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  • (Canard) Rivière-aux-Canards
    – If only America’s black ducks could speak
Deportation of the Acadians
Deportation of the Acadians in 1755 (painting by Georg Craig, image in the public domain)

Rivière-aux-Canards (now Canard) is located at the eastern end of the Annapolis Valley. Founded around 1675 by Pierre Terriot and his companions from Port-Royal, Claude Landry, Antoine Landry and René LeBlanc, it was one of the first Acadian settlements in the Minas Basin. According to the 1701 census, more than 45 settlers divided into seven families lived on this fertile land of Acadia. On the artwork depicting the deportation of the Acadians from Grand-Pré in the Minas Basin, by painter George Craig, we can see in the background on the western slope of the basin the black smoke of Rivière-aux-Canards burning during the Great Upheaval of 1755. Charles Lawrence, governor of Nova Scotia at the time, had ordered all buildings, including churches, to be burnt down and crops to be destroyed to prevent Acadians from returning to their homes. Thus, the colonies of Rivière-aux-Canards, Grand-Pré and Pisiguit, among others, were set on fire by British forces under the orchestration of Lieutenant-Colonel John Winslow.

The Canard River takes its name from the Mi’kmaq word Apocheechumochwakade which means “the home of the black duck”. The first dike (with aboiteaux) to drain the swampy grounds of the basin and turn them into agricultural land was built in the upper part of the river between the present-day villages of Upper Dyke and Steam Mill. This is where the basin’s salt tide reached its highest point. Then, in the central part of the river, in what is today Middle Dyke, the Acadians constructed a larger dike there, transversely this time, along the actual Middle Dyke Road. Around 1750, another even longer transverse dike, called the Grande Digue, was erected near the present community of Port Williams. In 1750, approximately 750 inhabitants resided in the area. The economic zone included large, bountiful farms all along the Canard River.

The American black duck
The American black duck (Photo credit: Dick Daniels, licence CC BY-SA 3.0)

Nowadays, on these formerly Acadian spaces are signs indicating, among other sites, Starr’s Point, Canard, Upper Canard, Canning, Lower Canard, Chipman Corner, Port Williams, Upper Dyke, Steam Mill, Church Street, and Billtown named after a New England “planter”. What happened then? In short, the area’s black ducks would tell you, if they could speak, that Governor Lawrence simply undressed Pierre Terriot to better dress Bill, said The Planter.

The malicious intentions of the Great Upheaval

The “planters” is the name given to the Anglo-Americans who, at the invitation of the governor of Nova Scotia (formerly Acadia), settled on the lands belonging to hardworking Acadians before being deported manu militari. Beyond the official reasons advanced politically, such as the refusal to take an oath of allegiance to the British crown, solid evidence has revealed unequivocally the true underlying reason of the deportation, in four words only, an expropriation by expatriation.

In a written dispatch attributed to John Winslow, the governor’s evil intentions were publicly exposed: “We are now upon a great and noble scheme of fending the neutral French out of this province, who have always been secret enemies, and have encouraged our savages to cut our throats. If we effect their expulsion, it will be one of the greatest things that the English ever did in America. For by all the accounts, that part of the country they possess is as good land as any in the world. In case therefore we could get some good English farmers in their place, this province would abound with all kinds of produce”. This dispatch was published in the New York Gazette on August 9, 1755 and in the Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia) on September 4, 1755.

Under date of October 18, 1755, Charles Lawrence wrote to the Lords of Trade in London, England “…As soon as the French are gone, I shall use my best endeavours to encourage people from the continent to settle their lands… and the additional circumstances of the inhabitants evacuating the country will, I flatter myself, greatly hasten this event, as it furnishes us with a large quantity of good land ready for immediate cultivation”.

Panorama of Rivière-aux-Canards
Panorama of Rivière-aux-Canards and Minas Basin (Photo credit: Louis Gélinas and Pauline Naillon, Sentier Acadie historique)