The only International Historic Site in the National Park System is celebrating the anniversary of a key event that occurred 406 years ago. Do you know where it's located, and the country of origin of the early settlers of this island?
If you head far enough north on U. S. Route 1, you'll come to stretch of highway that parallels the Saint Croix River along the border between Maine and New Brunswick. About eight miles south of Calais, Maine, you'll encounter one of those lesser-known gems of the National Park System: Saint Croix Island International Historic Site.
The park is celebrating the key event in its history on Saturday, June 26, 2010: it's been 406 years since Pierre Dugua Sieur de Mons founded a French settlement on Saint Croix Island. That activity marked the beginning of a permanent European presence in Northern North America.
A park publication offers a capsule summary of the story:
Saint Croix Island is the 1604 site of the first French attempt to colonize the territory they called l'Acadie and the location of one of the earliest European settlements in North America. Members of a French expedition led by Pierre Dugua, intending to colonize North America, settled the island in 1604.
Seventy-nine members of the expedition, including Samuel Champlain, passed the severe winter of 1604-1605 on the island. Thirty-five settlers died, apparently of scurvy, and were buried in a small cemetery on Saint Croix Island. In spring 1605 the survivors left the island and founded the settlement of Port Royal, Nova Scotia.
Parks Canada operated a companion site on their side of the river, and their description fills in some details about the site's significance:
Even though the settlement was short-lived, in the summer of 1605 they moved to the shores of the present-day Annapolis Basin in Nova Scotia where Port Royal was established, their experience taught them much. The invaluable experience they gained from this first settlement gave them the knowledge they needed to found a more successful settlement at Port Royal and gave way to an enduring French presence in North America to this present day.
The U.S. park will offer a full day of activities on Saturday, June 26 in honor of the anniversary. The celebration runs from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) and begins with an opening ceremony conducted by members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe. Immediately following that event, visitors are invited to join a park ranger for “A Trip Back in Time” to discover the story behind the scenery and significance of the Saint Croix Island settlement.
Information from the park details additional plans for the day:
Two activities specifically for children will take place throughout the day. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. children accompanied by a parent can participate in the site’s new Junior Ranger program. Pick up a copy of the free Junior Ranger activity booklet which must be completed in the park. A park ranger on site will check over the completed activities with the child and parent. The child then repeats the Junior Ranger pledge, and is awarded his/her very own Junior Ranger patch.
“Time Traveler,” a history story for children ages 7 to 12, will be offered at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. This one hour, hands-on program takes children on a voyage through time and through the park. It’s a fun way to discover the story of the Saint Croix Island settlement. Bring your imagination and your camera!
Throughout the day, starting at 9 a.m., a Passamaquoddy national park ranger will display historic replicas and objects of cultural significance that help tell the story of her tribe from 1604 to today, and a costumed national park interpreter dressed as Pierre Dugua, leader of the French colonization effort, will be available until 3 p.m. to answer questions in English and French about the history of the 1604 expedition and his experiences on Saint Croix Island.
Also during the day, you can help a ranger discover birds and animals of the region first identified by Samuel Champlain in 1604. Try your hand at using a powerful spotting scope to “scope out” wildlife around Saint Croix Island.
All activities will be held at the site’s mainland interpretive trail near the parking lot, eight miles south of Calais, Maine, on US 1. “Visitors and community members are all welcome to join the day’s events,” said Meg Scheid, park ranger at the historic site.
Saint Croix Island International Historic Site is composed of a mainland site and 6.5-acre Saint Croix Island. Facilities at the mainland site include a visitor contact station, an outdoor interpretive shelter, picnic tables, a pit toilet, and an unimproved boat launch. A short, accessible interpretive trail features bronze figures of the French and Passamaquoddy, as well as displays that discuss historical events and the interaction of the two cultures.
Visits to the island itself are not encouraged due to its fragile nature. There are no visible traces of the early settlement on Saint Croix Island; when the decision was made to move the expedition to Port Royal, most of the buildings were dismantled, put onto the ships and moved and erected at the new site.
The area was established as a national monument on June 8, 1949, and received its current designation on September 25, 1984. The Canadian counterpart dates to 1958, when "the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recommended that Saint Croix Island be recognized for its national historic significance to Canada. The Canadian interpretation site, administered by Parks Canada, is located at Bayside, New Brunswick, near St. Andrews. It overlooks Saint Croix Island, located in the middle of the Saint Croix River."
Although the park is open daily from sunrise to sunset all year, summer is the best time to visit. A bilingual (French-English) park ranger is stationed at the site seven days a week from June 15 through September 30; during the winter the displays and bronze statues along the interpretive trail are covered to prevent damage from inclement weather. You'll find details to help plan a visit on the park's website.