French Colonization (1534-1713)
The abundance of COD off the coast of Newfoundland was known of long before the explorations of Jacques Cartier (see NORSE VOYAGES; FISHERIES HISTORY). In 1534, during the first of 3 voyages to Canada, Cartier made contact with MICMACS in CHALEUR BAY.
The first French colonists did not arrive, however, until 1604 under the leadership of Pierre du Gua de MONTS and Samuel de CHAMPLAIN. De Monts settled the 80-odd colonists at Île Sainte-Croix on the ST CROIX RIVER. The winter of 1604-05 was disastrous, SCURVY killing at least 36 men.
The next year the colony looked for a new site and chose PORT-ROYAL. When some French merchants challenged his commercial monopoly, de Monts took everyone back to France in 1607; French colonists did not return until 1610. During this time the French formed alliances with the 2 main aboriginal peoples of Acadia, the Micmacs and the MALISEET.
Factors other than commercial rivalry stifled Acadia's development. In 1613 Samuel Argall, an adventurer from Virginia, seized Acadia and chased out most of its settlers. In 1621 the English government changed Acadia's name to Nova Scotia and moved in the Scottish settlers of Sir William ALEXANDER (1629). France appointed Charles LA TOUR as lieutenant-general of Acadia in 1631 and he built strongholds at Cape Sable and at the mouth of the SAINT JOHN RIVER (Fort La Tour, later SAINT JOHN). Alexander's project of Scottish expansion was cut short in 1632 by the Treaty of SAINT-GERMAIN -en-Laye, which allowed France to regain Acadia.
Renewed settlement took place under Governor Isaac de RAZILLY, who moved the capital from Port-Royal to La Hève, on the south shore of present-day Nova Scotia. He arrived in 1632, with "300 gentlemen of quality" (see LAHAVE). A sailor by trade, Razilly was more interested in sea-borne trade than in agriculture and this influenced his decision where to establish settlements. As early as 1613 French missionaries participated in the colonial venture. By the 1680s a few wooden churches with resident priests were established.
Razilly died in 1635, leaving Charles de MENOU D'AULNAY and La Tour to quarrel over his succession. D'Aulnay moved the capital back to Port-Royal, then proceeded to wage civil war against La Tour, who was solidly established in the region. D'Aulnay was convinced that the colony's future lay in agricultural development that assured both self-sufficiency in food supply and a stable population. Before his death in 1650, D'Aulnay was responsible for the arrival of some 20 families. With the arrival of families, agricultural production was stabilized and adequate food and clothing became available.
French-English enmity once again affected Acadia's fate, causing it to pass to the English in 1654 and back to the French through the Treaty of BREDA (1667). It was taken by the New England adventurer Sir William PHIPS in 1690 and returned to France again through the Treaty of RYSWICK (1697).
Starting in the 1670s, colonists left Port-Royal to found other centres, the most important being Beaubassin (AMHERST, NS) and Grand-Pré (now GRAND PRÉ, NS). The first official census, held in 1671, registered an Acadian population of more than 400 people, 200 of which lived in Port-Royal. In 1701 there were about 1400; in 1711, some 2500; in 1750, over 10 000; in 1755, over 13 000 (Louisbourg excluded).
These highly self-reliant Acadians farmed and raised livestock on marsh lands drained by a technique of tide-adaptable barriers called aboiteaux, making dikeland agriculture possible. They hunted, fished and trapped as well; they even had commercial ties with the English colonists in America, usually against the wishes of the French authorities. Acadians considered themselves "neutrals" since Acadia had been transferred a few times between the French and the English. By not taking sides, they hoped to avoid military backlash.
Peninsular Acadia was not the only region with a French population along the Atlantic. In the 1660s, France established a fishing colony at its post Plaisance (now PLACENTIA, Nfld). In both regions the French population appeared to enjoy a fairly high standard of living. Easy access to land and the absence of strict regulations allowed the Acadians to lead a relatively autonomous existence. A vital contribution to the survival of the Acadians was made by the Micmacs. At the end of the 17th century aboriginal peoples exerted considerable influence on the Acadians.WAR OF THE SPANISH SUCCESSION (1701-13), Acadia passed definitively into the hands of the English. Through the Treaty of UTRECHT, Plaisance was ceded along with the territory which consisted of "Acadia according to its ancient boundaries," but France and England failed to agree on a definition of those boundaries. For the French, the territory included only the present peninsular Nova Scotia, but the English claimed, in addition, what is today New Brunswick, the Gaspé and Maine.
