John Janvrin

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Hay making on Janvrin's Island

From an article by Mark Desjardins

Janvrin's Island

An island off the Canadian Atlantic coast is named after Jerseyman John Janvrin (1762-1835), who was a businessman, politician, militia officer, and Justice of the Peace. He was the son of Brelade Janvrin, a merchant, and Elizabeth de Lecq. In 1799 he married Esther Elizabeth Filleul (1780–1864) in St Helier, and they had three sons and eight daughters.

John Janvrin belonged to the Valpy dit Janvrin family. This Jersey 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 Philip and Francis Janvrin and Company, set up a fishing establishment at the Acadian village of Arichat on Isle Madame, south of Cape Breton Island. At the same time the Janvrins went into business on the Îles de la Madeleine, which also had an Acadian population. This maritime business, with which John would soon be associated, was carried on for a score of years. Around 1790 the brothers established themselves in the Gaspé region, on the bay of that name.

The youngest of the three, 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 probably became the principal representative of Philip and Francis Janvrin and Company in North America. But shortly after settling in, 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.

On 17 March 1794 Janvrin was granted an island of about 1,500 acres just west of Isle Madame. He set up a fishing post there (Janvrin Harbour) and stayed for a while before returning to Arichat. Through the years he sold or rented to fishermen various small properties on the island, which was named Janvrin Island by his descendants. The government of Nova Scotia repossessed it around 1894.

Bernard Island

On 16 May 1795 the Lieut-Governor of Cape Breton, William Macarmick, authorised John Janvrin and Company to occupy Bernard Island (a small island of some 40 acres located northeast of Isle Madame and near the village of D’Escousse) and to carry on a commercial undertaking, putting up buildings. Janvrin seems, however, to have paid little attention to this island. Early in the 1820s it was granted to a local fisherman, John Joyce, who laid claim to it on grounds that Janvrin had never settled there.

Following his brothers’ example, or working with them, John Janvrin tried to run a fishery on the files de la Madeleine. In 1798 it involved only three fishermen. It was, in fact, Americans who took up almost the whole area. A few years later the fishery and Janvrin’s storehouse were seized by the local seigneur, Isaac Coffin*.

Even though John was running his own firm and Philip and Francis soon arranged to have their own agents at Arichat, the three Janvrin brothers continued to do business together. John held a share in his brothers’ company, and all three were shareholders or partners in a number of firms, particularly Jersey ones. In 1799 they were operating a trading vessel, the Lottery, and during the Napoleonic Wars they outfitted privateers. At that time there was also a firm called Janvrin and Durell, which operated a fishing station on the south shore of Newfoundland.

Of the Janvrin family ventures, the firm of Philip and Francis Janvrin and Company continued to be the most important. Around 1820 it was one of the main fishing companies on Cape Breton. It owned more than 600 acres, stores, warehouses, and wharfs at Arichat and Little Arichat (West Arichat) on Isle Madame and at Petit-de-Grat Island to the southeast. In the Gaspé it was second in size to the firm of Charles Robin and Company [see Charles Robin], in which the Janvrins also held shares. It was established at Grande Grave (Grande-Grève), Bassin (Havre) de Gaspé, Pointe-Saint-Pierre, and Île Bonaventure. In each of these places the company supplied the local fishermen, bought their cod, and through a credit system, kept them in a state of indebtedness which was profitable to it.

Important offices

In the course of the many years he spent in the Cape Breton region John Janvrin held several important offices. For example, 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 a justice of the peace. He still returned regularly to Jersey, where in 1799 he married a young girl from a family of merchants. In 1800 he and his brothers were members of the local board of trade.

Around the period 1815–17 Janvrin returned to live on the island where he was born. From 1817 till 1820 he was Constable of St Brelade. While carrying on his various commercial activities, he became increasingly interested in banking and brokerage. This led to interests in London, and there is reference in correspondence to John Janvrin and Co of the city of London. He was also a partner in the London brokers DeLisle, Janvrin, and DeLisle.


In the 1820s John Janvrin handed management of the Cape Breton business over to his eldest son, John. On 22 December 1835, at the age of 73, he died at St Brelade. In the years in between his son seems to have revived the family business. On 5 February 1829 he had paid £1,200 for the facilities belonging to Philip and Francis Janvrin and Company at Arichat, where he went to live permanently, and in 1836 he was able to send two million pounds of cod to Brazil.

As for the Janvrins’ business in the Gaspé, it passed into the hands of Francis’s grandson Frederick in 1837. Even though Frederick bought other properties, in the period 1841–55 he sold off all his company’s fishing establishments on the Gaspé coast. As time went on, the Janvrin family began moving out of mercantile trade into banking and brokerage in London and on Jersey. Around the middle of the 19th century it concentrated its energies and capital in that sector of the economy.

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