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  • Bonaventure
    – The ideal natural harbour for the refugees
Bonaventure River
Bonaventure River in the Estuaire-de-la-Rivière-Bonaventure Aquatic Reserve, in the Bonaventure barachois (author Fralambert, without modification, CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

At the edge of Baie des Chaleurs, the town of Bonaventure is nestled in the estuary of the river of the same name which forms a natural and deep harbour perfectly sheltered (a barachois). It was founded in 1760 or 1761 by several Acadian families fleeing the Petite-Rochelle post after the French defeat of the Battle of the Restigouche…

Under these dramatic circumstances, no unobtrusive site could better protect them from a British attack, especially as the river also provided an important channel of communication inland. Since 2004 Bonaventure’s Acadian origin is honored in a public park called “Parc des familles souches” located on Grand-Pré Avenue, near the Musée acadien du Québec. Amongst the stem-families, the Arsenault family produced an illustrious descendant, namely Bona Arsenault, genealogist and historian. He was born in Bonaventure and his name was given to a town street close to the above-mentioned museum. Bona Arsenault did trace the history of his town, which was the first fishing and trading centre organized in the region, the Atlantic destiny of which was also closely linked to that of the Acadian people. Let’s go back to 1760…

The first fishing and trading centre

The Acadian families had probably been taken to Bonaventure Harbour by Joseph Gauthier, ancestor of Bona Arsenault on his mother’s side, thanks to his schooner he managed to hide in a safe place. At the time of Gaspésie’s first census following the British conquest in 1765, Bonaventure was with Gaspé one of only two posts mentioned. With 40 houses and a population of 170 residents, the village already had a well-established business. In addition to fish, villagers exported lumber and masts from red pine forests upstream of the river. Among the Acadians residing in Bonaventure in 1765 was the founder of Tracadièche (now Carleton-sur-mer) in 1766.

Charles Robin
Charles Robin (1743-1824), businessman from Jersey (public domain)

Around 1770, one of the most famous fish traders in Baie des Chaleurs, businessman Charles Robin from Jersey, had settled on the Paspébiac Bank where his cod preparation and drying activities required an abundant workforce. In 1774, faced with a chronic shortage of local labor, he chose to recruit Acadians deported to France, a stable workforce, rather than seasonal workers in Jersey. The 81 Acadians who came back from Saint-Malo in May 1774 settled in Bonaventure but also in Tracadièche. Most of them were originally deported to Virginia in 1755 and then held in England until 1763. Later, they were transported to Brittany, France. In the end, while serving his own interests first, Charles Robin did help bring together Acadian families who had been separated for 20 years…

Here are some pioneering Acadian families of Bonaventure (source: Bona Arsenault): Joseph Arsenault, born in 1733 at Beaubassin, married to Marguerite Bujold; Joseph Bourque, born in 1733 at Beaubassin, married to Catherine Comeau; Paul Bujold, born about 1726 at Pisiguit, married to Marie Poirier; Joseph Gauthier, from Port-Royal, married to Théotiste Landry…

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