Giovanni da Verrazzano

Our tour group headed into Tuscany leaving the sublime beauty and hectic streets of Rome behind us.

IMG_0586Our destination was Villa Vignamaggio in the town of Greve in Chianti. The villa is part of a centuries old winery, famous for it’s red Chianti Classico. Wine tastings and Tuscan cooking were on our agenda.

Lush Tuscan landscape soothed our over-stimulated brains with its rolling hills, curved winding roads (paved with no potholes) upright Cyprus trees and feathery olive trees in sheltered groves.

As we approached the winery, our guide casually pointed out Castello Di Verrazzano with a vague mention of Giovanni da Verrazzano’s exploits.

Wait a minute! Verrazzano? OUR Verrazzano?

YES, his family still had a winery in Creve in Chianti and we had just driven past it.

Nobody else seemed to be struck by this information except me. As a former guide at Grand-Pré National Historic Site, this was mind-blowing news.

He was OUR Verrazzano and I had just driven past his home town and his family’s place!

Just in case you might have been on that bus, have never visited Grand-Pré NHS or have never wondered where the name Acadia came from, you need the Verrazzano story.

Here’s why he’s ours.

Giovanni da Verrazzano was born in 1485 in this small Tuscan town, not far from Florence. Even though the surrounding landscape appears pretty landlocked, he became a navigator.

Actually, the Creve in Chianti landscape looked like the Gaspereau Valley in Nova Scotia to me, but with an ancient vibe.

Picture this: rolling hills with fields of grapevines in irregular patterns, a mountain ridge to protect it all from the elements, a perfect micro-climate for grape growing.

Now, erase the image of white farmhouses from your mind and replace it with red-tiled roofed stone villas.

Instead of spruce trees, see tall skinny Cyprus trees in rows or clumps. One thing you will not see in the Gaspereau Valley is olive trees, although at first glance, Tuscan olive trees look like the willow trees of the Annapolis Valley.

In 1485, this was the landscape into which Giovanni was born.  Since Castello Di Verrazzano dates back to 1170, you might think that a career in wine would be Giovanni’s destiny but instead, around 1506 at the age of 21, he was in Dieppe France, beginning a career as a navigator.

It seems everyone was looking for the passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans around that time.

Luckily for us, Verrazzano left detailed accounts of his trips.

After a few false starts (storms, loss of ships, rough seas) in January of 1524 he sailed to the North American continent with a mandate from King Francis I of France, to explore an area between Florida and Newfoundland but like many of us today, headed south.

It was January after all!

Eventually, his expedition reached North Carolina. Then he went north. Along the way, he met with Aboriginal delegations and (as they did back then) baptized certain locations along the way with the names of his rich and powerful friends back  in France.

As we were later reminded, the thing he is most famous for in Italy today is that he found the entrance to the Hudson River in New York. For awhile Henry Hudson got all the credit but eventually Verrazzano’s name and reputation were recognized and the Narrows bridge was named after the guy who had been there 85 years before Hudson.

That’s nice but that’s not why Verrazzano was interesting to me.

Remember I said he kept going north? Well after New York, he found Cape Cod and mapped it.

Getting warmer. Keep going Giovanni.

He followed the coast to Maine, southeastern Nova Scotia (bingo!) and Newfoundland.

He mapped, observed and explored then returned to France by July 1524.

The noteworthy thing is that he decided to give the ancient Greek name Arcadia to the whole Atlantic coast north of Virginia. He must have been impressed to think of such a beautiful name since it means “refuge” an “idyllic place” a “paradise”.

As a good guide, I must tell you the second theory as to why our land was called Acadie.

The Mi’kmaq use the word “cadie” to denote “a place of abundance” so maybe Verrazzano’s map-making quill was guided by the interactions he had with the Indigenous people he met on the way.

A little research will tell you Verrazzano returned to North America two more times.

His first trip was to Brazil for brazilwood and a second trip took him to Florida, the Bahamas and the Lesser Antilles.

This is where his story ends. There are two versions of how he died but one of them is more dramatic.

Verrazzano’s ship was anchored out to sea off the island of Guadeloupe with a fleet of three ships. He rowed out to the far shore, out of gunshot range.

It is reported that he was killed and eaten by the inhabitants.

A few nights ago, my former work colleagues from Grand-Pré National Historic Site came over to hear about our trip to Italy but primarily to taste a bottle of Chianti Classico from Castello Di Verrazzano.IMG_1250

Someone couldn’t resist the pun “We’ll taste Verrazzano, but not like other people did!”

By the way, the wine was a smooth red.







Finding Marie-Françoise and Claude

It’s hard to resist the powerful story of young Madeleine LeBlanc. You can almost see her grabbing a hatchet saying: “Nous avons assez brayé”. No wonder the Acadian deportees, returning from exile in Massachusetts, were shaken from their grief and despair. We are told they dried their tears, building shelters beside the dense forests lining the rocky shoreline of Baie Sainte-Marie.

The rest is history, as they say. Madeleine went on to have a large family spreading throughout this close-knit string of communities. Its no wonder this “return from deportation” story has taken precedence with the people of Clare.

However, anyone who has looked at a family tree knows that when you are looking at eight generations of ancestors there are many stories, not just one.

The morning of November 16, 2017 was cloudy. Rain was in the forecast. Our crew sat in the warm, fragrant Port Williams restaurant, The Noodle Guy. We had freshly brewed coffee and our favourite thing on the menu…the sweet and savory Breakfast Thing.

François and I are former co-workers at Grand-Pré National Historic Site. He and his present co-workers Amy and Mike asked for a tour when their season was over. The main emphasis of the historic site is to give people an understanding of the Acadian story, with focus on the deportation, but individual stories are harder to find there.

I suspected they were mainly looking for historical locations like Pointe des Boudro (Starrs Point), Rivière aux Canards (Canard) and Pisiquid (Windsor). As a special treat, I decided to do advance research on Claude Saulnier and Marie-Françoise Aucoin. This would add an extra layer to our tour.

It wasn’t random. I wanted to choose a couple with family names often found in the Les Mines census. Today, that is the area from Kentville to Windsor including all the back roads and rivers.

