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Acadian Settlement

When French Acadian settlers arrived on the marshes in 1672, they heard the sound of tidal waters rushing up the marsh channels, responding to the 13 meter tidal range of the Bay of Fundy. The Acadians were also struck by the noise of the abundant migratory waterfowl. The combination of these distinctive sounds led them to name the marshes `Tintamarre', translated as a place of cacophonous din. It is also known that the French settlers at Annapolis had implemented dyking techniques similar to those used in the areas of western France from whence they had come, and as these Acadian settlers and their descendants spread to Cobequid and into the Minas Basin and later initiated new agricultural settlement at the mouths of the Tantramar, Aulac and Missiguash Rivers, they naturally introduced this technique to these marshes as well. The agricultural productivity of the reclaimed marshes soon led to a thriving trade in cattle and other agricultural products with the region’s fishing settlements at Le Havre, Canso and Louisbourg, and externally with New France and New England.

As in other Acadian settled areas of the region, a scattered series of small hamlets eventually emerged, most of which were located on higher ground either on the ridges or on “islands” that stood above the areas prone to flooding. Acadian farmers necessarily devoted much effort to creating and maintaining the dykes that served to protect their fields and pastures. Particularly crucial in this technique were the aboiteau or sluice gates that were installed where the rivers crossed the dykes. The aboiteau(aboideau) was a wooden outflow with a form of clapper gate hung vertically so as to open under the flow pressure of the fresh water from upstream, but shut tight against a sill when the tidal flood surged up the river or creek thereby preventing the salt water from back flooding above the dyke. The purpose of this technology was to allow the salinity of the marshes to be progressively reduced so that European crops and grasses could be grown.

The French hold on the region was a tenuous one following the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 which granted much of Nova Scotia to the British. The Isthmus of Chignecto, with its position at the head of the Bay of Fundy, formed one of a series of uneasy frontiers in the contest between the French and the English for control of the region. For the Acadians living on or near the Marshes, these events formed an unwanted intrusion on the demands of everyday life. Their preoccupation was with the maintenance and extension of their marsh agriculture and with trade that was as much dependent upon markets in Boston as it was with supplying the French colonial bastion at Louisbourg.

In Nova Scotia an uneasy stalemate between the British and French prevailed. The first fall of the French fortress of Louisbourg in 1745 and subsequent troop movement through the Chignecto region increased suspicion about the loyalty of the Acadian population. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, while restoring Isle St. Jean (present day Prince Edward Island), Isle Royale (Cape Breton Island) and Louisbourg to French control, also paved the way for increased British settlement of peninsular Nova Scotia and forced Acadians unwilling to take the oath of allegiance to the British Crown to resettle in French territory west of the Missaguash River at Chignecto. These geopolitical events led the French authorities to build two defensive positions: Fort Gaspereaux on the Northumberland side of the Chignecto isthmus, and the larger Fort Beausejour on the Fundy side, which were operational by 1755. At about the same time the British authorities constructed Fort Lawrence on an adjacent ridge so that these two defensive positions faced each other in the middle of the marsh.

In 1750, Abbé Le Loutre, who had arrived in the region as a Catholic priest to the Mi'kmaq and who had assumed control of the local area, ordered the destruction of the village of Beaubassin in an effort to drive the Acadian population into French territory. The refugee Acadian population in the Tantramar area was reluctant to provide military service to the French garrison at Fort Beausejour, preferring to maintain neutrality. Indeed, when the fort was eventually captured by a British force from adjacent Fort Lawrence, the capitulation of the French force was in part the result of pressure from Acadians within the fortress who threatened to turn their arms against the French garrison unless it surrendered. The climax came in June of 1755 with the British launching the assault on Fort Beausejour by marshaling their forces from Fort Lawrence along with those landed from a fleet of some 37 ships. The attack came after the British established a bridgehead on the Missaguash north of Fort Beausejour near Pont à Buot, which later became the hamlet of Point de Bute. Over several days they secured the site. After meeting only token resistence, they commenced lobbing bombs at Fort Beausejour thereby inducing the French to capitulate. Thus ended the French colonial presence in Chignecto in 1755.

For the Acadians the consequences were drastic. Their choices were to escape into the hinterland or suffer deportation by the British. As a result of these events, almost all Acadian settlements in and around the Marshes were burned to the ground either by the British or by the Acadians themselves. Consequently, except for the modern dykes, many of which probably stand where Acadians had constructed theirs, little physical evidence remains to allow us to capture an image of Acadian settlement.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Chignecto Peninsula.




Large and Particular Plan of Shegneckto Bay.




a view of the marsh by Hamilton.




photograph of an aboideaux.

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