Nova Scotia

Acadian child's face reconstructed to illustrate history

An Acadian child who lived in Nova Scotia more than 250 years ago is being brought back to life with a facial reconstruction to help illustrate Acadian history.

Child, dubbed Claude, was about 9 years old at death

Acadian child's face reconstructed

9 years ago
Duration 2:14
An Acadian child who lived in Nova Scotia more than 250 years ago is being brought back to life.

An Acadian child who lived in Nova Scotia more than 250 years ago is being brought back to life with a facial reconstruction to help illustrate Acadian history.

A team of privately contracted archaeologists unearthed Claude's remains in 1996 at the site of the Sainte-Famille cemetery in Falmouth after a construction project in the area disturbed the cemetery.

"We've got a group of people who are desperate to have information about their family lineage, who their great, great, great, great-grandparents were, how they lived, what did they look like," said Talva Jacobson, the historic archeologist at the helm of the project.

When Jacobson showed images of the project at Acadian Days at Grand Pré​ in July 2014, she was surprised by the response. 

One woman told her, "'I've seen that nose before,'" said Talva. "There was actually one woman that was quite emotional to the point where she was crying as well."

For some Acadian Nova Scotians, the project is an opportunity to help round out history with the image of an Acadian from before the British began to deport and destroy their communities in 1755.

"We are always, as Acadians, sort of searching to fill in the blanks of our history and so this is a major piece," said Susan Surette-Draper, president of Friends of Grand Pré, a group that works to preserve Acadian history.

"To actually see ourselves is something we haven't been able to do before."

The research team has named the reconstruction of the child Claude, but they don't know for sure if it was a boy or a girl.

'It's unique'

Surette-Draper said she hopes Claude can eventually be used as a tool to help talk about the early Acadians who lived in Nova Scotia.

"A lot of the documents were really cleansed and so to find a real person and to be able to reconstruct what that person would have looked like is a gem. It's unique and it's something that we have never found before," said Surette-Draper.

It's one of the goals the research team hopes to achieve.

"The deportation did not only rob a people of their land and livelihoods — and in many cases their lives — but it also has had an impact on memory and the ability to recollect a sense of identity out of this place," said Jonathan Fowler, an archeologist at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.

The anthropologists who studied the child's remains say he or she died at about nine years old. While much of the other human remains the archeologists found were reburied in 2000 at the Sainte-Famille site, some, including those that would later be used by Jacobson and her team, were forgotten until years later. Fowler and a team of researchers found them in storage at Saint Mary's University.

Tanya Peckmann, a forensic anthropologist on that team at  Saint Mary's University, helped facilitate the reconstruction and manage the project.

Fowler and other researchers estimate the cemetery was used as early as the late 1600s until the Acadian deportation. 

"There are a lot of ethical concerns around human remains," said Fowler.

"This was a case in which human remains came to light by accident and that shouldn't have happened, but it did. Now we have an opportunity to actually do something … to increase our understanding of people from this time period."

Technique used in criminal investigations

The research team consulted with "local and descendent communities" and ensures that "whatever we're proposing to do meets with the support of those who are closest to this individual," said Fowler.

"We've done that every step of the way."

Jacobson began her work on the reconstruction in 2009 after receiving a small grant from the Nova Scotia Museum.

The same technique is used in criminal investigations. The research team made replicas of the facial bones as a base for a cast and the outside layers of clay, sculpted around scientifically calculated markers on the face to create Claude's features.

Without money to complete or display the project, it has spent most of its time in storage since 2010. 

By 2016, Jacobson hopes to send the reconstruction across Canada as part of an educational exhibit to share the Acadian story. If she has her way, Claude will find a permanent home in Nova Scotia.

She already has Claude's first destination confirmed: Medalta, the clay factory in the Historic Clay District in Medicine Hat, Alta., where she now works.

Jacobson is from Alberta and has no family ties to Nova Scotia, but said she became attached to Claude and the Acadian story.

"A lot of it has to with the fact that these are people," said Jacobson. "I'm working on this person and I'm just some archeologist … working on the remains of a child. It's overwhelming. It creates the passion and it makes you almost feel like you need to protect them a little bit actually."

As a first step, she shipped the project to Medalta this month, where she will finish the fine details on reconstruction and make plans for Claude's future.