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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!