If we were going to explore the landscape that had nurtured them, Claude Saulnier and Marie-Françoise Aucoin were a perfect pick especially since they appeared at least three times in François family tree.

Since my retirement I (and sometimes members of Les Amis de Grand-Pré) have been giving custom tours to people with an emphasis on their particular family connections to the area, formerly known as Les Mines.

In advance of our meeting I had compiled a dossier with information from books in my library, websites I consider reputable and previous tours. It’s amazing what census records, birth and death certificates and official documents can reveal.

“Today we will look at the Acadian landscape of Les Mines from the point of view of two of François’ ancestors.”

That got everyone’s attention. François was surprised. “Who are they?”

We checked the family chart done by another former co-worker of ours, Roger Hétu. I pointed to the highlighted names in the grand scheme of the chart.

“Marie-Françoise Aucoin married Claude Saulnier in 1752 when Marie-Françoise was 27 and Claude was 28.

She was born on May 26, 1725 in the Parish of Grand-Pré.

He was born in 1724 also in the Parish of Grand-Pré.”

Research shows that both of their families are found in the Census of Les Mines but NOT in the village of Grand-Pré, which was settled around the same time.

Why the discrepancy?

Well, prior to 1727, the parish of St Joseph de la Rivière aux Canards did not exist. If it had, no doubt the priest would have written that name in the register. Their families clearly lived on the north side of the present day Cornwallis River, formerly known as la Rivière Saint Antoine, amongst other names.

Sitting around a wooden table in old-fashioned chairs, we may have unconsciously conjured images of the bride and groom in our minds. Was she a slim bright-eyed brunette like most romantic writers described Acadian women? Was he a strong farmer, fidgeting uncomfortable in his Sunday best?

Back to reality, there were two concrete things to note. 1. They married relatively late in life for the times. 2. Their marriage was only three years before the fateful deportation year, 1755.

So who were the families of the bride and groom?

 The Aucoin family is found in the Census of 1686 so we know they were well established in the Rivière aux Canards area by the time of the wedding.

Our bride Marie-Françoise’s, grandfather Martin, is buried in the cemetery in Grand-Pré. Here’s a great quote from the parish register “mort subitement le jour de l’assencion au retour de la messe ayant toujours vecu fort chretiennement et avec edification” Clearly, the priest thought enough of Martin to give him a good report card.

Marie-Françoise’s grandmother, Marie Gaudet, is likely buried in the Cemetery at St Joseph de la Rivière aux Canards as she appears to have died later. In my research, I found hints and innuendo that Marie was Métis but no proof. I may just have missed it.

Marie-Françoise’s father was Pierre Aucoin. He died at the age of 59 on January 27, 1758 in Québec.

This fact was surprising at first but then I was reminded that during the deportation, Acadians were transported from Miramichi and Ile Saint-Jean to Québec. By 1758 more that 1,600 Acadians were living there. Pierre must have been one of the three hundred who died from smallpox (between November 17, 1757 to March 1, 1758).

Pierre Aucoin’s second wife, and mother of Marie-Françoise, was Catherine Comeau. They married in the summer of 1718 in the church of St Charles des Mines at Grand-Pré. She was related to the Babin family who famously donated land for the church in present-day Falmouth, Cimetière Ste Famille at 419 Gabriel Rd.

Our groom’s parents and grandparents, the Saulniers, were in the area early too. They are found in the Census of 1693 in the Rivière de la Vieille Habitation area. This river has retained some of its Acadian name though few people realize that fact today when they cross the small bridge to Canning and read the sign: Habitant River.

Our groom, Claude’s, father was René and his mother was Marie-Josèphe Trahan. Married in the fall of 1724, both René and Marie-Joséphe were exiled and died in Québec during the deportation; Marie-Josèphe most likely of smallpox.

The Saulnier/Trahan marriage is not surprising for this reason; records often list the Trahan, Saulnier, Pelletier and Lapierre families in the Vieille Habitation region. There is less arable land available in that area but Claude’s grandfather Louis is listed as a matelot (sailor) in census records.

So now we knew that, our bride and groom, Marie-Françoise Aucoin and Claude Saulnier were from the same region. Maybe they met at church, a barn raising, through friends…what ever it was, they were married in 1752 blissfully unaware of the path that lay before them.

We had places to see. We set out to locate the landscape that had nurtured Marie-Françoise and Claude.

3 à Pt des Boudrots

Our first stop was the deportation shoreline of Pointe des Boudrot. If Claude and Marie-Françoise had been part of the people who were summoned by Colonel Winslow for the embarkation on October 21, 1755, they would have been here with their neighbours.

Winslow’s journal: “although I put in more then two to a Tun & the People greatly crowded yet remains upon my hands for want of Transportes the whole Vilages of Antoine & Landry & Some of Cannard Amounting to 98 families & Upwards of Six Hundred Souls, All of which I removed from Budro Pointe to Grand Pre, Were I have at Present Set them down in Houses Nearest the Camp and Permit them to be with their familys …” The last group’s deportation was not until December.

From Pointe des Boudrot we could faintly see the church steeple of Grand-Pré to the east, past winding riverbanks and the town of Wolfville.


This is a required stop on our tours. Amy took notes, Mike searched the shoreline, François was reflective. Like most of my visitors to this place, they could feel the powerful energy of what had happened here, especially on this cold and cloudy day.

From there we headed out in search of the Saulnier family’s landscape but that meant we would have to pass the Canard River, which is now just a stream crossing Highway 358. A quick look at the blue sign on our right indicated the possible tide height if there were no dykes.

We were actually driving on the site of the last Acadian dyke built, the Grand Dyke. All the marshland to our left had already been reclaimed by the time the Acadians of Rivière aux Canards were sent into exile.

“Tout ça! All that!”


Passing Canning we drove the tangle of roads leading in and around Pereau- Habitant region. Today, there are farms with hearty vegetables but also inlets where Louis Saulnier, his son René or his grandson Claude might have put in their chaloupes or offloaded supplies from New England trading ships.

À l'anse des Saulniers

We found a nice straight gravel road leading inland to the foot of the mountain where we imagined houses nestled in the protection of it’s basalt hills and evergreen trees.

