, Toronto, Ingonish…my gut always says go with the people who actually speak the language today. It’s a living culture with a long, long memory. So if the Mi’kmaq of Cape Breton say “Ingonish” means “it flow out”, that is what I’m going to go with.
Why was Ingonish important to the First Nations?
Ingonish Island, as my father, Thomas Vincent Doucette, told me, was an important place because it had quarries for stone to make arrow and spearheads that were traded widely. Archaeologists have confirmed this.
It is important to remember that this land was not empty, just waiting for the Europeans to come and fill it up with fast food restaurants, highways and the like. It has been fully occupied since the last glacier melted and maybe long before that. Recovering the historic uses of places is important now for treaty rights, but also for cultural reasons that go far beyond treaties. The Mi’kmaq encamped near the mouth of the Clyburn Brook and Ingonish River and fished for salmon and cod here since the “beginning of time”.
By and large my Mi’kmaq ancestors did not have to slave to scratch a meal out of Mother Earth like European peasants had to do. The sea was rich with fish, seals, shellfish, sea vegetables and life was not as hard as some may think. Ingonish was particularly valued for its cod fishery. There was leisure time to develop a rich culture: music, pictographs, dance and stories. Chiefs called “sagamows” helped settled disputes, especially about hunting territories, but decisions were made by consensus. There were no kings or nobles.

Here’s a video from the Mi’kmawey Debert Cultural Centre…/ancestors-l…/ingonish-island/


This site is terrific.…/ancestors-l…/ingonish-island/


Apparently the codfish used to come inshore earlier there than anywhere else in Cape Breton which is why Ingonish was so valuable as a fishing ground to the Mi’kmaq, Basque, Portuguese and French, not to mention the Irish and others who worked the fishery.


James Albert Doyle

Albert Doyle

Tom Doucette from Ronald Caplan, Stories from the Clyburn Valley, Cape Breton’s Magazine, Issue 49, Aug. 1, 1988

Tom Doucette from Ronald Caplan, Stories from the Clyburn Valley, Cape Breton’s Magazine, Issue 49, Aug. 1, 1988



Leona Doucette from Ronald Caplan, Stories from the Clyburn Valley, Cape Breton’s Magazine, Issue 49, Aug. 1, 1988

Leona Doucette from Ronald Caplan, Stories from the Clyburn Valley, Cape Breton’s Magazine, Issue 49, Aug. 1, 1988

These three of my close relatives, all now sadly departed this life, all told the same stories of Ingonish Island and the Mi’kmaq encampment at the both of the Clyburn. To hear Tom and Leona Doucette’s tell their own story of life up the Clyburn Valley go to Ronald Caplan’s, “Stories from the Clyburn Valley”, Cape Breton’s Magazine, Issue 49, Aug. 1, 1988 at


Franey is still very important to my family, a special place. I’ve never been to the top, not with my rotten knees, but I’ve seen the view up the Clyburn. My Dad found stone points on Ingonish Island, but he left them where they were. A copper harpoon head (19th century) I gave one of our Kanne cousins.

I have copied a article from Cape Breton Magazine, 1975, available on line at


Arch1Arch2Here’s a quote from one of those early European visitors:


It has been forty-five or fifty years since certain gentlemen of Viana associated themselves together, and according to what information they had of terra nova de Baccalaos they determined to go settle some part of it…. And having lost their vessels there, we have no more news of them, except through the Biscayans, who are in the habit of going to that coast for the purpose of procuring and exporting many things that are to be found there. These men give information that they had asked them to tell us at home how they were situated there, and that they desired priests to be sent to them–that the natives were mild, and the country fertile and good…. And this is in Cape Breton, at the commencement of the coast which runs to the north.

–Francesco d Souza Tradato das Ilhas Novas 1570


from Mark Reynolds, “Land of the King of Portugal: before the English, before the French, the Portuguese laid claim to the land that became Canada” The Beaver: Exploring Canada’s History. 82.6 (Dec. 2002): p13.


Here’s an article from the Cape Breton Post:


Below here is an academic point of view.


An abstract from Helen Keenlyside, “The Stone Diary: A Progress Report on Some Recent Survey Work in Cape Breton” in The Canadian Journal of Archaeology. Conference Paper. “Ottawa (2002)


This account begins with a non-diagnostic artifact excavated from the multicomponent L’Anse à Flamme site in southern Newfoundland. Recently, the source material for this piece was tentatively identified as Ingonish rhyolite, a distinctive stone quarried by precontact toolmakers at Ingonish Island, Cape Breton since the Archaic period. A wide geographic distribution is suggested for Ingonish rhyolite which has been identified in archaeological sites in the Maritime Provinces, the Magdalen Islands and possibly Newfoundland. The objectives of this research were to establish if the L’Anse à Flamme artifact was Ingonish rhyolite, and if so, to consider the interpretive implications of its appearance in Newfoundland. Traditional archaeological convention depicts Newfoundland as a cultural isolate, severed from the rest of Atlantic Canada by the Gulf of St. Lawrence. But the archaeological record challenges such convention. Take for instance the impressive distribution of Ramah chert, the high quality tool making stone found in sites from northern Labrador, to the Magdalen Islands, to southern New England. Or Dr. Priscilla Renouf’s recent find of a precontact ceramic assemblage in Newfoundland, the Atlantic Province traditionally believed to be a ceramic-free zone. This image based presentation reports the results of two field projects aimed to explore the distribution of Ingonish rhyolite in Atlantic Canada and its implications for future archaeological interpretation.


The family oral history is that we descended from the Mi’kmaq who camped here and the soldiers based on the fort on Ingonish Island (see “Up the Humber to the West” on this website for more information about this).

I am interested in any feedback you may have.

Joanne, your Ontario cousin, the History Mole


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