Acadians in Nova Scotia and in Clare in the 19th Century

[ Nova Scotia/Nouvelle-Écosse ]

Nova Scotia/Nouvelle-Écosse, Her Majesty in Right of Canada, Natural Resources Canada,

Acadians in Nova Scotia faced a long uphill battle after the deportations ended in 1763. Of the more than 12 000 Acadians sent into exile beginning in 1755, some 2000 returned to the Maritimes in the decades that followed. Their perseverance, and above all an unparalleled fertility rate, resulted in exceptional growth of their population. In Nova Scotia the population increased eightfold between 1800 and 1871. When Jerome arrived in Nova Scotia, the Acadian population was made up of some 33 000 souls, representing just under 10% of the province’s 387 800 inhabitants. In 1881, there were 41 219 Acadians, compared with approximately 373 000 people from all other ethnic groups combined. The 1901 census listed 45 161 Acadians in the province, representing an increase of nearly 37% over a 30-year period. Nevertheless, this astonishing growth concealed major economic, political and social difficulties.

When Acadians were given the right to return to Nova Scotia in 1764, they found their property confiscated, their houses razed and settlers from Europe or the 13 Colonies living on their land. In 1768, the Nova Scotia government provided them with land grants in the region of Clare. At first the Acadians didn’t own this land, but only had the right to live there. Not till between 1771 and 1773 would Acadians in Nova Scotia gain the right to own their land.

The first inhabitants of the St. Mary’s Bay area settled in the section of Clare between the villages of St. Bernard and Church Point. Lot size was determined by family size. The head of the family was granted 80 acres, while other family members received 40 acres. By the mid-1770s, approximately 30 families had moved in. The [[italic]]township[[/italic]] of Clare expanded for the first time in the 1780s, when the villages from Little Brook to Meteghan were founded by the second generation of Acadians to arrive in the region. In 1804 and 1850, the descendants of the first people to arrive divided among themselves the land in the third section, which extended as far as Salmon River. Ever since its foundation, Clare has been home to greater numbers of Acadians than anywhere else in Nova Scotia, a demographic mass that has made St. Mary’s Bay the most homogeneous Acadian region in the province. This region also has the lowest rate of assimilation by the English language. The other Acadian regions of Nova Scotia (Argyle, Cheticamp, Ile Madame, Pomquet, etc.) are smaller, more isolated and less homogeneous than Clare.

In Jerome’s day, Acadians were second-rate Nova Scotians. Not only did they live in relatively isolated regions, their linguistic rights were virtually nonexistent. In 1864, Nova Scotia passed legislation making English the sole language of instruction in the province. Between 1885 and 1902, access to basic instruction in French increased slightly, despite the flagrant lack of teachers and school manuals. In 1930, Acadians in Nova Scotia gained access to bilingual instruction, amounting to a few courses in French (primarily during the first years of elementary school) to facilitate the learning of English, and with it, assimilation.

Acadians also had second-rate political status. Though in 1836 Simon d’Entremont of Argyle was elected to the provincial legislature, thereby becoming the first Acadian deputy in Nova Scotia, for a long time he was the exception that proved the rule. Prior to Jerome’s time, Acadians were politically isolated in their province. The majority hadn’t the wealth to finance a political career, didn’t speak English well enough, and weren’t sufficiently educated to justify a career in politics. But in the 1880s and 1890s the emergence of Acadian institutions of higher learning and French-language Acadian newspapers led to the Acadian Renaissance, a period of growing national awareness in which Acadians claimed their rights and became a political entity to be respected. The principal Acadian institutions in Nova Scotia were centred in St. Mary’s Bay, including College Sainte-Anne, which was founded in 1890 and is the oldest Acadian institution of higher learning. It is the only French-language university in Nova Scotia today.

In Jerome’s time, the economy of Clare was based equally on fishing and forestry. At the end of the 19th Century, the fishing industry began to expand while forestry suffered, demand having dropped as the age of wooden ships came to an end. Nevertheless, a new boat-building industry sprang up, specializing in small and medium-sized fishing boats, which to this day continues to be a viable industry in Clare, especially in Meteghan. Ground fish like cod were taken more than crustaceans, but then a canning industry emerged that profited from the growth in the market for canned lobster at the beginning of the 20th Century. Almost every family operated a small farm, but the soil in the Clare region was unsuitable for anything more than subsistence agriculture. Tourists began to flock to the region, primarily to enjoy the natural resources like hunting and fishing. In addition, a small industry of mink and marten fur farms appeared at the beginning of the 20th Century. Even so, times were tough and thousands of entire families left Nova Scotia for the industrial centres of the Maritimes, Ontario and the United States. Analysis of census data reveals that for decade after decade, more people left the Maritime provinces between 1860 and 1930 than moved there or were born there. The same is true for the Acadians, though they left in smaller numbers. As many people left Clare as were born there during this period. In fact, the growth of the Acadian population in Nova Scotia was almost cancelled out by emigration.

In spite of this “Second Exodus” the population of Nova Scotia grew, and more and more came into its own. Thanks to the Jerome mystery, people around the world have learned of the Acadian presence in Clare at the end of the 19th Century, demonstrating that Acadians did not disappear with the Deportation.

Further Reading

Daigle, Jean, dir. L’Acadie des Maritimes. Moncton: Chaire d’études acadiennes/Université de Moncton, 1993.

Ross, Sally and J. Alphonse Deveau. Les Acadiens de la Nouvelle-Écosse, hier et aujourd’hui. Halifax: Nimbus Press, 2001.