We walked through a plowed field, heads down looking for clues. A hawk flew overhead. Eventually we reached the jagged shoreline wondering if the secluded inlets and small harbours had made Louis Saulnier, the first ancestor, a young sailor, decide to settle there.

pottery in hand

Back in the car, we crossed the tiny Habitant River, then uphill to the Canard River Valley’s north ridge. Everyone gazed at the expanse of the still fertile lands, settling in for winter after a productive season.

We drove across the Upper dyke (another Acadian dyke) and arrived at Chipman Corner where a monument proclaims that the church of St Joseph de la Rivière aux Canards once stood here.

We paid our respects to Marie Gaudet, Marie-Françoise’s grandmother, speculating on exactly where the church would have stood and exactly where the cemetery would have been.

Driving along the South ridge of the Canard River Valley we crossed more streams flowing into the Canard, a barn located on the spot where Acadian women buried their precious things before leaving and where an Acadian windmill once ground grain.

This was the landscape Marie-Françoise Aucoin and Claude Saulnier had left as a young married couple.

It was going to take at least one more hour before we got to our final stop and the clouds were darkening. Was that rain drops on the windshield? We skipped Grand-Pré for obvious reasons…maybe we would drive out of the rain on the way to Falmouth.

À Cimetière Ste Famille

Remember, it was the Babin family who donated land for the Sainte Famille Parish on the south side of the Pisiquid River. We stopped to pay our respects and appreciate the now-familiar Acadian landscape of the Pisiquid (Avon) River Valley: large dyked farmlands, houses on the uplands, streams flowing into the main river, mentions of windmills and churches.

Finally we arrived at Fort Edward and I was able to tell François, Amy and Mike what I had found about the rest of Marie-Françoise and Claude’s story.

Shortly after their marriage, our young-ish couple settled close to his brothers on the Petcoudiac River in what is now New Brunswick, then known as l’Acadie Française. They built the third house in the settlement known as La Prée des Lacouline.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that across the narrow river from their homestead was the homestead of Pierre Suret and Catherine Bro (my ancestors), who had also re-located from Rivière aux Canards! I could see François was amazed at this twist of fate too.

“Really? Our ancestors were neighbours?”

“Ça paraît!” (Looks like it!)

Two daughters were born to Marie-Françoise and Claude in 1754 and 1755, but in June 1755 Fort Beauséjour was captured. Some men were taken prisoners then deported but I did not find any indication that Claude had been one of them.

Many Acadian families living along the rivers fled to their hiding places in the woods. In September, the Saulnier brother’s houses, barns, crops and animals were put to the flame.

I wasn’t able to find many details about the four years of hiding from raiding parties. That is probably better left to the imagination because in November of 1759, Acadian deputies surrendered in the name of hundreds of refugees rather than die of starvation and deprivation. They were subsequently transported on ships to Fort Edward as prisoners.

Incredibly, in 1761 a son was born to Marie-Françoise Aucoin and Claude Saulnier at Pisiquid.

I had copies of pages from Isaac Deschamps’ list of July 12, 1762 noting the men too sick to be sent to Halifax for a last ditch attempt at deportation to Boston. We found Claude Saulnier and Pierre Suret. The list appeared to show only older men, the younger ones obviously headed for Boston.

Then our fingers searched Isaac Deschamps’ list of August 9, 1762 noting the “French” prisoners left at Fort Edward. Found: Claude Saulnier’s family of 6, Pierre Suret’s family of 5.

We were sobered at the disparity in these totals: Men 21, Women 90, Children 202.

By mid-October the able-bodied men returned, having been turned away from Boston. Imagine the homecoming!

Two years later another son is born to Marie-Françoise and Claude still at Pisiquid where the Acadians lived in a limbo-like state between “captive” and “free with restrictions” after the peace of 1763.

On December 23, 1767 the NS Council grants land to returning Acadians providing they will be loyal and sign the latest Oath of Allegiance.

The Saulnier families officially arrive in Clare in 1785. They call their village Saulnierville.

Three children are born to Marie-Françoise and Claude at Baie Sainte Marie.

 Claude dies on May 6, 1801 in Baie Ste Marie at the age of 77.

Marie-Françoise death is recorded as July 1808 in Pointe de l’Église. She lived to the age of 83.

Fort Edward

As if waiting for our pilgrimage’s harrowing conclusion, the cold wind and driving rain caused us to huddle together against the outside wall of Fort Edward’s blockhouse while we tried to fit all the pieces of Marie-Françoise and Claude’s story together.

One of the enduring impressions of that day is that François and I have ancestors who had been friends and had experienced the deportation years together. Eight generations later, we were still standing together at Fort Edward!

As for Marie-Françoise Aucoin and Claude Saulnier, they had survived an “upheaval” story rather than a “deportation” story but the legendary deportee Madeleine LeBlanc’s other famous quote still seems appropriate:

“La misère n’a jamais tué personne.” (Misery never killed anyone)

NOTE: After I got home I retrieved the shards of pottery that Mike had been on the lookout for, with a little help from the rest of us. I decided to arrange them somehow. I was (and still am) amazed by what appeared!




Some things are hard to explain…

… like Rappie Pie!

How does one begin to describe this quintessential Acadian comfort food? The ingredients are familiar: potatoes, chicken, onions and broth.

Explaining the process sounds long and difficult. Grate potatoes, squeeze out the liquid, replace the liquid with broth, layer the gooey mixture (maybe that’s an un-appealing word but how else can you describe it?) with chicken, onions, and pork bits. Bake for hours.

The crusty, steaming, slimy (here we go again with un-appealing words!) subtly flavoured result shouts HOME! You just want to sit and enjoy.

Église et Tipi

Recently, I had the chance to sit and enjoy Grand-Pré 2017, a festival to celebrate and re-kindle the 400 year-old friendship between the Mi’kmaq people and the Acadian people. Like all friendships, everything has not been rosy in the last 400 years but like the Grand Chief reminded us, we have survived, now we can look forward.

The last fiddle notes and drumbeats have drifted away but I, like many others who had the privilege to be there, am still processing the experience.

