Janvrin’s Island, located off the south-eastern tip of Cape Breton Island, was deeded to John Janvrin on 13 March 1794. The Janvrin family was one of many who came to the Island from Jersey, one of the Channel Islands between England and France, to establish fish plants. The family were merchants, and this island was one of the first places in Canada where they operated. John Janvrin was a businessman, politician and militia officer. He was the youngest son of Brelade Janvrin and Elizabeth de Lecq. He returned regularly to Jersey, and in 1799 he married Esther Elizabeth Filleul from a family of merchants, they had three sons and eight daughters. In 1800 he and his brothers were members of the local board of trade.
Merchants and privateers
La Société Jersiaise has a letter book which shows that in 1743 he had an account with Mrs Elizabeth Orange, widow of Philip Janvrin of the “Esther”, for oil and quintals of fish. In the latter part of the eighteenth century the sons of Brelade Janvrin, of Le Coin, Jersey, set up as merchants in New Brunswick, Canso, Magdalene Islands and on the Gaspé coast in the fishing industry, but their major activity lay in the arming of privateers during the wars with France and Spain.
The family had a long seagoing tradition, they were merchants, sailors, shipmasters and shipowners, and some were trading with North America by the 17th century. In 1783, perhaps even a little earlier, two of John’s brothers, acting as Phillip and Francis Janvrin and Comany, set up a fishing establishment at the Acadian village of Arichat on Isle Madame. At the same time the Janvrins went into business on the Isle de la Madeline which also had an Acadian population. Around 1790 the brothers established themselves in the Gaspé region of Quebec.
The youngest of three brothers, John was the only one who came to live on the North American continent, where he spent many years. He first managed the Isle Madame establishment, taking up residence there towards the end of the 1780s. He founded his own firm, John Janvrin and Company, and went into the fish and retail trade on Cape Breton. The October 1792 census listed him as a merchant connected with the Arichat fisheries. Later he operated a shipbuilding yard in Arichat and owned some merchant ships, in particular the cutter “Providence” in 1806.
He was granted a tract of land comprising 1000 acres on Janvrin’s Island under the governorship of William MacCormick. He set up a fishing post in Janvrin’s Harbour where he stayed for a while before returning to Arichat. Through the years he sold or rented to fishermen various small properties on the island. The government of Nova Scotia repossessed it around 1894. A story is told that when John Janvrin left Janvrin’s Island he made George Dory (another Jerseyman) promise to call the harbour “Janvrin’s Harbour” after him.
In May 1795 Governor William MacCormick authorized John Janvrin and Company to occupy Bernard Island, a small island of some 40 acres located northeast of Isle Madame near the village of d’Escousse, to carry on a commercial undertaking. However, Janvrin seemed to take little interest in the Island and early in the 1820s it was granted to a local fisherman John Joyce, who had laid claim to it on the grounds that Janvrin had never settled there. In 1799 the Janvrin brothers were operating a trading vessel the “Lottery”, and during the Napoleonic Wars they outfitted privateers.
Other members of the Janvrin family included Frederick, Phillip and Daniel. All of these men owned parcels of land around Isle Madame, and they were all involved in the fishing industry on Janvrin’s Island and Isle Madame, including Arichat, Petit de Grat and Little Arichat or West Arichat. The firm of Phillip and Francis Janvrin and Company was one of the main fishing companies on Cape Breton in the 1820s. It owned more than 600 acres, stores, warehouses and wharves on Isle Madame. The arrangement with the fishermen was to provide them with their supplies, buy their cod, and through a credit system, keep them in a state of i9ndebtedness which was profitable to the company.
John Janvrin operated a fish factory called Janvrin’s and Company on Janvrin’s Island. It is believed that it was located at Delorier Island (Green Island). This was a good location because lobsters and other fish were in great abundance in the Strait of Canso. All fish products were exported to the West Indies and Brazil. The holds of the vessels were lined with birch bark to keep out dampness. It was all carried in the Janvrin family’s own boats.
In the course of the many years that he spent in the Cape Breton region, John Janvrin held several important offices. In the 1790s he sat on the island’s executive council. For a long time he was also a lieutenant colonel in the militia, and Justice of the Peace. About 1816 he returned to Jersey, where he died at St Brelade.
An obituary in the Nova Scotian dated 18 March 1836 reads:
- ”On 22 December 1835 on the Island of Jersey in his 79th year, John Janvrin, who had long resided in Cape Breton, and during the time filled the several situations of Member of M M Council, lieutenant colonel of Militia, and Justice of the Peace, under the then existing government of that Island. His memory is still cherished to this day by the old inhabitants of that community.”
Management of the business was assumed by his eldest son, John, in the 1820s and he seems to have revived the family business in the early years. On 5 February 1829 he paid 1,200 pounds for the facilities belonging to Phillip and Francis Janvrin and Company at Arichat, where he went to live permanently, and in 1836 he was able to send 2 million pounds of cod to Brazil. A headstone in St John’s Anglican Church in Arichat is inscribed with the name of John Janvrin, died at 48 years in 1849. The business in Gaspé was inherited by Frederick;s grandson Frederick. As from the middle of the 19th century the Janvrin family moved out of mercantile trade into banking and brokerage in London and Jersey. There do not appear to be any survivors of the family living in the area today.
In 1867 Canada was united and the Conservative government of Sir John MacDonald ruled the country. The new government was a problem to the people of Janvrin‘s Island. They considered the land their own, but now they had to pay for their grant of land. A lot of people could not afford this price so many lost their land. A man by the name of Captain Pelham, who was wealthy, hired a surveyor and surveyed 165 acres of land. The rest of the land wasn’t paid for and was taken by the government.