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  • Antigonish County
    – With the help of the Cod King

After the founding of Isle Royale (now Cape Breton Island), Antoine Gaulin (born on Île d’Orléans and priest from the Seminary of Foreign Missions at Quebec) gathered in 1716 (according to the Mi’kmaqs) a large number of indeginous peoples from the Acadian Peninsula around his large Antigonish mission. It was located within British territory (English Acadia) but close to Isle Royale (French Acadia). Later, Father Gaulin founded several other missions in Nova Scotia, notably, in Cape Sable, in La Hève (La Have), in Shubenacadie (meaning “place abounding in groundnuts”), and in Mirligueche (near Lunenburg). His 1720 accounts aptly describe the Mi’kmaqs, a word meaning “the people of the country” that is, those who inhabit the lands of the East. The following excerpts say a lot about its hosts: “As of rules of Christian morality it was easy to persuade them, since they already practiced many, though from different motives. For example, theft was unknown to them, nothing was under lock or key, it seemed everything was held in common, lying was abhorred as much as theft, plurality of wives was quite rare”. Father Gaulin also points out “Hospitality was very dear to them and charity was generally practiced”. Then he adds “Being naturally very phlegmatic, one rarely saw them angry. They were not inclined to angry outbursts like Europeans”.

Growing up francophone in Pomquet
Growing up francophone in Pomquet (Courtesy of the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial)

Today, the Acadian part of Antigonish County is made up of the villages of Havre Boucher, Tracadie and Pomquet, the latter being the most French-speaking of the three.

The Acadian pioneers

To walk in the shoes of the Acadians of Antigonish County, one must first take into account Charles Robin and his transatlantic enterprise. This overseas entrepreneur was born on the Anglo-Norman island of Jersey located in La Manche opposite Saint-Malo, France. In 1765, he founded a family business of dried cod, Robin, Pipon and Company. As early as 1770, the company owned several ships that shuttled between three main ports, namely Jersey in Great Britain, Arichat on Isle Madame in Cape Breton, and Paspébiac in Chaleur Bay where thousands quintals of cod were dried up on the shores of the Gaspé Peninsula. Navigating between Arichat and Paspébiac was through the Strait of Canso. The general store of Arichat which belonged to Robin enabled him to bring to Acadians and Mi’kmaqs the necessities of fishing as well as basic foodstuffs. In return, the “Cod King” agreed to be paid in cod, salmon or furs. His company grew into one of Canada’s largest trading companies, as did the Hudson’s Bay Company.

We know that from 1772 the Robin company’s merchant ships brought to Arichat many Acadian families in exile in Saint-Malo where today only the “rue des Acadiens” (a street name) marks their passage.

Village of Havre Boucher
Village of Havre Boucher (Photo credit: Darlene Knoll, Pinterest)

Havre Boucher is located in the northern zone of the Strait of Canso at the end of St. George’s Bay. Although the origin of the name remains unknown, it is nevertheless probable that the place derives its name from Paul Boucher who married Pélagie Coste in the early 1780s in Arichat. Ten children were born in Havre Boucher from their union.

As regards Tracadie, Guillaume Benoit and his wife, Victoire Dugas, are apparently the first settlers. Their marriage (by community consent) was validated in Arichat by Father Charles-François Bailly. Afterwards, they moved to Tracadie in 1772. St. Peter’s Church is the third Roman Catholic church erected by the Acadian congregation of Tracadie.

Tracadie’s St. Peter’s Church
Tracadie’s St. Peter’s Church (Nova Scotia) in the snow (Courtesy of the Toronto Star)

Pomquet is located only 40 kilometers west of the Strait of Canso. The first Acadian families settled there in 1773. Their names were Broussard, Duon (now Deon, D’Eon and DeYoung), Doiron and Vincent (all Acadians) and Louis Lamarre, a Frenchman. In 1789 the government of Nova Scotia accorded them land grants. Then, between 1785 and 1794 other Acadian families exiled in France arrived from Saint-Malo, notably the Brossard, Landry, Boudrot, Melançon, Rosia (now Rogers), and Daigle as well as Louis Morell of Quebec. All received land grants.