Difficult Neighbours (1713-63)
Following the loss of "Ancient Acadia,"France concentrated on developing Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) and Île Royale (CAPE BRETON ISLAND), 2 largely ignored regions until that time. On Île Royale,LOUISBOURG was chosen as the new capital. Louisbourg had 3 roles: a new fishing post to replace Plaisance; a strong military presence; and a centre for trade. Île St-Jean was more looked upon as the agricultural extension of Île Royale.
Even though the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht provided for the theoretical departure of the Acadians, they showed little initiative to move to the new French colonies because of the absence of meadows that were so vital to their agricultural system. As well, the British authorities at Port-Royal (renamed ANNAPOLIS ROYAL) did not facilitate the transfer but rather interfered in its process. They were worried about the emptying of the colony of its population and the subsequent increase in the population of Île Royale. Acadian farmers were also needed to provide subsistence for the garrison.
Except for the garrison at Port-Royal, the English made virtually no further attempt at colonization until 1749 in what was once again named Nova Scotia. From 1713 to 1744, the small English presence and a long peace allowed the Acadian population to grow at a pace which surpassed the average of this whole era. To some historians, it is considered Acadia's "Golden Age."
England demanded of its conquered subjects an oath of unconditional loyalty, but the Acadians agreed only to an oath of neutrality. Unable to impose the unconditional oath, Governor Richard PHILIPPS in 1729-30 gave his verbal agreement to this semi-allegiance.
In 1745, during the WAR OF THE AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION, Louisbourg fell to an English expeditionary force whose land army was largely composed of New England colonists. However, France regained the fortress through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), to the great displeasure of the New England colonies. It was in this context that England decided to make the Nova Scotian territory "truly" British.
In 1749 the capital was moved from Annapolis Royal to HALIFAX. Intended to serve as both a military and a commercial counterweight to Louisbourg, Halifax was selected because it was a better seaport and was far from the Acadian population centres. England finally took steps to bring its own settlers into the colony. They came primarily from England and from German territories with British connections (Hanover, Brunswick, etc). From 1750 to 1760, an estimated 7000 British colonists arrived to settle in Nova Scotia.
The French authorities reacted by building FORT BEAUSÉJOUR in 1751 (near Sackville, NB) to keep the English from crossing the Isthmus of Chignecto into their "new" Acadia. The British wanted to keep an eye on the French and their Micmac allies, and so constructed Fort Lawrence. They also wanted to protect potential English settlers and stop any possible invasion by land coming from CANADA.
With Louisbourg and Canada in the north, Fort Beauséjour in the east and an Acadian population viewed as a potential rebellious threat, the British authorities in Halifax decided to settle the Acadian question once and for all: by refusing to pledge an unconditional oath of allegiance, the population risked deportation. The British first captured Fort Beauséjour and then again demanded an unconditional pledge of allegiance to England.
Caught between English threats and fear of French and aboriginal retaliation, Acadian representatives were summoned to appear before Governor Charles LAWRENCE. The representatives initially refused to make the pledge - from the guidance of Father LE LOUTRE - but ultimately decided to accept. Lawrence, dissatisfied with an oath pledged with reluctance, executed the plans for deportation.
The deportation has to be read in the terms of the contemporary geopolitical situation, and not just on the level of an individual choice made by Lawrence. He knew that English troops under General Braddock had just been bitterly defeated by French and Canadian armed forces in the Ohio Valley (see FORT DUQUESNE). Fears of a combined attack by Louisbourg and Canada against Nova Scotia, theoretically joined by the Acadians and the Micmac, explains, to a certain degree, the order for deportation.
