This location has the double distinction of hosting one of the first Acadian settlements in present-day Prince Edward Island, as well as the first military fortification on the island while under control of France as well as the first military fortification on the island while under control of Britain .
From 1720 to 1770 Port-la-Joye, later named Fort Amherst, served as the seat of government and port of entry for settlers to the island while under both French and British control. As such, it played an important role as a colonial outpost in the French-British struggle for dominance in North America.
The site was designated a National Historic Site by Alvin Hamilton, the Minister of Northern Affairs and National Resources, on May 27, 1958, on the advice of the national Historic Sites and Monuments Board. The property was acquired by the federal government in 1959, and the present visitor center opened in 1973. The site's name was changed from Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst NHS to Skmaqn—Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst NHS on February 16, 2018. The additional Mi’kmaq word means “the waiting place”, and is thought to originate between 1725 and 1758, "when Mi’kmaq and French leaders met annually at the site to renew their relationship and military alliance."