Like Rappie Pie, the traditional Acadien casserole type dish, the whole weekend was hard to describe but oh so worthwhile.

Here is a lasting memory of one of the many informal conversations I had throughout the weekend.

A middle-aged Mi’kmaq woman said, “What’s that?” pointing at the sign for Rappie Pie: Râpure. The subtle scent of our bubbly baked delicacy was in the air but my feeble attempts at making it sound appealing finally culminated with me guiding her to the booth where she could see and sample the finished product.

The food tent was at the entrance of the magnificently arranged festival site. From there a line of brightly striped tents formed a colourful, informative and entertaining corridor. The sounds of music on the Main Stage drew people forward and on to the historic gardens and Memorial Church of the National Historic Site.

In the adjacent field a circle of tipi’s had been erected. Here, Mi’kmaq experts in storytelling, medicinal herbs, basket making, sacred fires, wigwam construction, and hide tanning shared their knowledge with people from many different backgrounds. Planked salmon cooking on open fires perfumed the air. Everyone seemed eager to learn about our provinces indigenous people, even on a rainy Saturday.

At the side of this circle of tipi’s (symbolically not quite part of the circle but close) was the yurt housing the Rendez-vous Acadien.

For three days, this venu was packed with people hungry to understand more about the Acadian-Mi’kmaq relationship with guest Mi’kmaq, Metis and Acadian experts.

At the beginning of the first day’s rencontre there was a Smudging Ceremony reminding me of the incense used in Catholic churches. It was easy to see this as a common practice between the first French explorers and Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Membertou who was baptized in 1604. Thereafter, his people followed his example.

From 1604 to 1632 there were no French women colonists in Acadie. It didn’t take long for the obvious liasons to take place between the French men and Mi’kmaq women. Alliances and marriages were desirable and encouraged on all sides. I learned that French Governor d’Aulnay had a son with a Mi’kmaq woman in Pentaguët. The governor’s grandson became a Wabanaki Chief. That’s just one of many documented cases. Let’s not forget Charles de LaTour, my famous ancestor who had Mi’kmaq wives and children!

Once French families arrived in the 1630’s, these alliances between the French and Mi’kmaq continued and the resulting Metis were a part of Mi’kmaq or Acadian communities. All sorts of personal reasons must have determined which community was chosen.

Usually, Acadian farming communities were established along the coast. That didn’t bother the Mi’kmaq because the forest was still available. The fur trade was the main reason to maintain contact with Europeans anyway.

Because of their familiarity with both cultures, Métis descendants were often translators and guides. We learned that in 1716, Jeanne Mius d’Entremont was hired as an interpreter for the French in Louisbourg.

In 1750, a priest sending a report noted the close ties between Acadians and Mi’kmaq this way “Les deux peoples sont fondé ensemble.

Many of us in the Rendez-vous tent could recall only frosty relations between Acadians and Mi’kmaq in the last part of the 1900’s.

The burning question was obvious: “If things were good at the start but became bad. What caused the break?” As you would expect, it’s complicated, even more than Rappie Pie…. which can be a flop if you mix the wrong ingredients.

The experts spoke of the impact of the Treaty of Utrech (1713), which determined that NS would be a British territory once and for all.

The Mi’kmaq resist this declaration. The concept of land ownership is foreign to them. Their teachings say: the land doesn’t belong to us; we belong to the land.

They maintain their historical allegiance to the French.

New England sends raiders.

17th and 18th century Acadians can be clannish and don’t always encourage intermarriage between themselves and indigenous people.

The Acadian bourgeoisie stay close to the capital.

The Metis feel threatened and move east, away from Port Royal, to Pisiquit and Cobequit.

The Acadians (and Métis living in Acadian communities) take great pains to emphasize their position of Neutrality for the security of their families and lands throughout Acadie.

Eventually, the Mi’kmaq sign a peace treaty with the British in 1752.

Neutrality doesn’t work for any of the Acadians. The Deportation of 1755 clears out most of the population (including the mixed-blood Metis who were a part of Acadian communities and the bourgeoisie.)

After 1763, Acadians slowly return in small numbers and greatly depleted. It is hard to find good news in Acadian history for a hundred years after that.

The Confederation of Canada is proclaimed in 1867.

Nine years later, Reserves to control land and people are established by the Indian Act of 1876 and Residential Schools are established to assimilate “Indians” into society from the 1870’s to the 1990’s.

We heard that from 1800-1950 the Federal government sends only Anglophone teachers into aboriginal communities. Cultural impressions are propagated through language and literature. The message is clear: “You can’t trust the French and Indians”.

Here, it’s good to remember that Acadian history’s pivotal motivation has been the importance of family and independence. In the face of these examples, is it any wonder that, as one of the presenters stated, the Acadian position was: “Whatever we are, we’re not them”.

A stark example of this is, in the 1860’s the so-called Acadian Élite deny the obvious, propagating the Evangeline Myth to build a pure Acadian National Identity.

Yes, there is work to do but unlike other groups, the Mi’kmaq and Acadian people have a common foundation of peace and friendship to build upon, that’s a great place to start.

In 2017 the first Rassemblement de paix et d’amitié du people mi’kmaq et du people acadien was held from August 10-13. There were corporate sponsors including many government agencies, media and community partners. The historic site was buzzing with activity and positive energy.

Like I said, it’s complicated and hard to explain but like Rappie Pie, this first rencontre was worth the time and effort.

Many people expressed a desire for more of these gatherings for peace, friendship and reconciliation.

We can’t wait another 400 years!

Panorama tipi


Acadian Reflections on Canada 150 PLUS


As I drove home from Grand-Pré National Historic Site on July 1st, I caught a glimpse of a sign at one of our local farm markets. It seemed appropriate.

Canada 150 PLUS

Although festivities were destined to be soggy in Nova Scotia, and many other parts of the country according to CBC, everyone seemed determined to ignore the unwelcomed forecast. It was an important day after all. A National Holiday, a festival of red, white and maple leaves.

Canada 150 PLUS. I like the PLUS.

Au depart, j’ai été ambivalente sur le sujèt de les celebrations du 150ième anniversaire du Canada, principalement parce que l’histoire qui m’interesse comprends un temps longtemps avant 1867.

