Beaubears Island
Beaubears Island seen from Wilsons Point, Miramichi (author Fralambert, license CC BY-SA 3.0)

The city of Miramichi (17,500 residents) is located at the mouth of the Miramichi River, downstream from the confluence of the southwest and northwest branches of the Miramichi in Northumberland County. The wooded triangle-shaped space at the confluence of the two branches, called “Wilsons Point”, together with the Beaubears Island facing it have been the Boishébert National Historic Site of Canada since 1930. The archaeological remains discovered on this historic site testify to the existence of a large camp of Acadian refugees from 1756 to 1761. Initially named “Camp of Hope” this place of refuge, very accessible from Miramichi Bay, was unfortunately for the Acadians the camp of despair. Here is its story…

Charles Deschamps de Boishébert
Charles Deschamps de Boishébert, around 1753 ( in the public domain)

The Miramichi camp took shape at summer end 1756, after many Acadian refugees agreed to converge on this place which was to facilitate the arrival of aid from Quebec. At least that is what they believed… They did put themselves under the protection of French captain Charles Deschamps de Boishébert who, since the fall of Fort Beauséjour in June 1755, had fought fiercely against the British detachments charged with capturing Acadian fugitives in the territory of New Brunswick. No doubt they preferred not to stray too far from their Acadian lands, while Boishébert tried to convince them to go to Quebec through the St. John River or to Isle Saint-Jean (now Prince Edward Island). How many were there at the Camp of Hope at the start of winter 1756-1757? According to Ronnie-Gilles LeBlanc, there were just under 1,400 Acadian refugees, to whom were added several hundred aboriginal allies of the French who were preparing for war against the British. But nothing went as planned…

The terrible winter 1756-1757

According to Father François Le Guerne, the Camp of Hope site was “…10 leagues above the mission among the Aboriginals in a dreadful place, where nothing has ever been sown, where there is no hunting and little to fish”. Unfortunately, that’s not all. In 1756, Canada and Isle Saint-Jean had a very bad harvest and were already undergoing a serious period of scarcity. In consequence, the shortage of food was rapidly felt at the Camp of Hope. To add insult to injury, the ship laden with food sent from Quebec by intendant Bigot never arrived at Miramichi Bay. The winter of 1756-1757 was terrible. Some 400 Acadians died of hunger, misery or contagious disease. Only the arrival of a food aid ship sent by Governor Vaudreuil actually allowed to relieve the survivors. In the spring of 1757, 120 of them chose to take refuge in Quebec, while others preferred to stay along the Miramichi or head for Chaleur Bay.

In September 1758, after the capitulation of the fortress of Louisbourg, the British tried, without success, to destroy the Miramichi camp. They burned down the church and the houses of the mission among the Mi’kmaqs further downstream (now Burnt Church), but strong offshore winds dissuaded them from going further upstream. Thereafter, the Acadian families moved to the Ristigouche camp, at the bottom of Chaleur Bay, where more than a thousand Acadians had already taken refuge (see The last bastion of Petite-Rochelle). The Miramichi camp, however, was not abandoned until November 1761, after the capture of its last refugees during a British attack directed against the Acadian establishments of Chaleur Bay. There was then no longer any hope, but by name only.