The deportation process, once instigated, lasted from 1755 to 1762. The settlers were put into ships and deported to English colonies along the eastern seaboard as far south as Georgia. Others managed to flee to French territory or to hide in the woods. It is estimated that three-quarters of the Acadian population were deported; the rest avoided this fate through flight. An unknown number of Acadians perished from hunger, disease and misery; a few ships full of exiles sank on the high seas with their human cargo.
In 1756 the SEVEN YEARS' WAR broke out between France and England. The 2 French colonies, Île Royale and Île Saint-Jean, fell in 1758 and their settlers were repatriated to France. The Treaty of PARIS (1763) definitively put an end to the French presence in the Maritimes and in all of NEW FRANCE.
The Founding of a New Acadia (1763-1880)
After 1763 the Maritimes took on a decidedly English face when New England PLANTERS settled on lands vacated by the Acadians. English names replaced French or Micmac ones almost everywhere. The English at first reorganized the territory into a single province, Nova Scotia. In 1769, however, they detached the former Île Saint-Jean, which became a separate province under the name of Saint John's Island; it received its present name of Prince Edward Island in 1799. In 1784 present-day New Brunswick was in turn separated from Nova Scotia, following the arrival of American LOYALISTS who demanded their own colonial administration.
As for the Acadians, they began the long and painful process of resettling themselves in their native land. England gave them permission once they finally agreed to take the contentious oath of allegiance. Some returned from exile, but the resettlement was largely the work of fugitives who had escaped deportation and of the prisoners of Beauséjour, Pigiguit, Port-Royal and Halifax who were finally set free.
They headed for Cape Breton, where they established themselves along the coast by the Île Madame and on the island itself; for the southwest tip of the Nova Scotia peninsula and along ST MARY'S BAY; and to northwestern New Brunswick (Madawaska). A small number also established in Prince Edward Island, but the majority of Acadians went to the eastern parts of New Brunswick. The British authorities preferred to see the Acadians spread out over the territory and the Acadians themselves accommodated this directive, since it allowed them to avoid the regions with a British majority. British settlers then, in the majority of the cases, occupied the lands formerly owned by the Acadians.
Most Acadians, except for those on Prince Edward Island and in Madawaska, found themselves on less fertile land, and so these former farmers became fishermen or lumberers, cultivating their land only for subsistence. As fishermen, they were exploited and subjected to great dependence and poverty, especially by companies from the Isle of Jersey.
The Acadians, because they were Catholics, were stripped of civil and political rights; they could neither vote nor be members of the legislature. From 1758 to 1763, they could not even legally own land. Nova Scotian Acadians gained the right to vote in 1789; those in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in 1810. After 1830 Acadians of all 3 colonies could sit in the legislature.
Seeds of a New Acadia
In general, Acadians at the start of the 19th century aspired only to immediate and basic objectives. Their only ambition was survival, their lifestyle one of subsistence. They had virtually no institutions of their own: the Catholic clergy came either from Québec or France, and the church was the only French institution in all the Maritimes.
There were few francophone schools and teachers, for the most part, were simple "travelling masters" who spread their knowledge from village to village. There was no French newspaper. Nor were there any lawyers or doctors. In fact, there was, as yet, no Acadian middle class. However, whether they were conscious of it or not, these Acadians sowed the seeds of a new Acadia in the soil, without any help from the state.
At the start of the 19th century, there were 4000 Acadians in Nova Scotia, 700 in PEI and 3800 in New Brunswick. Their establishment and growth during that century was remarkable: they counted some 87 000 at the time of Confederation and 140 000 at the turn of the century.
A Collective People
The Acadians began to express themselves as a people during the 1830s. They elected their first members to the legislatures of the 3 Maritime provinces in the 1840s and 1850s. The poem EVANGELINE (1847) by American author Henry W. Longfellow went through several French translations and had an undeniable impact.
