A settlement near Northumberland Strait north west of Antigonish, named
district on the western coast of Inverness-shire, Scotland, and a promonotory
lying between two inlets of the sea and immediately opposite the isle of
Eigg. The district was earlier known as Frenchman's Barn.
The earliest settlement made in Antigonish County by Highlanders was
Arisaig, the first white man to live there being Angus Gillis McDonald, from
Morar who had been a gille or a body servant to John McDonald of Glenaladale,
who had emigrated to America and took a leading part in raising the 84th
Regiment. Although Angus Gillis MacDonald had received a soldier's grant at
Merigomish in 1783 he explored the county and selected 500 acres of land at a
place he named Arisaig from his native land. However, he did not live there
long because he thought the Indians were hostile. His brother, John Ban
Gillis, was the first permanent settler at Arisaig, coming there with his
wife and son in the spring of 1785. Captain Alexander MacGillivray was
another early settler.
St. Margaret's Roman Catholic Parish at Arisaig was the earliest Highland
Catholic mission in Nova Scotia for between 1785 and 1791 the land all along
the Gulf shore was being rapidly occupied. In 1792 the first small log
church was built in a day on a site near the present Arisaig pier. The first
priest was Father James MacDonald. A contract for a new church was given in
1807 to Nathaniel Symonds of Antigonish, which was enlarged in 1821. Another
church was built and finished by Sylvester O'Donoghue of Antigonish and
dedicated on July 16, 1878.
Among the first teachers at Arisaig was Dougald MacEachern, a noted
scholar and bard. A schoolhouse had been built at Arisaig by 1817 and
Stephen MacDonald was schoolmaster.
There was a post way office from 1834 to 1847 and from 1853 to 1867,
office keeper being William Gillis in 1868.
The first pier or wharf was built of round logs by volunteer labour
government assistance between 1811-1813. This pier formed the only harbour
from Antigonish to Merigomish, and was of great service to the trade of the
district. Fishing was important in bygone years, also farming.
The first grist mill was built by Donald MacKinnon about 1826.