My historical interests go back a few hundred years before the milestone we are celebrating this year so this anniversary has seemed like a nice party, an important date to mark but a relatively modern event.

I know the Mi’kmaq have made the same point but in their case, history goes back 13,000 years before 1867.

In fact, many other groups of people had already made this land their new home well before independence was negotiated and the British North America Act was proclaimed in London.

You could say we make up the foundation of Canada, as diverse as the rocks, hand-forged iron nails and shards of pottery regularly uncovered by archaeologists.

The whole thing has caused me to reflect on my Acadian-Canadian history. In my years as an interpreter at Grand-Pré NHS I gradually came to realize how some aspects of the Acadian story could be seen as a foreshadowing of the Canada we have today.

DÈRACINÉ a work by Frankie Macaulay

Too often, we automatically think of the deportation of 1755 when Acadian history comes up but there was so much more to it.

Historians tell us that from the beginning, we were eager to establish relations with our new neighbours even though we didn’t share a common language or beliefs. As anyone who has travelled knows, having someone at your destination show you around is the best determination of success. Our new neighbours, the Mi’kmaq, showed us how to negotiate the weather, the terrain and taught us about the society they had built for themselves.

Our neighbours to the south, England’s North American Colonies, had huge populations and lots of influence by comparison. (Population #’s: Massachussetts 20,000 in 1654, Acadie 300 in 1650).

Living next to this “elephant” demanded all our skills of compromise and conciliation. When I watch the news today, I still see those strategies at play.

Contrary to popular belief, the villages we eventually established were not closed-in on themselves. Although there were political and policy changes that caused restrictions to immigration, a quick look at the founding family names will debunk the notion of an insular population.

Many Acadians can point to at least one indigenous ancestor in their family tree. Check the list of Acadian family names, some of them are still common in Ireland, The Netherlands, Spain and England. For proof that integration with the French colonists was happening you will still find numbers of Acadian descendants still bearing those names.

Adapting and Welcoming are in our DNA.

Early Acadians could not have been successful without strong community supports. Projects like dyking the highest tides in the world to reclaim fertile farmlands cannot be completed single-handedly. Today’s volunteer firefighters, and the communities that support them know all about community support.

Early visitors even marveled at the overall egalitarian nature of our communities, though if you lived in those communities you would know that certain family groups were more heavily represented in the upper echelons. What was noteworthy was the overall mutual support.

Today we have Universal Healthcare and a variety of social agencies to help citizens. We regularly hear of fundraising activities for worthy causes. The wealthy make sizeable contributions and the least wealthy parts of the country step up to help, every time.

Everyone knows that everything was not always rosy for the early Acadians, even though Longfellow tried to indicate it was an idyllic time. Things are not perfect now either. That is reality.

When early Acadians had disputes, their last resort was the courts-most notably in Port Royal where documents still survive to illustrate the point.

Today our courts are still the ones who have the last word.

Many people don’t know that Acadians elected Deputies from each region to represent them to the authorities. These men were chosen by their peers and served limited terms. This didn’t happen in other new colonies but it worked here. Sound familiar? It could be a blueprint for our present-day MLA’s and MP’s.

Prosperity depended on exploiting natural resources. In the Acadian example it was the transformation of salt marshes into highly productive farms using the adapted technological systems of dykes and aboiteau.

Our Canadian prosperity is still linked to our resources, hard work and ingenuity.

What eventually became our Acadian Nation was a trading entity. Ships from New England and those who plied the triangular trade routes from the Caribbean stopped to load cargo and deposit goods at our wharves and warehouses.

Today’s Canada still views trade as a priority.

When I spoke to visitors at the National Historic Site I often heard about their family’s personal journeys and the similarities to the Acadian deportation. I came to see how the Acadian story could be a model for them, especially new Canadians.

In spite of terrible events in our past, determination and hard work have paid off. In general, Acadians are doing well the Canada of 2017.

If we can share our story, we can be an inspiration.

Happy Canada 150 …. PLUS.



Marie Thérèsa of Austria

Our flight into Amsterdam provided breathtaking views of neat lime green dykeland farms reminding me of the Annapolis Valley farms of Nova Scotia. However, there were so many more of them and they had no North and South Mountains for protection against the wind.

It made me think of my neighbours who immigrated from the Netherlands and now farm our dykelands. Even with hectares under production, their New World farms must have seemed small to them at first, compared to those spreading in regular patterns below our aircraft.

The next afternoon, our ship left Amsterdam bound for Budapest. We had seen canals with sluce gates (aboiteau to me) and now acres of flat farmlands with the occasional herd of sheep or cattle provided familiar scenery.

Brochures and positive reviews from past River Cruisers promised an unforgettable experience. Our itinerary listed the Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. It seemed clear that we had seen the end of any relevant Acadian, or even Nova Scotia history.

Spectacular scenery revealed itself to us on a regular basis right from the start. IMG_2927There were mountainous gorges with towering castle ruins reminding us of the power of the nobles over the inhabitants of riverside villages lining the narrow waterways our ship navigated. Terraced vinyards wound like ribbons on the mountainsides and amazingly produced some of the world’s finest wines.


Our visits to picturesque villages with half-timbered buildings and opulent Bishop’s Residences spoke of the disparity between the working classes versus the rich and powerful.

Occasionally, there were hints of a powerful monarchy with references to their summer palaces and occasional residences but it wasn’t until we visited the 900-year-old Benedictine Abbey in Melk, Austria that I made the Acadian connection. It wasn’t the ornate gold leaf walls, fresco ceilings, library lined with ancient texts or the baroque architecture that did it though!

Meeting Maria Thérèsa in Melk

It was the focus on Queen Maria Thérèsa of Austria, the object of the War of the Austrian Succession.

From then on, I learned more about this amazing woman who came to power at a time when women in charge were unknown, or at least undesired.

Like Victoria and Elizabeth, who Canadian schoolchildren and PBS watchers know, a young un-prepared woman who inherits an empire has a lot of enemies. In Maria-Thérèsa’s case it was the neighbouring leaders who forgot their promises to her father honoring the agreement they had made to accept her reign upon his death.