In Acadia itself, a pastor born in Québec, François-Xavier Lafrance, in 1854 opened the first French-language institution of higher learning, the Séminaire Saint-Joseph, NB. It closed in 1862 but was reopened 2 years later by Québec priests of the congregation of the Holy Cross under the name of Collège Saint-Joseph (later amalgamated into the UNIVERSITÉ DE MONCTON). Then, in 1867, the first French-language paper in the Maritimes, Le Moniteur Acadien, was established in Shédiac, NB. This paper was followed by L'Évangéline, the longest lasting (1887-1982), in Digby, NS, and in 1893 by L'Impartial in Tignish, PEI.
Religious orders of women were also coming to Acadia where they played a vital role in education and health care. The Sisters of the order of Notre Dame of Montréal opened boarding schools in Prince Edward Island at Miscouche (1864) and Tignish (1868). Also in 1868, the Sisters of Saint Joseph took charge of the lazaretto at Tracadie (now TRACADIE-SHEILA), NB. They also established themselves in SAINT-BASILE, NB, where their boarding school would eventually become Maillet College.
Just prior to CONFEDERATION, Acadians announced themselves in a spectacular way on the Maritime political scene. In New Brunswick, a majority of Acadians voted against Confederation on 2 different occasions. Though a large number of politicians accused them of being reactionary, it should be noted that these populations were not the only ones in the Maritimes to oppose Confederation.
The Nationalist Age (1881-1950)
As of the 1860s, an Acadian middle-class had begun to take shape. Though Saint-Joseph College and Sainte-Anne College (1890) in Church Point, NS, definitely contributed to the emergence of an intellectual elite, there were at least 4 elite categories in Acadia. The 2 most conspicuous were the clergy and the members of the liberal professions (ie, doctors and lawyers). But even though Acadian farmers and tradesmen did not profit from the same financial resources as their English-speaking counterparts, a number of them, nonetheless, succeeded in distinguishing themselves.
As of 1881, Acadian national conventions became forums where Acadians could establish a consensus of opinion about important projects such as the promotion of agricultural development, education in French and the Acadianization of the Catholic clergy. Assemblies were held intermittently in different Acadian localities until 1930.
Acadians founded the Société Nationale de l'Acadie whose purpose was to promote the French fact. National symbols were chosen: a flag (the French tricolour with a yellow star in the blue stripe), a national holiday (the Feast of the Assumption, celebrated on August 15), a slogan ("L'union fait la force") and a national anthem (Ave Maris Stella). One of the larger victories was of Monseigneur Edouard le Blanc's appointment in 1912 as Acadia's first bishop.
Also between 1881 and 1925 at least 3 Acadian religious orders of women were formed. The convents run by these orders made an important contribution to improving the education of Acadian women and enhancing the cultural life of the community. These female orders also founded the first colleges for girls in Acadia, at Memramcook, NB (1913), Saint-Basile, NB (1949) and Shippagan, NB (1960).
Throughout this period a few exceptional women used the press to express their points of view on matters of importance to Acadians. They also took on issues related to the fundamental rights of women, such as the right to vote and the right to an education.
The period was also characterized by an important socioeconomic turning point: the full integration of Acadians into the mainstream of Canadian industrialization and urbanization. Though the migration of Acadians to the cities was less pronounced than in other parts of Canada, a large number of them nevertheless established themselves in Moncton, Yarmouth and Amherst and in the cities of New England to work in factories (men) and mills (women).
Certain members of the Acadian elite considered this to be a dangerous development towards assimilation into the Anglo-Saxon masses. Colonization movements from 1880 to 1940 were intended to hold back the numbers of people in exile; to divert Acadians from the largely foreign company-owned fisheries industry; and to help families fight the harsh realities of the GREAT DEPRESSION. The CO-OPERATIVE MOVEMENT (see also ANTIGONISH MOVEMENT) in the 1930s finally allowed fishermen, after generations of exploitation, to regain control of their livelihood.
Certain regional distinctive features also emerged. The New Brunswick Acadians, thanks to their numbers and confidence, took the lead in speaking for Acadians as a whole.
In the 1950s, Acadians started to make an impact at many levels on the economy, the politics and the culture of the Maritime Provinces. By preserving their values and culture at home, they were able to develop a French education system (mainly in New Brunswick). The vigour and distinctiveness of their culture shielded them from the devastation of assimilation and helped them to be recognized as a minority people within the Maritimes.
