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  • Chezzetcook (Halifax)
    – A pleasant irony to know
Halifax encompasses Chezzetcook
Halifax encompasses Chezzetcook (Photo credit: Tony Webster, licence CC BY-SA 2.0, without modification)

Chezzetcook Cove, Labrecque Island and Grand Desert Beach, as well as Petit Lac and Bellefontaine, Bonin, Murphy and Petitpas streets are located approximately 30 kilometers east of downtown Halifax. Today, Chezzetcook is an integral part of the Halifax Regional Municipality (commonly known as Halifax). We know that French, Basque and Portuguese fishermen frequented these coasts in search of abundant cod in the late 15th century and early 16th century. In 1604, King Henry IV of France granted a monopoly on these lands to Pierre Dugua de Mons and the whole region became known as “La Cadie”. L’Acadie de Chezzetcook is nowadays an Acadian historic site housing a museum dedicated to exhibits on local history. We often forget that it was Dugua de Mons who led the founding of Port-Royal (now Annapolis Royal) in Acadia, and of Quebec City in Quebec, the first two French settlements still inhabited in North America. Who would have believed when Edward Cornwallis founded Halifax in 1749 that the Francophonie preceded his action by at least half a dozen decades? According to the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, French is currently the mother tongue of 11,935 residents of Halifax (formerly Chibouctou, meaning the largest harbor), which represents 34.5% of all Nova Scotians whose mother tongue is French.

According to the Virtual Museum of Canada (administered by the Canadian Museum of History), a handful of French and 33 Mi’kmaq families lived side by side on the shores of Chezzetcook Cove as early as 1688. These local people depended on the resources of the forest and of the sea for their livelihood. It goes without saying that their timetable was determined by the behaviour of the animals they ate.

Chezzetcook Cove
Chezzetcook Cove (Courtesy of Kada Developments)

The earliest European descriptions of the Mi’kmaq people were made by Father Pierre Biard, a French Jesuit missionary who was in Acadia from 1611 to 1613, and by Nicolas Denys, a French trader and entrepreneur who lived in Acadia from 1632 to 1670 (approximately). They taught us that the Mi’kmaqs hunted seals on the coasts and coastal islands in January, then moose, caribou, beaver and bears inland from February to mid-March. In the latter half of March they went back to the shores and estuaries for fishing smelt, then herring in late April. Migrating birds and salmon also returned with spring. From May to mid-September, these indigenous people harvested crustaceans and molluscs, especially clams which still make the reputation of Chezzetcook. Then some moved to the tributaries of the larger rivers to catch eels, while others returned inland to hunt moose, caribou and beaver during the months of October and November. In December, young cod was fished by making holes in the ice. The Mi’kmaqs gave a topographical description of the places they occupied. Chezzetcook means the place where water quickly spreads in many directions.

The Acadians of Chezzetcook Cove

Chezzetcook Heritage House of Acadia
Chezzetcook Heritage House of Acadia, foreground (Courtesy of Rosemary Eaton Fund, Virtual Museum of Canada)

It was around 1701 when the first known inhabitant, Claude Petitpas II (born in Port-Royal in 1663), settled in Chezzetcook. After the death of his Mi’kmaq wife Marie-Thérèse in 1721 he moved his family to Port-Toulouse (now St. Peter’s) on Cape Breton Island. We know that in 1748, seven or eight Acadian families lived in Chezzetcook. In fact Edward Cornwallis, the founder of Halifax, reported in 1749 “There are a few French families on either side of the cove”.

Ironically, some Acadian families who escaped the 1755 deportation or returned from exile after 1763 did permanently settle in l’Acadie de Chezzetcook establishing a lasting colony. The Bellefontaine, LaPierre, Roma, Petitpas, Manet, Maillet, Brault, Bonnevie, Boudrot, Richard, Félix, Faucher, Lejeune, Clerget, Julien, Wolfe and Murphy were among the initial colonizing families. Their number slowly increased. In 1815, more than 45 Acadian families lived in Chezzetcook Cove.