The town of Bathurst, New Brunswick, 1860 (engraving after a photograph by E.J. Russell)
The Acadian refugees in New Brunswick
Until June 1755, the isthmus of Chignectou served as provisional border between the territory of New Brunswick, still under French sovereignty, and peninsular Acadia, now in British land since the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). In June 1755, the loss of Fort Beauséjour, which defended the isthmus of Chignectou, marked the collapse of French Acadia in the region, a year before the official outbreak of the Seven Years’ War between France and Great Britain (1756 – 1763). Many Acadians fled to the New Brunswick territory, to which were added, from the summer of 1755, those fleeing mass deportation to the Anglo-American colonies. From that moment on, the relocated Acadians did continue to escape the English detachments ordered to capture them…
Most of the Acadian villages of the New Brunswick territory, some of them more than half a century old, were methodically destroyed by the British in 1755, then again in 1758 and 1759, following the fall of the fortress of Louisbourg. After the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763), the Acadians who had gone into exile or returned from deportation were then authorized to found new establishments in Nova Scotia or, more often than not, within the boundaries of former Acadia. However, they were forced to take oath of allegiance to the British authorities in Halifax (Nova Scotia) and to settle in small groups away from their former homelands now reserved for Anglo-American immigrants. On the territory of New Brunswick, the Acadians chose to settle near the seasides and navigable rivers, on the eastern, northern and northwestern parts of the province, where they hoped to live safely. What were these communities? The main ones of which, outlined below, do trace New Brunswick’s Acadian history? For that, let’s go back to the beginning of the 17th century…
Former Acadian establishments
Several fortified trading posts and military forts were built at the mouth of the Saint John River (within the present-day city of St. John) and upstream, with a strategic role of defending French Acadia. These include the following forts, La Tour (1631), Charnisay (1645) and Saint-Jean (1698), around St. John, and Fort Nashwaak (1692) on the site of the actual city of Fredericton. At the end of the 17th century, the region was inhabited only by local lords, their families and very few settlers. It was not until the cession of peninsular Acadia to the British, by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), that the Acadians of the renamed Nova Scotia peninsula began to settle along the Saint John River. An Acadian village was thus founded around 1730 at Pointe Sainte-Anne (Fredericton).
In southeast New Brunswick, the first Acadian villages were established around 1700, in Chipoudy (now Hopewell Hill) on the banks of Chipoudy Bay, in Petitcodiac (now Hillsborough) along the Petitcodiac River, and in Memramcook on the Memramcook River. The Acadians sought to colonize the marshes at the end of the Bay of Fundy (formerly la Baie française), west of Beaubassin (Chipoudy Bay). In the following years, they founded other villages upstream Petitcodiac River, notably Le Coude (La Chapelle), on the current site of the city of Moncton. All these Acadian villages experienced half a century of prosperity, but the dark period was soon upon them…
Establishment of New Acadia
In 1751, well before the official outbreak of the Seven Years’ War, two military forts, namely Beauséjour (now Aulac) and Gaspareau (now Port Elgin) were built to prevent the British from crossing the isthmus of Chignectou. Concerned for their safety, many Acadian families had already decided to leave the peninsula to join French controlled territories. They had taken refuge on Isle Saint-Jean (now Prince Edward Island) and in the southeast of what is now New Brunswick, but also along the eastern coasts of the province from Shediac to Miramichi. The massive deportation in the summer of 1755 caused a large influx of Acadian refugees into temporary camps in Shediac and Cocagne, from where they later relocated into the Miramichi camp. Much later, the Memramcook site was recolonized by the Acadians around 1766 and, in turn, the Shediac site around 1767. However, the Miramichi camp, infamous for its extreme misery, was definitively abandoned in November 1761.
In northern New Brunswick, it was precisely in November 1761 that the Acadians who took refuge on the south shores of Chaleur Bay had to undergo a British attack aimed at capturing them, notably at Bathurst and Caraquet. Many of them did manage to escape deportation. It is likely that Acadian settlers remained in their village of Nepisiguit, on the present-day site of Bathurst West, while it was not until 1768 that the Acadians of Caraquet returned home from Saint-Anne-du-Bocage in the upper Caraquet region.
After the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), thousands of American Loyalists settled along the Saint John River. In June 1785, worried about their future, Acadian and French-Canadian settlers left Pointe Saint-Anne to found a French-speaking colony in the Saint John River’s upper region, upstream from Grand Falls. This is how the colony of Madawaska was formed, occupying the two banks of the Saint John River. Today, it is the site of the twin cities of Edmundston (New Brunswick) and Madawaska (Maine). In 1842, after a long border dispute between Canada and the United States, the Saint John River was chosen as the international borderline, cutting in half the colony of Madawaska. However, the community did keep a most remarkable cross-border cultural coherence until today.
List of the Acadian communities
- St. John
- A highly strategic place
- Fierce resistance on the Petitcodiac River
- The cradle of New Acadia
- The forgotten settlers at the bend of the river
- A little-known strategic supply route
- Disappointing Camp of Hope
- Tragic end at Pointe Sainte-Anne
- Two deeply divided founding groups
- At Nepisiguit pirates made history
- In Madawaska, the French language knows no borders