In this photo from Battery Provincial Park in St Peters, Isle Madame lies in the far distance across Lennox Passage (beyond the headland); in the foreground, the waters are those of St Peters Bay. The land at the far right of the photo in the middle ground is part of Cape Breton Island; the communities of River Tillard and River Bourgeois lie along Highway 4, which goes out that way.
Isle Madame, said to have been named for Madame de Maintenon (1635-1719), second wife of King Louis XIV of France, has borne this name since 1720; earlier names were Isle Sainte-Marie (in its Latin form of Insula Sanctæ Mariæ on a map of 1660) and Isle Notre-Dame (from a French map of 1701). The island is roughly 16 km long (from east to west) and 11 km wide (from north to south), with an area of about 45 km² (10 mi long and 7 mi wide, with an area of about 17 sq mi). Basque, French, and English fishermen visited the island from the beginning of the 16th century onwards; in time, the Basques established a year-round community there. French settlers, brought by Nicolas Denys, were in the area permanently by the middle of the 17th century and began to intermarry with the Basques. French settlement accelerated during the time the French were building Louisbourg, making Petit-de-Grat a major fishing and smuggling centre, rivalling Louisbourg itself in economic importance to the French colony. With the fall of Louisbourg, British, mainly Irish and Scots, streamed into Richmond County in the 18th century, with many Irish settling in Isle Madame, but Isle Madame retained its predominantly French character, which continues up to the present day. Arichat, Richmond County’s county seat, grew into an economic and cultural powerhouse in the middle part of that century, but entered a period of decline as the advent of steam and boats made of iron rendered the economic engines powering the local economy obsolete. Today, Isle Madame is one of Richmond County’s premier tourist destinations. The natural beauty of the island, with its beautiful marine setting in Chedabucto Bay amongst an archipelago of islands and marshes, can be readily explored at the photogenic Sentier Écologique/Eco-Trail at Cape Auguet, which draws many visitors to hike the salt marshes and coasts there.¹
Before the 20th century, ferries connected Isle Madame to Cape Breton Island. The first bridge opened in 1919, but a ferry remained in operation until the 1970’s, when a new bridge was built across Lennox Passage, the picturesque strait which separates Isle Madame from Cape Breton Island. The Lennox Passage Provincial Park near Martinique on Isle Madame on Highway 320 (5 km (3 mi) east of the junction of Routes 320 and 206) sits across from Grandique Ferry on Cape Breton Island where one of the former ferries operated.
 Le Sentier Écologique/Eco-Trail at Cape Auguet is apparently in a severe state of disrepair at this point: Michael Haynes, noted author of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton hiking books, reported here that, as of 2011 July 1, “[s]ome [trails], such as the Cape Auguet Eco-Trail, were in deadful shape, and can only be trekked by the very experienced - and even then it will be difficult.”
¹ Place Names of Atlantic Canada, p. 337, s.v., Isle Madame. See also the Wikipedia entry for Isle Madame and the always very useful Brief History of Isle Madame.↩