All these victories are not a guarantee of survival. The 1960s saw a sovereignty movement in Québec and an anti-bilingualism movement in the West take the stage at the national level. Ironically, as had happened in the 1750s, Acadians became caught in the middle. Nevertheless, they were able to make some gains to preserve their rights.
Author PÈRE ANSELME CHIASSON and NICOLAS LANDRY
Sheila Andrew, The Development of Elites in Acadian New Brunswick, 1861-1881 (1996); Georges Arsenault, The Island Acadians: 1720-1980 (1989); Jean Daigle, ed, Acadia of the Maritimes: Thematic Studies from the Beginning to the Present (1995); Margeurite Maillet, Histoire de la littérature acadienne: de rêve en rêve (1983); "Québec français," no 60, pp 29-50 (1985); Sally Ross and Alphonse Deveau, The Acadians of Nova Scotia: Past and Present (1992).
Links to Other Sites
This illustrated Nova Scotia Museum website documents the distinctive history, customs, and way of life of the Acadian community in Nova Scotia.
The Acadian Odyssey
This Centre Acadien website provides access to an extensive collection of documents and images about Acadian history and culture.
New Brunswick: Our Stories, Our People
Explore the history of New Brunswick in this extensive online multimedia exhibit. Features an interactive timeline, glossary, illustrations, maps, and more. From the Virtual Museum of Canada and the Government of New Brunswick.
Fort Anne National Historic Site of Canada
The website for the Fort Anne National Historic Site of Canada, the focal point for French and British settlement and as the seat of government of Acadia and then Nova Scotia. From Parks Canada.
Indepth: Champlain Anniversary
This CBC site chronicles Samuel de Champlain's adventures in North America during the early part of the 17th century.
Acadia, Lifestyle in the days of our ancestors
Explore Acadian culture and history. Click on "Tools" for a glossary of Acadian terms. From the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Saint Croix Island International Historic Site
Learn about Saint Croix Island and the remarkable story of the early French settlements in North America. Includes maps and other historic documents. From Parks Canada.
The Acadian and francophone community of Nova Scotia
A brief history and profile of the Acadian and francophone community of Nova Scotia. A Government of Nova Scotia website.
A CBC online feature about Acadian history and culture.
Endemic Leprosy in 19th Century New Brunswick
An article about the outbreak of leprosy in the Acadian Population of New Brunswick during the 19th century. From the University of Western Ontario Medical Journal. A PDF file.
Champlain in Acadia
Explore 200 years of tumultuous Acadian history, from the time of Samuel de Champlain to the deportation of the Acadians in the 18th century. Features colourful illustrations, maps and videos. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Sir William Phips
A biography of Sir William Phips, sailor, adventurer, and colonial governor. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Nicolas Denys, one of the leading figures in Acadia for over half of the 17th century. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
The "conquest" of Acadia, 1710
This site offers online excerpts from "The 'conquest' of Acadia, 1710," a book about the conquest of Port-Royal by British forces in 1710. Relates to Acadian history, native studies, native rights histories, and the socio-political history of the eighteenth century.
New monument marks Acadian expulsion
A brief CBC News article about the "Acadian Odyssey Monument" in Charlottetown. Check the links on the right side of the page for more information about Acadian history in Prince Edward Island.
LeBlanc's state funeral draws thousands
A CBC News story about the funeral for former governor general Roméo LeBlanc. Click the menu on the right for additional features about the life and times Roméo LeBlanc.
Antonine Maillet, Acadian Avenger
Watch a CBC video clip featuring an Adrienne Clarkson interview of acclaimed Acadian writer Antonine Maillet.
Pélagie: An Acadian Musical Odyssey
An extensive student study guide for the musical "Pélagie: An Acadian Musical Odyssey," by Vincent de Tourdonnet and Allen Cole. From the National Arts Centre.
A multimedia site that explores Acadian history and culture. An online resources for the book "Remembering and Forgetting in Acadie: A Historian's Journey through Public Memory."