5/29/22: Nova Scotia’s Tides & Acadians’ Deportation at Grand-Pré

Dear family and friends,

This day was one of highs and lows, literally in the sense of the high and low tides we saw firsthand, but also in the sense of learning for the first time about a very sad chapter in my home country’s history, namely the Deportation of about 11,000 thousand Acadians to American colonies and elsewhere by the British at the beginning of the Seven Years War in 1755. That was contrasted by the heights of Blomidon Peninsula and Provincial Park which afforded us stellar views of the Annapolis Valley and the Bay of Fundy. Prepare to be amazed and saddened.

All the best to you and your loved ones, Annie

5/29/22: Nova Scotia’s Tides & Acadians’ Deportation at Grand-Pré

As a reminder, Steven and I were continuing our swing through Atlantic Canada en route to our eventual destination in the Florida Panhandle about six weeks later. From Canning, the small town in northern Nova Scotia where we were spending two nights, we drove to Wolfville at the end of the fertile Annapolis Valley. The small town had been named Mud Creek by its founding New Englanders because they had to battle the Bay of Fundy coastal area, once farmed by the early Acadians or French settlers.

Driving along Main St., we got a sense of how genteel Wolfville with its large houses with bay windows and large porches under stately trees sat in the lushest area of the Valley.

Randall House was an 1815 historic house with period furnishings and local artifacts from the 1760s to the 20th century.

Rosemary: I’m sure you recognize the ivy-covered buildings and manicured lawns of Acadia University on Wolfville’s Main St!

Wolfville’s Waterfront Park was located at the Minas Basin at the mouth of the Cornwallis River. The Basin was part of the Bay of Fundy and has the highest tides in the world. With climate change, it is expected that more intense storms from the melting polar ice caps will hit Nova Scotia’s coastline and specifically Wolfville’s sea level. 

Sea levels have been rising in Canada’s three Maritime provinces since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. Historically, flooding hasn’t been a problem in Wolfville because its dike system acts as a barrier against tides and storm surge flooding. But the risk of flooding increases over time with an increase in seal level rise, intense rainfall, and storm surge events.

To prevent flooding and provide protection for the next half century, existing dikes must be raised by 20 inches and new dikes must be constructed to a height of close to 28 feet depending on the rate of sea level rise. We walked along the dikeland to see for ourselves what the land looked like at low tide.

Wolfville in the background:

We then walked along the Rail Trail to the former train station which had been converted into the city’s library.

On the recommendation of our Lunenburg-based friends Ellen and Peter, we drove further east past some beautiful wineries that the Annapolis Vally is justifiably famous for toward Grand Pré National Historic Site. There, we learned it was also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the profound memorial to the tragic upheaval and resilience of the Acadian people.

In 1755 at the beginning of the Seven Years’ War between the British and French in North America, British forces, frustrated with the neutrality of Acadians who refused to swear an unconditional oath of allegiance to the Crown, began to expel Acadians. Le Grand Dérangement or Deportationas it was called, involved “dispersing” more than 10,000 Acadians throughout the American colonies, England, and France over the next eight years. The Acadians were removed from their homes in the present-day Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

As I learned the day before at the Historic Gardens in Annapolis Royal, most Acadians were descended from about 50 French families who settled in Acadia between 1636 and the early 1650s. While the pre-1755 Acadian families were mostly of French origin, there were exceptions with some individuals of Basque, Spanish, Portuguese, Irish, English, Scottish, or other European backgrounds. Some Acadians were also descendants of marriages between French men and Indigenous women. They, and those who came before and after, formed the roots of the Acadian people. In a few generations, their descendants considered themselves as a distinct people: Acadiens and Acadiennes or settlers of Acadia. 

To prevent an Acadian alliance with the French, British authorities in Nova Scotia decided to expel the Acadians in July of 1755. The Acadians, for their part, had refused to swear an unqualified oath of allegiance which would force them to take up arms against the French and their Indigenous allies. The Deportation had begun.

Two thousand New England troops and 250 British regulars stationed in Nova Scotia carried out the Deportation beginning in 1755. Transport vessels carried about 6,000 men, women, and children with families often separated to nine Anglo-American colonies on the Atlantic seaboard. With the deportation order staying in effect until 1764, more than 11,000 Acadians were deported south of the border.

I cannot begin to imagine how the Acadians began their new lives in exile in unfriendly territory and only permitted the personal belongings they could carry. Everything else was forfeited to the British Crown.

The Anglo-American colonies were unprepared to receive the 5,993 Acadians that had been deported between 1775 and 1763. Virginia initially agreed to take the Acadians but then deported them to England in 1756. When a deportation to Massachusetts in 1762 failed because the Bay Colony refused to accept the 915 exiles, they were returned to Nova Scotia.

