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  • Grand-Pré
    – A monument to the exceptional tenacity of a people
The village of Grand-Pré
The village of Grand-Pré and its fertile meadow reclaimed from the sea (Photo credit: Jamie Robertson, Landscape of Grand-Pré)

In 1665 in Port-Royal Pierre Melanson said La Verdure, stonemason, espoused at the age of 27 Marguerite-Anne Mius d’Entremont, aged 15. Between 1666 and 1679, six children were born of their union, namely Philippe-Charles (1666), Cécile (1668), Pierre (1670), Marie-Madeleine (1673), Marguerite (1676), and Isabelle Élisabeth (1679). The Melanson family left Port-Royal in 1680 to found a colony further east. They settled on the plateau overlooking the large salt marsh or meadow, from which the settlement takes its name. Other residents of Port-Royal and its region followed suit and soon a new Acadian village, active and prosperous, was born under the name of Grand-Pré. In 1750 there were about 1350 inhabitants. It was Acadia’s largest community. The village, which stretched for nearly three kilometers along a plateau high above sea level, is made up of multiple houses and the parish church of Saint-Charles-des-Mines. Agriculture was booming. Acadian families built dikes to contain the water from large sections of the salt marsh and cultivated the dry fertile land. They obtained excellent harvests and shipped their surplus grain and cattle to New England and, after 1720, to Louisbourg, capital of Isle Royale (now Cape Breton Island).

A little-known French victory

In 1740 the War of the Austrian Succession broke out between France and Great Britain. Louisbourg, then the third most largest city in New France, was captured on June 28, 1745, by colonial forces from New England with the help of a British fleet. Two years later 525 Anglo-American militiamen from Massachusetts, under the command of British Colonel Arthur Noble, came to establish themselves in surveillance at Grand-Pré. On their arrival in December 1747, twenty-some houses of the villagers were requisitioned to shelter the English troops.

In his book (in French only) Une Seconde Acadie, H.R. Casgrain (on pages 157 – 189) outlines in detail the events of the battle of Grand-Pré that very few people know about. The author points out that the French forces were victorious and the honors of the war were conferred on the English. In addition, Nicolas Antoine II Coulon de Villiers and Louis de la Corne (born at Fort Frontenac, now Kingston, Ontario) received the Order of Saint Louis from the King of France for their participation in this historic battle.

The battle of Grand-Pré
The battle of Grand-Pré (Artwork of Charles William Jefferys, public domain)

In short, under the command of Villiers 240 Canadians, accompanied by about sixty Aboriginals and 25 Acadians, left Chignectou on January 12, 1748, for Grand-Pré. At around 3 o’clock in the morning on February 11, when a snowstorm was raging, French forces simultaneously and by surprise attacked the ten houses housing English officers. After eighteen hours of shooting between the belligerents and close combat, Noble is killed and replaced by Commander Benjamin Goldthwait who surrenders the next day. The French forces therefore recovered Grand-Pré and the Minas basin for a short time. Because, under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle concluded on October 18, 1748, Great Britain got back the lost territory.

Grand-Pré National Historic Site
Where loneliness is peopled with thoughts (Photo credit: Ken Morris, fineartamerica)

Since 2012, Grand-Pré has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its “outstanding universal value” lies in the cultural and natural importance of places which are exceptionally invaluable to all humanity, regardless of national borders. Three fundamental characteristics valorise Grand-Pré and by extension the roads of the Acadian people. They are:

⭐️ The landscape of Grand-Pré bears exceptional testimony to a traditional farming settlement created in the 17th century by Acadians who reclaimed the land from the sea using traditional techniques and community-based management still in use today.

⭐️ Grand-Pré is also the iconic place of remembrance of the Acadian diaspora dispersed by the Great Upheaval which began in 1755, whilst the Acadians were living in harmony with the Mi’kmaq First Nation before the deportation.

⭐️ The memorial constructions constitute the center of the symbolic reappropriation of the land of their ancestors by the Acadians in the 20th century, in a spirit of peace and cultural sharing with the surrounding community.

Evangeline would have said: we are still here and we will be there forever…