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A tumultuous history

France’s first settlement in Acadia (1604) marks the begining of the French colonization of North America. From 1632 onwards, in particular, a determined effort was made by France to settle this historical Acadia and it is the subject of a continuous and sustained immigration. Gradually, French settlers, mostly coming from the region of Poitou, appropriated the Acadian territory. Early on, however, Acadia would quickly suffer the consequences of wars being waged between Great Britain and France and become an object of strife. Thus, during the first century of its history, Acadia because of the strategically important geographical location it occupied in the control of maritime navigation, despite itself, was drawn into a series of military conflicts. From 1604 to 1713, it changed hands seven times.

In the end, in 1713, with the Treaty of Utrecht, France ceded Acadia to the British. However, it retained Isle Royale[1] (Cape Breton) and Isle Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island), as well as a continued presence in current-day New Brunswick. The treaty left it up to Acadians in the conquered territory – renamed Nova Scotia – to remove themselves within a year to any other place along with their moveable effects, or if they so wished, remain on their lands and become British subjects. A large majority of them chose to remain in Acadia but refused to swear an oath of unconditional allegiance to the British Crown. Acadians want to retain the right to practice their religion and be exempt from the duty of bearing arms in the event of war. In 1730, a verbal promise to this effect was made to them by Governor Richard Philipps but the agreement was not acknowledged by the British Crown.

The English, in no hurry to colonize the Acadian territory, were of the opinion that it was not in their best interest to allow Acadians to leave and strengthen the French presence on Isle Royale or Isle Saint-Jean. Thus, they continued to allow the inhabitants to prosper there despite their refusal to swear an oath of allegiance. For more than forty years relative peace prevailed and the Acadian population increased significantly.

In 1753, with the arrival of Charles Lawrence as Lieutenant Governor, the attitude of the English hardened. They now viewed the Acadian presence as a threat and an impediment to the establishment of a British colony. In 1754, the resumption of war against the French in America provided Lawrence with an added impetus to put his plan into action- to dislodge the Acadians from their lands in order to cede them to British subjects. At this point in history, the expulsion of a community in the aftermath of a conquest was not an exceptional measure. What makes this deportation noteworthy, however, is that it took place forty years after Great Britain conquered Acadia and the fact that Acadians had been British subjects since 1713.

In 1755, the former French colony suffered a fatal blow when British authorities began to dismantle the former Acadian colony by systematically deporting its entire population. Soldiers track down and capture thousands and from September 10th onwards, the prisoners are packed into ships destined for New England. Driven from their homes and deprived of their farmlands, their property seized or destroyed, Acadian families were crammed into boats, stripped of everything but a few personal belongings. In the haste and confusion, some families were separated. It was not so much these military operations as the dangerous voyages on ships that resulted in a great number of deaths. Shipwrecks, as well as malnutrition, overcrowding and disease, a smallpox epidemic in particular, claimed many lives. The condition of those who did manage to survive the ordeal and were now living in the colonies still remained precarious. Most had become the responsibility of the state and were not well received by a population that was predominantly anti-Catholic.

The deportation of Acadians was not limited to 1755; it continued until the end of the hostilities in 1763. For example, we know that in 1758 more than 3000 Acadians were deported from Isle Saint-Jean. In total, about 10,000 Acadians (75% of the population) were deported to mainly American colonies, but many others were also deported to England and France.

Contrary to popular belief, not all Acadians allowed themselves to be deported without fighting back or resisting. Some Acadians joined French troops; others provided armaments to French privateers while still others deliberately sabotaged the plans of the authorities. With the help of the Mi’kmaq, some Acadians managed to escape deportation by fleeing through the woods and later taking refuge in Chaleur Bay and the Saint Lawrence Valley. However for most of the Acadian population, the Great Upheaval * (Great Expulsion / Great Deportation) signified one thing – exile: a life of wandering and painful integration into other environments was the lot of the deportees for many decades. A portion of the Acadian population did ultimately settle down in various homelands, such as Louisiana and France, but many others chose to return to Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Quebec.

And they arrive in Quebec….

From the beginning of the deportation, a large number of Acadians sought shelter in Quebec, a French territory at the time, where they were granted land. It is estimated that between 2000-4000 Acadians settled here. We know that they chose to settle throughout the province since, in the years between 1755 and 1775; Acadians are mentioned in 96 of the 120 parishes in existence at that time[2].

Although Acadian settlement in Quebec was an ongoing process, the two great waves of immigration can be identified. The first, which took place between 1756 and 1759, was made up of refugees who had managed to escape the massive deportation of 1755. The second was comprised mostly of deportees returning from the American colonies and took place after the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763. With this treaty, the French empire in America was dismantled once and for all. Saint -Pierre and Miquelon had become the lone French territory in North America. In 1765, the governor of the Province of Quebec, James Murray offered land to Acadian immigrants in order to revitalize the economy which had been greatly devastated by war. Informed of this offer, Acadians living in Massachusetts asked to return to Canada. Governor Murray granted their request but stipulated that they must do so at their own expense and that they also swear an oath of allegiance to the British Crown.

Acadians who arrived in Quebec settled mainly in the Chaudière-Appalaches and Centre-du-Quebec regions, on the Gaspé Peninsula and in the Montérégie, Mauricie and Lanaudière regions. In addition to increasing the population of existing villages, they founded six new ones which came to be known as <<Cadies>> or <<petites Cadies>>, in memory of their native land: Saint-Gervais-de-Bellechasse (1756), Bonaventure (1760), Tracadièche (1766), Saint-Jacques-de-L’Achigan (1766), Saint-Grégoire-de-Nicolet (1767) and L’Acadie (1768). During the 19th and 20th centuries, these villages were expanded and new regions were settled. Acadian settlement took different forms; some Acadians integrated into local populations, while others became pioneers and leaders. Fervent Catholics, Acadians fought to retain their right to practice their religion in Acadia. Thus, as soon as they settled in a new location, one of their primary concerns was the construction of a place of worship. The entire Acadian community would join together either by giving land or materials for its construction and maintenance.

Acadians today…..

According to a study conducted in 2008, 50% of Quebecers of French-Canadian ancestry today, or about three million people, can lay claim to at least one Acadian ancestor[3]. It is therefore not surprising to find so many Acadian family surnames, not to mention a multitude of names of places or streets that are reminiscent of Acadia and its history.

On your journey of discovery, this document covering thousands of kilometers will help you encounter the other Quebec… the Quebec of the Acadian people. Who knows? Perhaps you may discover that you yourself are part of this big family.

[1] Place names in the text written in italics are historical names of cities, villages or regions.

[2] John A.Dickinson, Les réfugiés acadiens au Canada, 1755-1775, Études canadiennes, 1194, p. 51-61

[3] Josée Bergeron, Hélène Vézina, Louis Houde et Marc Tremblay, La contribution des Acadiens au peuplement des régions du Québec, Cahiers québécois de démographie, vol. 37, no 1, 2008, p.181-204