Isle Madame is located off the south-eastern corner of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Isle Madame consists of three main island communities: Isle Madame, Petit-de-Grat to the east, and Janvrin’s Island to the west. The archipelago measures 16 km in length and is 11 km wide (approximately 176 square km). Isle Madame is jurisdictionally part of Richmond County and is separated from mainland Cape Breton Island by a narrow strait named Lennox Passage to the north.
Isle Madame was historically an important regional port for cod fishing and sea trade. The fishery continues to be a significant activity for Isle Madame especially the snow crab plant in Petit-de-Grat, and the international fishery operations of Premium Seafoods. Ltd., of Arichat. The 2006 Census reports that major industries, by number of workers, in Isle Madame include: Manufacturing, employing 22% of the labour force; Other, employing 18.8%; and Business, employing 18.1%. Additionally, 55% of the employed labour force in Isle Madame works within Richmond County. The Development Isle Madame Association (DIMA) seeks to identify and develop opportunities for continuing Isle Madame’s tradition of being the best place to live.
Isle Madame is home to 3,455 residents, 85.5 % of which are over the age of 15. The island is divided into a number of small communities, including: Alderney Point; Arichat; Boudreauville; Cape Auguet; Cap La Ronde; D’Escousse; Lennox Passage; Little Anse; Lochside; Martinique; Petit de Grat; Poirierville; Pondville; Pondville South; Port Royal; Poulamon; Rocky Bay; Samson’s Cove; St. Marys; West Arichat and Janvirin’s Island.
Initially crossed by ferries, the first bridge across Lennox Passage, connecting Isle Madame with Cape Breton Island, was opened in 1919 as a single lane swing bridge which was in service for nearly 50 years. . During this time the Grandique Ferry service also crossed the passage between Martinique and Louisdale. In the early 1980s however, the bridge was demolished and the ferry service terminated after a new combined causeway and bridge, known as the Burnt Island Bridge, was constructed across Lennox Passage. Today, Isle Madame is also connected by bridge to neighbouring Petit-de-Grat Island and by causeway and bridge to Janvrin’s Island.
Arichat is the seat of local government for the Regional Municipality of Richmond County which convenes at the modern Municipal Building . Arichat is also the home to Telile, the local cable television station, St. Anne Community and Nursing Care Centre clinic, several commercial outlets including a co-operative grocery, hardware stores, a pharmacy, and professional services.
The island was originally settled by France as part of its colony of “Ile Royale” (present-day Cape Breton Island). It is presumed to have been named for Madame de Maintenon, the second wife of France’s King Louis XIV. At the start of the Seven Years’ War, 1756-63, many Acadians took refuge on Cape Breton Island, especially the Fortress at Louisbourg where many were subsequently deported by the English in La Grande Derangement. Some escaped deportation by fleeing to Isle Madame and hiding out in the country. Acadian families gradually established roots there.
Following the Seven Years’ War, Ile Royale and its constituent territories such as Isle Madame, reverted to British control. In the 1820s, economic growth from fishing and sea trade attracted Irish, English, and Scottish immigrants mainly to Arichat. Arichat was chosen as the seat of the Catholic diocese in 1844 and the parish church became a cathedral much as it appears today. A seminar-college was founded in Arichat in 1853 later moving to Antigonish to become St. Francis Xavier University. Petit-de-Grat is home to the satellite campus of Université Ste.-Anne at Centre Communauté, La Picasse. Today, Isle Madame is enriched by its rich blend of Acadian, Irish, English, and Scottish heritages characterized by its unique bilingual style.
April 2010 © C-Change Secretariat (Canada) & C-Change Partners for Isle Madame