That’s what the War of the Austrian Succession was all about.

By now, you may be wondering what all of that has to do with Acadie. Last year I attended a workshop with a Parks Canada historian. The subject of the founding of Halifax was discussed and that’s when the historical context of the War of the Austrian Succession came up.

The dates are 1740-1748.

Now, that’s a timeline I’m familiar with…a time of relative peace in Acadie but with ominous signs on the horizon.

Although the War of the Austrian Succession mainly involved Europe, the old conflicts spilled over to North America. England was interested in supporting Maria-Thérèsa’s Austria as a counter balance against France.

France was looking west. The historian reminded us of the ill-fated Duc d’Anville expedition of June-October 1746 which had been launched by France to re-take Louisbourg, Fort Anne and even Boston.

11,000 men and 64 ships might have been successful had it not been for calm winds, lightning, scurvy and typhus.

The English got the message. The next year New England troops came up the coast and fought the Battle of Grand-Pré against French troops, native warriors and a small number of Acadian recruits…and lost!

All of this left the majority Acadian civilian population, living in Nova Scotia, nervous especially when the victorious French troops withdrew from Acadian territory. One report tells of Acadians being alarmed, disappointed and feeling abandoned to British retribution. History would prove this correct.

In 1749, seasoned soldier Edward Cornwallis founded Halifax; no more Mr. Nice Guys who sought compromises. His mission was to establish a new fortress city at the well-known Chebucto harbour. This would show King George’s domination over the territory.

Many historians have described the deterioration of relations between the British’s new hard-line administration and the Acadians…we all know how it ends…. deportations beginning in 1755.

Schönbrunn Palace

So what happened to Maria Thérèsa? Though history books can get bogged down with battles, power plays and the role of smallpox in determining who survives. I have found that Maria Thérèsa grows into the job. She has many children with her beloved husband, reforms the Hapsburg Empire and has the incredible energy of dynamic leaders. Under her leadership: education, labour rules, the economy, finances and health policy are improved.

On the personal side, she liked to party, especially when she was younger. She took designated time for her children and oversaw their upbringing.

We learned that after a 1741 visit to Melk Abbey she famously said that she would regret if she had not been here. It was one of her favourite places, no wonder, we were glad to be there too.

In a way, we followed her…or she followed us… from Melk… as our journey continued. Her palaces and residences are landmarks all over Austria in particular.

IMG_3460Her era was the same as the Acadian ancestors I have been researching. Born in 1717 she was just 9 years younger than my seven times great grandmother Catherine Bro. Both women lived into their 60’s.

Maria-Thérèsa was the mother of 16 children, Catherine had 8 and while one is known as the Mother-in-Law of Europe, due to her ability to arrange advantageous marriages for her surviving children (smallpox again), the other has a more modest list of descendants.

On the other hand, one of Maria Thérèsa’s more famous daughters was Marie Antoinette. You know her, wife of King Louis sixteenth of France who met with an unfortunate end.

In all my historical research, I have not found any of my ancestors who died from the guillotine so while being part of the social class who lived in small villages in the shadow of a fortress had many challenges there were some advantages!














La jolie Rochelle

pink sunsetEn revenant de la jolie Rochelle”…the words of a song we had learned in school floated in the pale blue evening sky and drifted towards cotton-candy clouds.

The 8th of June, 2016 had been another full day at La Rochelle. First thing in the morning we visited Les Archives Départementales de La Rochelle where we were shown historical documents from Acadian times.

Previously, on the drive from La Chaussée we had discussed the dueling historical perspectives on Charles de Saint-Étienne de la Tour and Charles de Menou d’Aulnay. We  remarked that the French prefer d’Aulany’s heroics, especially in his home territory around La Chaussée.

D’Aulnay’s mansion

In Par en Bas, where I’m from and where most of us have a bit of La Tour blood in our veins, we lean towards the La Tour side of the story. Most people who have read anything on Acadian history know about their feud.

How amazing it was to see that the Archives had the original concessions given to Charles de la Tour when he was lieutenant général pour le roi en la côte de l’Acadie that is Lieutenant General for the King on the coast of Acadie. In the concession he recieved a) The fort and habitations on rivière Saint-Jean and b) Fort Saint-Louis in Cap de Sable. Date: 21 mars 1635, amirauté de La Rochelle. Impressive eh?

Monument étrange à Fort St Louis. Photo pris en 2015

Léona CormierMaster Ship Carpenter, Robert Cormier’s three-year contract for work at Fort Saint Pierre in Cape Breton told us he also took his wife and two children along. It seems they never came back to France. His son Thomas eventually married Marie-Madeleine Girouard, they had Anne and she married Michel Haché around 1690. They are the ancestors of all the Cormier in North America. What a thrill it was for Léona to touch this part of her history!

The main event of our visit was the parish register for Beaubassin’s Paroisse Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption for the years 1712-1748. This old tattered ledger was saved by Acadians fleeing the deportations starting in 1755, first to St Pierre & Miquelon then La Rochelle in 1778. What a thrill to leaf through the document filled with Acadian family names: Bourg, Doucet, Daigle, Arsenaud, Chiasson, Godet, Richard.


Personally, I was floored to find Jean Pottier’s name. My family tree is full of Pottier’s so it was especially interesting to see that he had signed his name, not the usual X. I had to laugh when I saw he had also made a sign (more like a squiggle) next to his name. It looked like a crown. In my family, it was an accepted truth that the Pottiers (no matter how they spell their names today) are smart and industrious. Chips off the old block? Must be! A few days earlier, I had noted that French locals used to pronounce Grandmère Rosalie’s maiden name “Po-ché” like us in Par en Bas!

The magnificent waterfront with it’s imposing Grosse Horloge Gate and moored sailboats, sitting on the mud of low tide, were our surroundings for lunch at an outdoor restaurant. Then it was a tour of La Rochelle, starting with a Musketeer who just appeared from around the time of he Siege of La Rochelle in 1627 to give us a historical account!

Supper was served by male waiters dressed in housedresses, the restaurant’s name Bistrot de Mémé, said it all.

