Campobello Island, situated in the Bay of Fundy, is one of the three Fundy Isles and a unique part of New Brunswick, Canada. The island is positioned just off the coast of Lubec, Maine, the easternmost town in the US. It can be reached from the mainland via the Roosevelt Campobello International Bridge or by ferry from Deer Island.
Long before Europeans mapped the island in 1607, Passamaquoddy Indians had been hunting, fishing, and gathering clams and sea urchins in the area, which they called “A bah quiet.” The first European settlers were the French, who named the island “Port aux Coquilles” and constructed huts along its northwest and southwest shores. Although a 1733 map indicates a French settlement on the northeast side of Harbour de L’Outre, the Treaty of Utrecht transferred control of Campobello to the English in 1713.
Scottish and Irish settlers arrived on the island from New England in 1765, with trading posts already established in the region.
In 1767, Captain William Owen and his three nephews received a grant for “the Outer Island, then called Passamaquoddy,” from the Governor General of Nova Scotia. Owen brought 38 settlers, mostly indentured servants, to the island and named it Campobello three years later. These settlers included various skilled workers who built houses, planted crops, and engaged in trade.
The island’s population, consisting of 36 English and 37 New Englanders, was divided into hamlets at what are now Wilson’s Beach and Welshpool. Industries thrived, with island stores offering a variety of goods, and commercial enterprises such as brickyards, sawmills, a tannery, and a soap factory. Campobello’s first fish weir was built in 1840 to trap herring, and handlining and trawl-fishing for ground fish continued to provide livelihoods for many Islanders.
Fish drying flakes and smokehouses lined the shores, and a strong market for fish developed in New York. The production of wooden boxes for shipping fish became a significant industry. By 1850, the island’s population had grown to 865, reaching 1,039 by 1862. Fishing remained the main industry, with catches comprising various fish species. Agricultural products included a range of crops, dairy items, livestock, and wool.
The year 1866 almost brought with it an invasion of Campobello by a foreign force. The Fenian Brotherhood, founded in America to establish a republican government in Ireland, sent a force of several hundred men to the Eastport area. Their intentions were to seize Campobello as a means of harassing England, but the U.S. government disbursed the raiding party before it reached the Island. The attempted raid, however, moved New Brunswick to vote in favour of joining the
Confederation of British North America (later Canada) and also stimulated greater efficiency in the military organization.
The late 1860’s were not good years. Corporate business folded, shipping and foreign trade declined dramatically, and there were few, new settlers. Campobello’s shipping and trading had pretty well ceased by 1871 when a new industry developed in the late 1870’s, rum running. Gin from Holland, French wine, and Scotch and Irish whiskies were shipped to Campobello, where they were transferred to fleets of fishing schooners from Gloucester, Massachusetts. (Rum-running prospered again during the prohibition of the 1920’s).
A second new industry bloomed during the 1880’s, when wealthy people had extensive leisure time as well as the means to enjoy it. It was the age of summer long vacations and great summer resorts.
Although summer visitors had been coming to Campobello to enjoy the Island’s charms since 1855, it wasn’t until a group of Boston and New York businessmen bought the Owen property in 1881 that the summer trade really prospered. The new owners called themselves the Campobello Company. They constructed luxurious hotels that they leased to private management, and sold land to both wealthy visitors and Island residents.
Both the Canadian and American press promoted Campobello as a summer resort. Well-to-do families from such cities as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Ottawa and Montreal escaped to Campobello by private yacht, steamship and train. Among those families was that of James Roosevelt, who, with his wife Sara and one year old son Franklin Delano Roosevelt, first visited the Island in 1883. James purchased several acres of land and had a summer home constructed; other wealthy visitors did the same. Although the resulting summer colony produced work for local people building cottages, providing food and services, provisioning yachts, fishing remained the Island’s mainstay.
Beginnings in 1881, the development of the summer trade lasted about 30 years. The resort era was doomed, partly by the first world war, partly by the fact, summer long vacations became impossible and most certainly by the coming of the automobile and its accompanying freedom of movement.
Campobello’s hotels prospered until about 1910. In 1915, the Campobello Company sold its holdings to a group of New York businessmen who took the name Campobello Corporation. This Corporation’s interests were sold to the remaining summer colony about 1930, and the name changed to the Campobello Island Club.
The Dead River Land Company bought the club holdings in 1957 and for several years harvested lumber and pulp wood. Most of Dead River’s holdings were eventually sold to a new Campobello Company, interested in developing and subdividing property. Some of the Arkansas developers were later well known figures involved in the “White Water” scandal in the U.S.
The summer trade exists again on Campobello. In 1959, a gift of land from one of the original summer colonists helped establish Herring Cove Provincial Park. Herring Cove provides summer visitors with a challenging nine-hole golf course, excellent camping facilities, scenic picnic areas and woodland hiking trails.
With the opening of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Bridge in 1962, over 100,000 people visit Campobello each year. The Roosevelt Campobello International Park was established in 1964 following a gift of the cottage and its grounds to the Canadian and United States governments.
The Park was established as an expression of the close relationship between Canada and the United States and as a memorial to the President of the United States who so greatly strengthened that relationship.
Although the fishing industry; the harvesting of lobster, scallops, clams, sea urchins, herring, cod, pollock, mackerel and pen-raised salmon and occupations related to the fishing industry remained the mainstay of Campobello for many years, tourism was steadily increasing Campobello industry.
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