At the visitors’ center, we learned that the Minas Basin fills and empties every 12 hours and 25 minutes with 14 billion tons of water sloshing in and out of this bottle-like basin at speeds of 7-8 knots per hour.

The water has been shaping and reshaping the coastline for centuries. Before dikes were built, the incoming tides flooded thousands of acres of grassy tidal meadows. The incoming tides rise at an average of over eight feet per hour. The tide deposits fine silts from the coastline and rich nutrients from the sea. Six hours later, the tide reverses, uncovering acres of enriched seagrass and marsh soil. The marshlands are flat and clear of stones and trees, making them perfect for farming and some of the most fertile lands on earth

The problem was finding a way of holding back the powerful tides. Aha, as we’d already learned, the Acadians knew how – they built dikes. They used the lay of the land to their advantage.

Keeping back the tides from salt marshes to fertile meadows:  The aboiteau or earthen dike was an ingenious method of farming that no other group in North America used to reclaim marshes in the Acadian manner. The key to the system, first introduced in the 1630s in Port-Royal, was the sluice with its valve which allowed water to flow off dike lands and not allow seawater to flow in. Settlers from low-lying lands in France where dike techniques were in use, adapted that system to the extreme tidal conditions found in the Bay of Fundy.

The first dike constructed by the Acadians was at Grand-Pré within 300 feet of where the village’s Memorial Church still stands. They blocked the most accessible and shallower creeks first.

In subsequent years, the Acadians extended the dike enclosures that slowly transformed the flood-ravaged tidal marsh into fertile farmland on which Acadians harvested salt hay and grew an abundance of grains and peas. From the early 1680s to 1755, the Acadians reclaimed hundreds of acres of tidal marsh that make up the area still called the Grand-Pré. The Minas Basin became known as Acadia’s breadbasket.

The poem Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was behind the selection of Grand-Pré as the location most closely associated with the 1755 deportations. When the poem was published in 1847, it stirred readers across North America and eventually around the world with the story of Evangeline, the Acadian people, and the Deportation. I read that the tragedy of the Acadian people became the focus of widespread and sympathetic attention.

It cannot be understated how Longfellow’s Evangeline contributed hugely to the Acadians’ growing spirit of nationalism in the late 1800s. That was when strong sentiments of Acadian identity were developing as was their determination to survive as a people. 

With the Deportation or Acadian Diaspora leaving footprints on three continents, it is a story of a people’s tenacity in overcoming adversity. For those Acadians who returned from exile, theirs is a story of deep attachment to ancestral lands. It is estimated that there are three million Acadian descendants around the world. The main concentrations are in the Atlantic provinces – i.e. the three Maritime provinces plus the province of Newfoundland and Labrador – Quebec, Louisiana, New England, and France. I was surprised to learn there were also Acadian descendants in Haiti, Belize, and the Falkland Islands.

When the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763, most exiled Acadians never returned to their homeland. Nonetheless, the strategy of assimilation largely failed as the exiles or refugees retained their sense of identity. I read the British officials responsible for the deportation never thought the Acadians would show such determination and underestimated their will to survive. That inner strength carried thousands of refugees through the terrible years of the Grand Dérangement or Deportation.

Though often depicted as a tranquil paradise, Acadie or Acadia was often a battleground. It formed part of the original Mi’kmaq Indigenous lands and was also a strategic borderland on the margins of both New France and New England. Acadia was considered critical to the early European fur trade, fishing, and other trade. The Indigenous, French, and British were in regular conflict in the region, particularly in the colony’s capital of Port-Royal, called Annapolis Royal after 1713.

This sculpture of an Acadian family sent into exile was commissioned to mark the 250th anniversary of the tragic deportations of thousands of Acadians from their ancestral homelands beginning in 1755. The family in the sculpture represented the experiences of so many that were forcibly expelled from their homes and sent into exile to face an uncertain future in foreign lands. It was unveiled in 2006.

The populous Acadian village of Grand-Pré stood along this upland between here and the Gaspereau River. Other Acadian villages were to the east and west. Together, the overall region was called Les Mines and it was a center of Acadian activity between 1682 and 1755.

The statue of Evangeline, Longfellow’s heroine in his epic poem, depicted her crying for her lost land. The statue was located just a few feet from the former Dominion Atlantic Railway, a historic railway that operated in the western part of Nova Scotia so that passengers could catch a glimpse of their beloved Evangeline.

Behind the statue was Memorial Church which was built in 1922 with funds raised from Acadian communities throughout North America. It symbolized the spirit of Acadian nationalism and the fervent desire to commemorate the tragedy of the Deportation. The design of the church reflected 1700s Normandy-style architecture. Archaeological excavations suggest the Memorial Church was built approximately where the original Grand-Pré parish church stood.

