Malpeque is the French derivative of the mi’kmaq word “magpeg”, meaning “the bay which swells” according to the tides. The Mi’kmaqs of historic Lennox Island on the northwest zone of Magpeg say they have lived on this beautiful and generous bay for thousands of years. Recent archaeological excavations in Pitawelkek reveal that various activities took place on this coastal site, long before the arrival of the first Acadian settlers, such as the shaping and sharpening of stone tools, the preparation and consumption of food and the manufacturing of pottery containers made of terracotta. It was in 1728, thirty years before the Great Upheaval of 1758, that the first Acadians settled on Magpeg’s shores. The new colony was named “Malpeque” after the mi’kmaq word. It was located on a point of red earth (now called Low Point) that juts out into the bay, adjacent to Lennox Island and very close to what is now Green Park Provincial Park in Port Hill. It was after the 1758 deportation that the site took the melodious name of “Pointe-aux-Vieux” before being called Low Point. It was the first colony west of Port LaJoye. But who were these native Acadians, where did they come from, and why did they choose Magpeg?
The colony of Pointe-aux-Vieux
The Malpeque colony was founded by Pierre Arsenault II, his adult son Charles and their companion Jean Lambert. Over a period of thirty years, other Acadian families arrived with a view to building together an island community. By 1752, the colony had reached more than thirty-two households and more than two hundred inhabitants. In addition to the Arsenault family, the Blanchard, Boudrot, Comeau, Daigre, DesRoches, Doucet, Dugas, Giroir, Laviolette, LeBlanc, Martin, Poirier and Richard families made Malpeque their home. A non-Acadian minority group came from Orleans Island (in front of Quebec City, Canada) as well as from Brittany and Normandy, France.
Pierre Arsenault II, considered to be the “Father of Malpeque”, was born in 1676 in Port-Royal in Acadia (Nova Scotia) from the union of Pierre Arsenault I (originally from France) and Marguerite Dugas (native of Beaubassin, Acadia). Charles, the son of Pierre Arsenault II, was 26 years of age on his arrival in Malpeque. Most of the Malpequois came from Chignecto Bay, a rich agricultural region renowned for its vast marshes where the local people preferred the land over the sea. It is therefore not surprising that agriculture, rather than fishing, was the basis of Malpeque’s real economy.
Fertile land, healthy trees, easy access to the sea and the beauty of the landscape were the four determining factors why Magpeg / Malpeque was chosen by the Acadians.
In order to organize the island’s colonization its commander, Jacques d’Espiet de Pensens, recommended that families wishing to become islanders first send people capable of clearing the land and providing food, water and shelter, before bringing their parents and other family members.
At the tip of Pointe-aux-Vieux, excavations have revealed an original rectangular house with a stone chimney and oven. Archaeologists have recovered nearly 20,000 artifacts, including more than 1,000 hand-forged nails, door supports, bone knife handles, straight pins used in sewing, window panes and pieces showing that residents had access to goods from Europe, including stemware. The bones of unearthed and dusted farm animals bear witness to the hearty Acadian food regime. This attests that the islanders kept cattle like cows, pigs, chickens and goats and supplemented their diet with small wild game like shorebirds, fish and snowshoe hare. In all, it appears that the Acadians of Malpeque lived a comfortable life between 1728 and 1758. Beside the archaeological site, the remains of a church facing the sea were discovered. They most likely relate to the church of the “Holy Family” that was built in 1753 by the parishioners under the watchful eye of Father Bernard-Sylvestre Dosque, originally from the diocese of Aire, France, and last parish priest of Malpeque in Acadia.