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  • St. Mary’s Bay (Clare)
    – A bubble of France in Acadia’s cradle
Cape St. Mary’s
Cape St. Mary’s offers a therapeutic landscape and tranquil reflection (Photo credit: Karen Cook, source readersdigest.ca)

From the outset, it is important to know that the landscapes of the “French Coast” along St. Mary’s Bay is unforgettable. It was in 1604 during an expedition by Pierre Dugua de Mons, who was accompanied by Samuel de Champlain participating as a geographer and cartographer, that the bay took its name. The Mi’kmaqs called it “Wagweiik” meaning “the end” (of the coast). Following the deportations of 1755 – 1762 some 2,000 Acadians, out of the 12,000 deportees, did return to the Maritimes. When they were given the right to return to Nova Scotia in 1764, their property had been confiscated, their buildings burnt down, and their homeland occupied by New England “Planters”. Those, numbering approximately 8,000, were the first significant group of English-speaking immigrants from outside the British Isles to settle in the Maritimes. Farmers mostly grabbed the rich agricultural land in the Minas Basin and Annapolis Valley, while fishermen settled south along the Atlantic coast. In 1768, the government of Nova Scotia granted Acadians returning from exile new land grants in the Clare region, but only with the right to live there. It was later between 1771 and 1773 that they obtained ownership rights.

Located in southwestern Nova Scotia, the Municipality of the District of Clare is a bubble of France in Acadia’s cradle carrying its history through a delightful French accent. From Saint Bernard to Rivière-aux-Saumons (Salmon River), most of its communities’ border St. Mary’s Bay, a sub-basin of the Gulf of Maine. Route 1 (also called Evangeline Trail) has no less than 15 beautifully named communities following one another over 50 kilometers. Anse-aux-Belliveau, Grosses-Coques, Pointe-de-Église, Petit-Ruisseau, Saulnierville, Saint-Alphonse-de-Ligurie, and Mavillette speckle the course. Aside the route, lakes Henriette, à Pierre, Mardi Gras, Bonaventure, à la Picote, Gaspereau, en Bas, among others, beautify the countryside.

The settlers of St. Mary’s Bay

St. Bernard Catholic Church
St. Bernard Catholic Church on the “French Coast” (Photo credit: Tango7174, licence CC BY-SA 4.0, without modification)

In 1768, Joseph Dugas and his family were the first to settle on the shores of St. Mary’s Bay. Other families follow, notably, the Belliveau, Boudreau, Comeau, Doucet, Gaudet, Jeddry, Le Blanc, Melanson, Robichaud, Saulnier, Thibault, Thibodeau… These original settlers provided their livelihoods through fishing, farming, logging and, to a lesser extent, boatbuilding. Today, more than three quarters of the citizens of Clare speak French.

Meteghan (Mi’kmaq word meaning “blue rocks”) is the regional metropolis. Established in 1785, it counts among its founders Prudent Robichaud, most likely born in Port-Royal around 1669. For more than 30 years before the 1755 Great Upheaval, he maintained several business links with the British administration, such as negotiator on behalf of the Acadian people as well as supplier to the garrison of Port-Royal, then called Annapolis Royal, providing the British troops with wood and food. In 1727 he was granted from Lieutenant-Governor Lawrence Armstrong the post of justice of the peace at Annapolis Royal and, in 1733, the task of collecting the royalties to be paid to the British crown. Despite his long-term involvement in the British administration, and despite his advanced age, Robichaud did not escape deportation and was forced to embark on the Pembroke ship in 1755, along with more than 230 other compatriots to be transported to Edenton, North Carolina. The Acadians seized the vessel and led it to the mouth of the St. John River, then broke free into the woods. A guarded story…

The Université Sainte-Anne
The Université Sainte-Anne is increasingly showing up on the world stage (Photo credit: Tina Comeau, courtesy of The Chronicle Herald)

Pointe-de-l’Église is home to the Université Saint-Anne. Founded by Eudist Fathers Gustave Blanche and Aimé Morin, this higher learning institution welcomed its first students in November 1890, a century after the founding of the University of King’s College in Halifax, which is Canada’s oldest university. In comparison, Université Laval in Quebec City was founded in 1852. Today the Université Sainte-Anne provides education on five campuses throughout the province. They are located in Halifax, Petit-de-Grat, Pointe-de-l’Eglise (main campus), Saint-Joseph-du-Moine, and Tusket. It is the only French-language university in Nova Scotia, and the second in the Maritimes after the Université de Moncton (founded in 1963) in New Brunswick.