History of the Magdalen Island

Well before the Europeans, the Micmac people named the archipelago Menagoesenog, “islands brushed by the waves”.  Although the Aboriginal peoples didn’t live on the islands, they used to come here to fish and to hunt seal, sea cows, and walrus.

In June 1534, the French navigator Jacques Cartier discovered the islands and called them Les Araynes (from Latin arena, “sand”). In his ship’s log, Cartier wrote: “The islands have sandbanks and good passages around them, six or seven fathoms. This island is the best land we have seen, better even than Terre Neuve - Newfoundland. We found a land with great trees, fine meadow, fields of wild wheat, and flowering peas…”

In 1629, Samuel de Champlain named one of the islands La Magdeleine. The archipelago’s present name, Iles de la Madeleine, however, was reportedly given in honor of Madeleine Fontaine, wife of François Doublet de Honfleur, concessionaire of the islands in 1663 (in fact, under the French Regime, the archipelago passed from hand to hand without lasting colonization).

After the deportation of 1755, some of the Acadians managed to settle here. They hunted walrus and ran fisheries. In 1789, following the French Revolution, a few families came from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Among these people, came father Jean-Batiste Allain who created the first written records of the settlement.

In 1763, the Islands were annexed to Newfoundland, but nine years later, in 1774, they were annexed to Quebec according to the Quebec Act.

In 1798, the islands passed to Isaac Coffin, who forced the Madelinots to pay rent on the lands that they had cleared with their own hands and occupied for more than 25 years.

Suffering from misery and injustice, the islanders flew their country in great numbers. They founded a few villages on Quebec’s Lower North Shore, such as Blanc-Sablon, Havre Saint-Pierre, Natashquan, and Sept-Iles. Since 1895, allowed to buy back their lands, the Madelinots have worked towards self-sufficiency.

Today, the Madelinots still maintain their unique way of life and retain their distinctive accent.

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