After an entertaining and tasty supper a few of us set out in search of the beach. We had heard it was there but not found it yet and time was running out. Usually, the iconic harbour with it’s landmark towers the of Saint-Nicolas and la Chaîne had been as far as we had gone.


Anne, Annette, Gloria, Paula and I formed an informal search party. We followed cobblestone streets, narrow alleys and small bridges over rushing waters. When we reached it, the small beach gave a whole different feeling to the city. Hundreds of masts from neatly anchored sailboats bobbed in the marina on the horizon.

It really came home to us then. This water, this sea, this seaport was where our ancestors had sailed away from the lives they had known, headed for the New World-Acadie and uncertain futures. Now, almost ten generations later, we were back.

Susan at beach 2

We took turns walking in the rippling surf; a kind of benediction, a spiritual connection with our past, a tangible sign.

From the beach we could see where parts of the walls still existed for this formerly walled city.

One by one, we climbed on the stone step built along the wall. We guessed it would take us to the Tour de la Lanterne. How appropriate that it would be a lighthouse leading Acadians home. The setting sun warmed its cream coloured stone walls and ornate spires in the distance.tower and mur

“En revenant de la jolie Rochelle” I don’t know who started singing it but soon we had all joined in. It was the perfect song for this night.

“J’ai rencontré trois jolies demoiselles.” We sang softly but clearly.

“C’est l’aviron qui nous mène, qui nous mène.” Ancient stone houses with terra cotta pots beside doors and flower-boxes filled with red geraniums witnessed our return.

“J’ai point choisi mais j’ai pris la plus belle.” Our footsteps crunched on the ancient stones and our fingers danced on the top of the gritty weathered stone wall.

“C’est l’aviron qui nous mène, c’est l’aviron qui nous mène en haut.”

Village Bro à Martock

Watercolour memories

Two hundred sixty one years ago, they disappeared from this landscape but sixty-two years before that, they were just beginning.

Antoine Breau was twenty-six when the census-taker of 1693 enumerated the inhabitants of the Pisiquid district. He was settled on the opposite side of the Pisiquid River from his in-laws but not so far that his wife, 22-year-old Marguerite Babin could not keep in touch with her family. There was no doubt that regular visits would take place, especially when the Babin family donated some of their land for the church of Ste Famille de Pisiquid.

In 1754, when the Bro and Babin families paid their taxes with the other inhabitants of Pisiquid, their names were listed together: a tangible demonstration of family bonds.

On a clear day, Antoine and Marguerite could look across the Pisiquid River Valley, see the steeple of their parish church, and hear its bell tolling the Angelus. When the tide was low, the growing family crossed the Pisiquid on the naturally occurring gypsum land bridge that revealed itself at the narrow part of the muddy river bottom.

By 1755, the couple had 11 children. Some of them, like Antoine’s namesake married local girls, like Marguerite Dugas, and stayed close to their parents but others settled closer to the families of their in-laws.

So what was their Acadian village like? So much has been forgotten. Ancient maps provide clues but place names have changed, not to mention the addition of new roads and buildings.

On November 9th, 2016 our group was welcomed to walk the land, explore the possibilities and imagine the lost history of this landscape. Our guides were Mike Oulton and Richard Armstrong.

old-apple-variety-2We began at an ancient apple tree producing an unknown variety of apple. We were told that samples of the apples were taken to Dalhousie University to determine the variety. Maybe it would be possible to find out if it really was from Acadian times as the farmer suspected when he spared it from the axe. It reminded us of a Russet with its rough skin and round shape but was this greenish apple really the descendant of our ancestor’s apples? By the look of the gnarled apple tree, it seemed possible.

Mike was anxious for us to see the cellars he had found and preserved from the plow, though not from the bushes, on his property.

From the grassy hillside, the Pisiquid river valley spread out before us. Ste Famille Cemetery’s location was identified on the distant hills. Marshland fields, green and golden yellow, had given up their bounty of hay for the cattle and sheep dotting the countryside.

We couldn’t see the river from this vantage point, but it was interesting to get a perspective of the Falmouth-Martock area from this height. Usually, we follow the road at sea level where the marshlands still produce cattle feed.

We soon reached the stone groupings suspected to be cellars. One was smaller than the other but of typical Acadian house dimensions (16×16 or thereabouts). Whoever lived there had fresh spring water, rolling hills for grazing animals and a great view of their marshland farm below.

The next cellar was more controversial. Mike had previously been told by a visiting historian that the dimensions indicated it was too big to be a house. 30 feet by 40 feet was much larger than the traditionally accepted size of an Acadian house. He had been told that this was more likely a church.

“Is it a house or a church?” That was the question we debated.

Some of us liked the idea that this could have been the family home of Antoine Bro. Old maps had told us this was the Village Bro. His family lived here for 60 years, why couldn’t their house be on the top scale of the average size home?

Antoine had a large family (including some nephews from Grand-Pré) who joined him in Pisiquid.

We made the argument that you would need space for all those people.

The placement of the cellar reinforced our theory. It was not in plain view like most churches.

Instead it was partially sheltered from the north wind by a gently sloping hill between it and the marshland. Trickling past the cellar was a fresh water stream that never goes dry. Adjacent to the cellar stood an apple orchard, which is obviously a modern planting, but if apples can grow there now, why couldn’t they grow there before 1755? We were told that the landscape had not been significantly modified since the Acadians were deported.

We asked ourselves, “Other than the dimensions, what makes this the possible cellar of a church?” We knew that no exact accounts of a church existing on this side of the Pisiquid River have survived so the idea of a church on this site seemed unlikely… except for one possibility.

When the church of l’Assomption, the second church in the Pisiquid area, was forcibly re-located to build Fort Edward, could the new church actually have been built in Martock?

“If it is a church site, shouldn’t it be in plain view?” In the Maritimes a church steeple is often a navigation point, why would it be hidden by a hill?

The “pro-house” argument seemed to have won the argument until we remembered that by the time the church of L’Assomption was re-located, the Acadians may have deliberately chosen a low-key location to stay out of trouble and out of sight of Fort Edward.

In the end, we decided this would be a good project for archaeologists and our interested landowner. A great combination! We will be following any developments closely.

close-up-horseIt was time for the second part of our visit. Curious horses followed us out of their pasture as we headed off to a woodland landscape.