Half a dozen or more paintings in the church illustrated the Acadians’ history from their arrival to their deportation in 1755 by the British. I have chosen a few to share with you.

1635-1755 The Harvest pointed out that the majority of Acadians lived adjacent to the marshlands of the Bay of Fundy. There they had diked large areas of tidal marshland to provide rich farmland and a comfortable and stable way of life. 

Embarkation depicted the Acadians being ordered to abandon their homes with just the possessions they could carry for the ships that would deliver them to exile.

The painting, 1755 Burn and Lay Waste showed the settlements being burned to discourage Acadians from returning. With houses, barns, mills, and other buildings reduced to ashes, little trace of a century or more of Acadian life was left.

Growing up in the 1960s in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, I am sad to say I learned absolutely nothing about this horrific period of our country’s history. I don’t know if the Deportation is now being taught outside of Atlantic Canada as it surely should be but at the very least a park ranger assured me it was being taught in the 4th and 5th grades in the former Acadia.

This well, once used for watering livestock, was discovered in the late 1800s. But it was promoted in the early 1900s as Evangeline’s Well in reference to Longfellow’s fictitious heroine.

Longfellow’s Monument was a tribute to the writer who helped create the national historic site and to the growing spirit of Acadian nationalism in the late 1800s.

The Gasperau River by the Bay of Fundy:

We timed our return to Wolfville to be there at almost exactly at the High Tide at 1:30. What a huge difference from several hours ago!

As we drove north toward the Blomidon Peninsula, we witnessed more profound examples of the changing tides from the Gladys Porter Bridge over the Cornwallis River in Port Williams.

The peninsula extends into the Minas Channel and featured superb views of the Bay of Fundy.

Blomidon Provincial Park at the eastern end of the peninsula was a wonderful chance to explore the dramatic red shale and sandstone that had been laid down millions of years ago before being eroded by glacial and water action to form almost 600-ft-high bluffs where Fundy tides sweep up the cliffs twice daily.

We spent an absolutely blissful two hours on our beach chairs watching the tide recede. 

I think we timed our visit just perfectly to the park so we could later walk far out on the soft mud during low tide!

Stunning views from the summit of Blomidon Park a little later included fruit orchards and farmlands reaching o  ut to the Bay.

Notice the boat at low tide way below us:

Lezlie: I am so sorry you and David weren’t able to also stay at the Farmhouse B&B in Canning as Steven and I loved our two-night stay. As you well know, we’re by no means ‘foodies’ like you both but we were still big fans of the mouthwatering breakfast our hosts prepared each day. 

I was also very impressed by the breakfast menu that was posted each afternoon to tempt guests to the morning delight as we hadn’t seen that before or since!

Canning, like most other small towns in Nova Scotia, had a WW I memorial prominently located on its main street. 

Canning’s United Baptist Church:

A visitor certainly couldn’t miss the monument to Harold Lothrop Borden as it was right in the middle of an intersection!

After dinner, we found a spot to relax by the town’s attractive Bruce Spicer Park and reminisce about our special day discovering the Fundy tides, the Deportation, and the exquisite Blomidon Peninsula.

Next post: A return to Kentville to stroll along Miner’s Marsh before reconnecting with a very dear friend in Chester on Nova Scotia’s South Shore!

Posted on August 1st, 2022, from Gulf Shores, Alabama, where we hope to spend this next week relaxing by the pool and taking long walks on the beach as long as the weather cooperates. That may be iffy as we’ve had so much rain that part of the ceiling in our condo’s second bedroom fell down yesterday!


6 thoughts on “5/29/22: Nova Scotia’s Tides & Acadians’ Deportation at Grand-Pré

  1. I can just imagine how you must have felt learning about this period of your country’s history for the first time. I’m glad it’s now being taught in the schools there, and I hope elsewhere in the country too. I get the sense that in the English speaking world (maybe elsewhere too) we’re very quick to deplore human rights abuses (current and historic) in other countries, but slow to face up to those we may have committed ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Annie, the history of the Deportation is absolutely heartbreaking. Thank you for all the detailed information and photos.
    I hope you have now managed to fix your condos rain damage and you are enjoying long walks on the beach.


  3. Thanks for commenting on the Deportation, Gilda, as I also found it profoundly moving. It reminded me of the Trail of Tears the American Indigenous people were subjected to.

    Fortunately, as we were renting the condo in Gulf Shores, Alabama, we didn’t have to contend with the ceiling damage caused by all the rain – the benefit of just renting and not owning!


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