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Published May 15, 1998

Canadian Maritime History Lesson, Part I - Miíkmaq and Malecite Indians; Acadian French
By Sandra Devlin


This and subsequent columns will attempt to encapsulate the major early settlement patterns within their historical contexts which represent the majority of the population elements of the modern-day Maritime provinces. Some of the early history is shared between the three; some is uniquely regional or provincial.

There are eight definable pioneer settlement cycles in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island:
  • Mi’kmaq and Malecite Indians
  • Acadian French
  • Planters
  • Scots
  • Philadelphia covenantors
  • Yorkshire settlers
  • United Empire Loyalists
  • Irish
This column will deal with the two earliest, the history of which is common in all the three provinces.

Mi’kmaq and Malecite Indians:

Both Mi’kmaq (Micmac) and Malecite (Maliseet) peoples were Algonkian-speaking; the former being prevalent and nomadic tribal hunters and fishers; the latter concentrated largely along the St. John River in present-day New Brunswick and distinguished corn growers.

Micmac single family wigwam from an 1850 oil painting by an unknown artist. Before European incursion, Mi’kmaq occupied most of the Maritime provinces. Mi’kmaq descent was traced through the male line and marriage between clans was forbidden. In later years, both tribes sided with the French against the English. Consequently Malecite clans were forced to areas of northern New Brunswick and neighboring Quebec. Some Mi’kmaq were taken to Newfoundland in the 18th century by both French and English to abet the extinction of that province’s aboriginal Beothuk.

Lore prevails which depicts early aboriginal peoples as feared antagonists of the white, European pioneers. But, abundant evidence also proves that without the social co-operation of landed aboriginals who shared their skills for growing corn, medicinal herbs to treat ailments and canoe and snowshoe travel over well-established trails , many fewer pioneers would have survived the early perils of their wilderness homes. Nor should it be forgotten that from native linguistic origins come many of our more colorful place names like: Chebogue, Chezzetcook, Ecum Secum, Kejimkujik, Kouchibouguac, Nashwaaksis, Nauwigewauk, Passamaquoddy, Quispamsis, Shinimicas and Tatamagouche.

Acadian French:

From 1604 until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1712, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia (including Ile-Royale later Cape Breton) and Prince Edward Island (Ile St- Jean) was one vast French colony called Acadia.

The French Cross still stands in modern Acadia Hardy Acadian pioneers conquered the heavily forested wilds of the virgin territory, cleared land and established farms. The Acadians are esteemed for reclaiming flood-prone marshlands from the ocean tides by constructing sophisticated networks of dyke and canal systems -- savvy even by today’s engineering standards.

The Acadians came out the losers, however, in the bitter European-based, French-English rivalry for colonial dominance between 1712 and 1755. All of mainland Acadia came under British domination.

The victors forcefully expelled the Acadians in a cruel and massive resettlement campaign (Expulsion of the Acadians 1755) with no regard for their property entitlement and little, if any, to keeping families in tact. Some Acadians escaped the marauding British troops intent on burning chapels and homes and capturing the inhabitants, by fleeing into the dense woods in the interior of the country or to remote outports. But many were captured and unceremoniously shipped off and unloaded in small groups at hundreds of ports along the eastern seaboard and southern areas of current-day United States.

The injustice of the expulsion was evident to one British soldier who, even though he carried out his orders, would later write: “These wretched people, given up by France without their consent ... were honest, hard working, sober, industrious people; rarely did quarrels rise among them. In Summer the men were continually at work on their farms; in winter they were engaged in cutting wood for fuel and fences and in hunting; the women spent their time carding, spinning and weaving wool, flax and hemp . .. Young women were not encouraged to marry unless the girl could weave a piece of cloth and the young man make a pair of wheels. These accomplishments were deemed essential to their marriage settlement, and they hardly needed anything else, for every time there was a wedding the whole village contributed to set up the newly married couple.

Many of the exiled Acadians refugees eventually made their way back to the Maritime provinces. Thirty years after the expulsion, a surge of Acadians began returning to resettle.

Relevant sources and resources:

The Conflicts of European and Eastern Algonkian Cultures, A. G. Bailey, (1937), New Brunswick Museum Placide Gaudet manuscripts (Acadian history and genealogy) , National Library of Canada

Native Council of Nova Scotia, PO Box 1320, Truro, N.S., B2N 5N2.

Native Countil of P.E.I., 33 Allen St., Charlottetown, P.E.I., C1A 3B9.

New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council, 320 St. Mary’s St., Fredericton, N.B., E3A 2S4.

Centre d’etudes acadiennes, Universite de Moncton, Moncton, N.B., E1A 3E9.

Centre acadien, Universite Saint-Anne, Pointe-de-l’Eglise, N. S., B0W 1M0.

Societe historique acadienne de l’ile-du-Prince-Edouard, PO Box 88, Summerside, P.E.I. C1N 4P6.

Dalton Centre, Tignish, P.E.I., C0B 2B0.

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