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Champlain Anniversary
The Acadian perspective
Ronnie-Gilles LeBlanc | May 10, 2004

Samuel de Champlain arrived in Nova Scotia on May 12, 1604. The establishment of French outposts in Atlantic Canada led to the founding of Acadia.

As an Acadian, the year 2004 has a special meaning to me since it marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadie, and the establishment of the first French permanent settlement in North America at Saint Croix Island.

In the years that followed, French colonists settled in Acadie. They were eventually joined by colonists of other origins (Irish, Basque, Flemish), and some of them intermarried with members of the native communities – Mi'kmaqs, Malecites, Abenakis – from whom they borrowed their methods of transportation and ways of dressing, as well as some of their cultural traits. After two or three generations, the descendants of these European colonists and native peoples developed their own identity as Acadians.

Their new homeland, Acadie, was coveted by the English who claimed this territory as their own as early as the 1620s. After changing hands several times during the 17th century, Acadie became a British colony in 1713, and was known as Nova Scotia. The Acadians were Catholics and francophones, and developed a unique attitude towards their new British sovereign. They were willing to swear only a conditional oath of allegiance to the British crown, which exempted them from taking arms against the French or their traditional allies, the native peoples of Acadie. Thereafter, the Acadians became known to the British as the French Neutrals.

For a period of 30 years, the Acadians led a peaceful and prosperous life, exploiting the fertile marshlands they had reclaimed from the sea through the aboiteau system of sluices and dikes. They maintained commercial relations with the French as well as the British. But this was about to change.

During the War of the Austrian Succession, the Acadians in general retained their neutrality, but a few sided with the French forces sent to recapture Acadie. The British authorities viewed this as a treacherous act, and concluded they could not rely on the Acadians in the event of war.

They adopted a new policy towards them, and decided that Nova Scotia could only become a real British colony if they introduced Protestant colonists. Thus, Halifax was founded in 1749 and the Acadians were required to swear a new unconditional oath of allegiance. They refused to do this, preferring to move to French territory, namely Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) and Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island).

At the same time, the French laid claim to all the land in present day New Brunswick and erected a fort on the western side of Mésagouèche river at Beauséjour (near Sackville), something the British perceived as an encroachment of their territory.

The Acadians living to the east of the Mésagouèche, where the British had erected a fort, were forced to burn their habitations and move as refugees to the French side of the river. In 1755, the British captured the French fort at Beauséjour, and deported the Acadians who lived in the territory claimed by the French, because they considered them rebels or traitors. Afterwards, they extended this deportation order to all Acadians still living in Nova Scotia, on the grounds that they presented a threat to the security of the colony because of their refusal to swear an unconditional oath of allegiance to the king of England.

Some 6,000 Acadians were deported to the Anglo-American colonies and to England. Another 3,000 were deported to France from île Royale and île Saint-Jean after the fall of Louisbourg in 1758. An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 fled to Québec or to the forests of present day New Brunswick where many died from famine or disease. Only 1,600 stayed to rebuild a new Acadie, joined by a few deportees who returned. Most Acadians settled in Québec, France and Louisiana where their descendants – the Cajuns – still live today.

In 2004, descendants of the Acadians who resettled in Acadie or the Maritime provinces will celebrate four centuries of history to honour their ancestors for courage and perseverance in maintaining their language and culture. They will also recognize that being a francophone in North America in the 21st century remains a challenge, and that they must follow the example of their forebears, so that their own descendants will be able to celebrate Acadian heritage in another 400 years.

Ronnie-Gilles LeBlanc PhD, is a historian and archivist at the Centre d'études acadiennes at the Université de Moncton



The Acadians

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The Works of Champlain and The History of New France by Marc Lescarbot are available at: The Champlain Society


Champlain by Joe C. W. Armstrong (MacMillan of Canada, 1987)

The Beginnings of New France 1524-1663 by Marcel Trudel (McLelland and Stewart, 1973)

Samuel de Champlain: Father of New France by Samuel Eliot Morison (Little Brown and Company, 1972)

CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites. Links will open in new window.


Champlain Society

Canadiana Online

Gov't of Canada 2004 celebrations

Ste-Croix 2004

St. Croix island (U.S. National Parks Service)

Acadie 400

Acadie 2003-2005

June 27th concert in New Brunswick

Historica: Champlain in Acadia [requires Flash]

Royal Canadian Mint Champlain dollar

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