First Nations tribes in the region, the Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot, were doubtless the first humans to visit Grand Manan.
From the Maine coast, the island appears as imposing 100 metre high volcanic cliffs, with few areas to land a canoe. After our first one and a half hour modern ferry ride, it is nearly unimaginable these early peoples canoed across the Grand Manan Channel.
Wabanaki: A New Dawn from Maine Indian Tribal-State Comm. on Vimeo.
The Wabanaki (Eastern) Confederacy was a coalition of five Algonquian tribes of the eastern seaboard, banded together in response to Iroquois aggression. These tribes - the Abenaki, the Penobscot, the Maliseet, the Passamaquoddy, and the Mi'kmaq, each retained their own political leadership, but collaborated on broader issues such as diplomacy, war, and trade. The confederation officially disbanded in 1862, but the five tribes remain close allies, and the Wabanaki Confederacy lives on in the form of a political alliance between these historically friendly nations. The term "Wabanaki" literally means "people of the dawn" or "dawnland people," meaning easterners, and at times all five tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy have referred to themselves this way. Also, the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet of New Brunswick collectively refer to themselves as Wabanaki.
Just to clarify, not all Algonkians consider themselves Wabanaki. In the Algonkian territory around the national capital region (Ottawa, Canada), particularly Kitigan-Zibi, the Algonkians (Odawa, Ojibwe and other Woodlands Indians) more commonly refer to themselves as Anishinaabe or Anishinabe (people of the spirit - the second "i" is silent). Anishnabe is an Ojibwe word that means the people.Only the eastern Algonkian tribes use the term Wabanaki to describe themselves.
With no large animals to support permanent settlement, the island was most probably a summer camp for fishing, sealing, dulsing, gull egg collecting and the like. We are aware that other First Nations in Cape Breton had favorite small islands for the collection of semi-precious stones, so perhaps Grand Manan, with its geological riches, was attractive for this purpose as well.
By 1000 AD, it is possible Vikings visited - or at least saw - the island. There is no direct physical evidence; however, there is evidence of visits by Vikings to points east and south along the New England Coast.
Grand Manan's European "discovery" really begins in the early sixteenth century with explorers like Cabot.
By the mid to late 1500's Grand Manan was showing up on maps, and noted in the journals of such explorers as Samuel de Champlain. The name "Fundy" is thought to date back to the 16th century, when the Portuguese referred to the bay as "Rio Fundo" or "deep river".
Through the late 1600's to early 1700's it was claimed by France, England and the United States. In 1713 it was granted to British in Treaty of Utrecht by France, but the US maintained its claim for another century.
1774 marks the establishment of the first permanent settlement - 50 United Empire Loyalists - on what is now Ross Island which forms the eastern shore of Grand Harbour. Roots I share. Although originally from the same part of the American Colonies, my family settled in southern Quebec and Eastern Ontario. In 1903 Seal Cove was settled.
In 1817 the US finally formally ceded the island to the British and by the mid 1800's 1200 souls lived in the same communities which exist today.
Thirty years later, thanks to the thriving fishery, the population had more than doubled to roughly 2700 people - similar to the number of people who call Grand Manan home today.
In the intervening years, the population has shrunk and then grown back, often at the hands of the fickle fishery stocks. The economy of the island today still is heavily dependent on that industry - although tourism accounts for an increasingly significant part.