The road was not much more than a trail now. Had it once been a village? There were holes that may have been small cellars but no cellar stones. Access to a variety of trees and game was evident but it was hard to imagine why any Acadians would live so far from the marshlands.

Could it have been a hiding place?

A few years ago, our group Les Amis de Grand-Pré took a walking tour to the place called French Fort in local folklore. It is located at the back of present-day New Minas.

This landscape was similar, so when Richard told us about the lookout that the Acadians had on the rocky ridge of Martock, he got our attention. Then he showed us a written account he had discovered which told of soldiers finding an encampment of Acadians, post deportation.

old-french-roadUsually, there is no mention of Acadians escaping the deportation in Windsor but what if? What if they were hiding out in the woods at the base of the mountain and keeping a lookout on the Pisiquid & the Ste Croix rivers from the rocky ledge, like the Minas Acadians were doing from the French Fort?

As our feet crunched on the spongy woods-road sparkling with frosty grass and fallen leaves, Richard pointed out the direction of an Acadian mill site at the head of Bro Brook located at the foot of rocky Martock.

That exploration would have to wait for another day. Our stomachs were grumbling and our feet were wet as we said good-by to Richard with armloads of cider, our thank-you for an unforgettable morning adventure.frosted-leaves

As for Antoine’s family, we are told that 261 years ago they disappeared from this landscape. Historians say that most of them were shipped out to Maryland, Virginia or Philadelphia, ending up in places like France or Louisiana but was that everybody?

Had they really all disappeared from the area or were some of them surveying the scene from their Martock lookout and deciding what to do next?



Up to that day, our France des Acadiens trip had been educational, lighthearted, happy, and fun but when we reached the US and Canadian War Cemeteries, everyone became somber and quiet.

We dropped our Cajun cousins off at the US Military Cemetery first.

Memories of D-Day

It seemed to be in the centre of town: traffic whizzing past an attention grabbing monument in front of the museum. There were a variety of reactions to it: smiles, photos, but raised eyebrows too.

As our busload of Acadians approached the Canadian Military Cemetery at Bény-sur-mer, we were surrounded by fields in cultivation. It was quiet, birdsong and gentil breezes stirred the air. We were the only visitors.

Canadian Cemetery flags

Our tour guides had thought of everything; small Acadian flags to place at tombstones, a plan for finding specific soldiers’ resting places, time to look over documents and spend quiet time with our fallen Canadians. Some members of our group talked with the lone maintenance man in hushed tones.

Bény-sur-mer entrance

Others had a mission. I found my friend, Carolyn’s grandfather’s tombstone and someone else paid tribute to a fallen uncle from the North Shore Regiment.  Clara and Marcelle from Clare found the name of a neighbour’s son. We all remarked at the Acadian surnames on the carved tombstones.

Dans ce cimetière reposent des soldats canadiens tués lors des premières semaines de la bataille de Normandie en juin et début juillet 1944. En marchant le long des rangées de pierre tombales blanche on réfléchi …des jeunes hommes, loin de leur pays et familles, dans un pays si beau et tranquille aujourd’hui… mais pas en été 1944.

L’enfer c’est souvenir. Hell is Remembering

St Aubin sur mer

Most of us know about the world wars but if you’re like me, living in Canada, you know about it in abstract ways unless your family was directly impacted. Books, movies, poems and personal stories from veterans have informed me, but until I was actually where it happened, it remained a historical event for me.

Our France des Acadiens tour took us to a beautiful seaside town called St Aubin sur mer where we were warmly received by residents who had survived the war and many who still had vivid memories of it. We were told that 90% of the houses along the beach were destroyed by bombardment. It was hard to believe when you looked at the buildings which have been reconstructed in the old style.

St Aubin sur mer has a particular connection with Acadians…particularly New Brunswick Acadians because it was the North Shore Regiment who liberated them from the Germans on June 6, 1944.

In preparation for our visit, we saw a movie to compliment the information we had already received prior to leaving Canada. I was interested to see who the 20 something North Shore Regiment men were and what had brought them here.

It was a familiar story in some ways. To say that their lives had been hard before the war would be one way to cover the facts. Education was minimal. Only hard physical work was available, if at all. Young Acadian men, hungry and wearing homespun clothes couldn’t help but admire the soldiers in their smart uniforms. So they volunteered even though they could not speak English and orders were only given in English.

Training took place in NB, then they were off to England to wait and train. Finally on June 6th, they were deployed. One of the men in the film spoke of the complete silence that reigned in the debarkation ship, each man thinking of their families and wondering if he would survive the day. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The title of this post is a quote from one of the veterans.

Over the years, I have heard some Acadians and Cajuns speak of the advantages they had during the Second World War because they could speak English and French. Here’s the St Aubin version. When the North Shore Regiment men reached the town of St Aubin sur mer, they were able to communicate with the terrified residents who could not speak English to the liberating forces. What an unexpected gift!

The bonds have held. Our group of Acadians and Cajuns were treated like visiting stars by residents who entertained us with traditional songs and were genuinely happy to see us, talk to us and tell us their stories.

The war is not abstract any more. breche-explained


Le Loutre à Jersey

Fortified island off St Malo

A side trip to see if we could see any references to Charles Robin mainly, but with the idea that abbé le Loutre was emprisoned

Rainy St Aubin Bay

there after his attempted escape from Fort Beausejour in 1755.

At the start of our bus tour on the island (in the rain) we were told that ships to and from the new world would harbour at St Aubin’s Bay.

We could imagine Charles Robin’s ships loaded with fish from the North Atlantic landing here, carrying the seasonal catches of re-patriated Acadian workers in places like the Gaspesie and Cheticamp. How did that happen? Who? That story will follow. Hint: Joseph-Mathurin Bourg

Look through the rain drops….is that Elizabeth Castle where Abbé le Loutre spent over seven years? If not, it surely is one of the nearby fortified islands that dotted the shoreline of Jersey and St Malo. No escaping from those prisons!

Le Loutre is famous or infamous depending on who you talk to but if the Acadians thought they had heard the last of him and his agitating ways, they were wrong.