Convicts Abandoned on Sable Island

English: Aerial view of Sable Island, Nova Sco...
Aerial view of Sable Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Taken from NW at approx 1500 ft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



In the development of a nation, there is often conflict about whether certain work should be done by the government or by private enterprises. The theory is that private enterprise will work more quickly and economically because it wants to make money. Some examples of this are the C.P.R. And Trans Canada Pipeline.


On the other hand, development of air travel was entrusted to government-sponsored Trans-Canada Airlines, or Air Canada as it is now called.


This conflict has existed since the earliest days of Canada. King Henry IV of France would not spend money on colonial development, but gave men like de Monts and La Roche rights to the fur trade if they would finance their own enterprises. It was de Monts who made Chaplain’s explorations possible.


After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the development of Canada was left to private enterprise in the form of the Hudson’s Bay Company, or “The Merchant Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay” as it was sometimes called.


This company made money, but some earlier capitalists lost their shirts. One of them was the Marquis de La Roche, who was given a fur trading monopoly on January 12, 1598. He outfitted an expedition to Nova Scotia. His colonists consisted of forty convicts whom he landed on Sable Island, often called “the graveyard of the Atlantic” because so many ships have been wrecked there.


After La Roche put his men on shore, he sailed away to explore the coast of Nova Scotia, but his ship was damaged in a bad storm and he had to rush before the wind to France. There his creditors put him in prison, and he died a pauper.


It was five years before another ship got to Sable Island. Only eleven of the forty convicts were still alive. They looked like Robinson Crusoes, dressed in shaggy skins, with beards to their waists. They were pardoned and allowed to into the fur trade themselves, many of them doing quite well in their new careers.




  1. Wild story! I was in Halifax for one of the last elections (federal or provincial – can’t remember which), and my official riding was Halifax-Sable Island. Consequently, “Sable Island” was on every single placard in the riding, despite the fact that it is about 300 km away and inhabited by a whopping five people (excluding the wild horses, of course). Crazy place.


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