The town of Caraquet, incorporated in 1961, stretches 13 km along the south shore of Chaleur Bay, between the villages of Bertrand in the west and Bas-Caraquet in the east. The great linguistic homogeneity of its population, almost entirely francophone, dates back to a key date of the town’s foundation. It was indeed on March 29, 1784 that the government of Nova Scotia officially granted parcels of land to 34 heads of family (the Grande Concession or Grande Grant). This territory covered the actual town of Caraquet and parts of the villages of Bertrand and Bas-Caraquet. The current population of Caraquet descends in great majority from these first settlers who were all Acadians, French Canadians, Normans and Métis. But at the time, the deep disparities of origin between the founding groups very quickly led to the formation of two very distinct and deeply divided communities. The circumstances were as follows…
The founding settlers of Caraquet
How did we arrive at such a situation where two perfectly homogeneous groups, the Acadian refugees in the western part of the Grande Concession and the French Canadians, Normans and Métis in its eastern part, ignored each other completely? To understand, we must first go back to the foundation of Caraquet. Around 1730, a French merchant named Gabriel Giraud, perhaps the first permanent resident of Caraquet, settled with his Mi’kmaq wife and two Métis (mixed blood) children named Jean-Baptiste and Angélique, at the mouth of Isabelle Creek near the present-day Bas-Caraquet marina. This small community lived from fishing, farming and trading with the Mi’kmaq. It grew with the arrival of Joseph Le Bouthillier (a Canadian) and then Pierre Gallien (a Norman), the two successive spouses of Angelique Giraud.
It was from this family nucleus that the eastern part of the Grande Concession was formed, on both sides of Isabelle Creek. Among the other heads of family, there were sailors from the Ristigouche garrison and fishermen from Chaleur Bay, most often Norman and married to Métis women from the Giraud clan. Several French Canadian families completed this community marked by strong interbreeding.
As for the Acadian community, its constitution was at the outset more homogeneous. Around 1757, its founder, Alexis Landry, settled with his family and three other families of Acadian refugees on the actual site of the sanctuary of Sainte-Anne-du-Bocage. In 1761, he escaped deportation again during the attack by Captain Roderick MacKenzie by taking refuge in Miscou. In the spring of 1768, he chose to bring back his family to Caraquet to resettle on his land in Sainte-Anne-du-Bocage. The following year George Walker, merchant and justice of the peace at Nepisiguit with whom Landry had a business relationship, allowed him to officially reoccupy his land. He was later joined by several Acadian families, including the other three original pioneering families of Sainte-Anne-du-Bocage. This is how the western part of the Grand Concession was formed in Haut-Caraquet.
The difficult integration of the Métis
Cohabitation could only be difficult. The Acadians of Haut-Caraquet, fervent Catholics, despised the no less French Canadian and Norman Catholics of Bas-Caraquet, on the pretext that they were too mixed blood and therefore less pure. For a long time, the Métis question deeply divided the French-speaking population. According to historian William Ganong, there has been no marriage between the two communities for about 50 years since their founding. In 1822, Caraquet’s missionary priest was still writing: “You know that a certain part of the parish despises the other on the pretext that their ancestors allied with savages”.
The integration of the Métis was therefore long and difficult in an urban setup such as Caraquet, considered today as the capital of Acadia. Did this favorite place of Acadian culture hide its Métis identity? As pointed out by sociologist Joseph-Yvon Thériault in I am not Métis…My mother would have told me, “… It was Acadians who founded the village they said. Acadia exaggerated its Métis infancy…”. However, he added that “The refusal to conceive us as Métis was the refusal of our assimilation… In this we were like French Canadians, our peculiarity on American soil had been to refuse the large scale interbreeding that English-speaking America perpetuated and still perpetuates with the various populations from immigrant backgrounds. “