Murray Islands Survey

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May 18th,2010

On a beautiful sunny day, Dr. Helen Kristmanson and I headed to Murray Harbour to meet with volunteers Jesse, David, and Alan to do an archaeological survey of the Murray Islands.

The traditional Mi’Kmaq name for Murray Harbour is ‘Eskwadek’or ‘Kwodomak’ meaning fishing place or bay comes to an end.  Samuel Holland renamed the Harbour in 1765 for James Murray (1719-1794), Governor of Quebec from 1763 to 1768.  According to Holland the French name for Murray Harbour was ‘Havre de l’Ours’ or ‘Bear Harbour’. The Murray Islands were named as such by Samuel Holland in 1765. The five islands are located in Murray Harbour and are named Gordons, Thomas , Herring, Reynolds , and Cherry Islands.

After Alan gave us a briefing about the history of the Murray Islands and area, we boarded a motorboat steered by Jonathan, who kindly took time out of his busy fishing schedule to help us explore the islands.

Armed with maps and oral traditional information about the use and layout of the islands, we spent the afternoon circumnavigating all five Islands, paying attention to the geography of the islands. We noted places that looked like particularly promising locations for sites.

We docked on Thomas Island and walked across a sandbar to Herring Island where we surveyed the surface of the shore for archaeological material. We briefly ventured into the interior of Herring Island where Jonathan and Alan directed us to the site of an old well and old house foundation.

We ended the first day of our survey on Gordon’s Island, also known as Indian Island. In the 19th Century this was the site of the Indian Island Lobster Plant. The remnants of this were scattered on the beach in the form of large pieces of brick and hunks of rusted metal. We also were able to collect quite a bit of archaeological material from the surface in a short amount of time, including historic ceramic pieces and evidence of Aboriginal material as well. Gordon’s Island proved to be a most promising site indeed, and we were eager to return the next day.

A Lesson in Natural History

On the Second day of the Survey, Helen, Jesse, and I took to the water again with the help of our trusty Captain, Jonathan. Our search for archaeological sites on the Murray Islands proved to be a great lesson in Natural History.

I have never seen so many seals in my life, nor had I ever seen them so close-up. Harbour Seals and pups basked on the shores of Cherry Island, and Grey Seals sprawled on the sand bar by Reynolds Island. We took care to not disturb them, but as we would approach the shore they would slide off the sand into the sea, their big eyes watching us from the water. A few bold ones swum fast and close to the boat. One particularly lively fellow jumped out of the water making a large splash.

We started the second day of surveying by walking around the smallest Island – Cherry Island. The trees on Cherry Island have been destroyed by a population of Cormorants. The land was scrubby and swampy. It is home to mice and voles whose holes abounded the ground. Their unusual driftwood stick nests were plentiful, as were sea-gull nests full of large greenish-blue eggs. We bid Cherry Island goodbye and headed to Reynolds Island, also known as “Back Island” because of its location as the island furthest from the Harbour. I think the seals were happy to see us go, so they could return to sunbathing.

Thomas Island  was next, where we surveyed the shore and ventured into the woods to see if there was any evidence of the old homesteads indicated on the Meacham’s 1880 Atlas. We finished the second day of our survey by returning to Gordon’s Island where we continued to find both historic and pre-historic material.

The day ended on a delicious note with a lobster sandwich, burgers and ice cream from Brehaut’s in Murray Harbour.

Stay tuned for an article about the History of the Murray Islands that I am co-writing with Dr. Kristmanson.

If anyone has any information to share about the history of the Murray Islands, I’d love to hear about it. You can contact me via email at or phone (902) 368-6605.