The majority of Saint Johners don't visit Martello Tower, Fort LaTour or Partridge Island — but local historian Harold Wright is hoping to change that.

Sites like Fort Howe, Fort LaTour and Partridge Island "tell our story," Wright said.

He's hoping to pique the interest of locals and visitors by getting Port Saint John designated a National Historic Seaport.

"We've been talking about developing Partridge Island and Fort LaTour, but it's always been disjointed," he said. Petition e-590 will be the "first to look at the total history."

Wright is working with MP Wayne Long on a petition to receive the designation.

It's a bid to formally acknowledge the impact of Port Saint John on international trade — a side of the history that has "never been recognized," Wright said.

'Canada's Ellis Island'

The petition refers to the pivotal role the Saint John port has played in commerce since the 1630s, its designation as Canada's winter port in 1896, and designation as a national port in 1927 as recognition-worthy characteristics.

The port already encompasses a National Historic Site: Partridge Island, recognized in 1974. Plans to develop the island have been slowed by its remote location and an estimated 35,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil on the island.

Partridge Island

An aerial shot of Partridge Island, which would fall under the proposed National Historic Seaport designation. (CBC)

Last year, the results of an engineering study indicated that building a safe pedestrian causeway to the island would cost between $27 million and $40 million..

Saint John MP Wayne Long has declared the development of Partridge Island as a priority, pushing for the establishment of a ferry service to the island by the end of his mandate.

"I don't think there's a historic side in Canada that can boast that historic significance," said Long. "I've always felt it's Canada's Ellis Island. That it's done to waste and been barren for 40 years is a national tragedy.

The petition is another step toward "telling that story to the world," Long said.

Partridge Island, archive photo

An archival photo of the island, which at one time was the site of schools and hospitals, military fortifications, and a coal-burning lighthouse. The island has been 'barren' for 40 years, according to MP Wayne Long. (Courtesy Government of New Brunswick Archives)

Draw for visitors, bragging rights for locals

Wright said the designation "would be great for cruise ship traffic," enabling Saint John to advertise itself as "'Canada's first historic seaport.'"

But it would also give bragging rights to locals. "If Saint Johners can appreciate Saint John, then the tourism will come," Wright said.

"Right now, Saint Johners don't go to tourist sites. They don't go to Fort Howe, Martello Tower - the the tourism sites in their own city," Wright said. "We want to reverse that."

The petition has exceeded the 500 signatures required for Long to make a case for the designation in the House of Commons this spring. Wright hopes to collect another 1,500 signatures by May.

"The island is a guardian of the port of Saint John," he said. "The time is right now to put all of these ideas together."

With files from Information Morning Saint John