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The Acadians

The Acadians were the French settlers of Atlantic Canada during the 17th and 18th centuries. They first arrived in 1604 and established the first permanent settlement at Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia) in 1605. They would eventually spread throughout the Atlantic region. By 1755 their population had grown to about 13,000. Despite the fact that the area changed hands between France and Britain several times over the next 150 years, the Acadians were able to thrive and prosper. They used aboideaus, a system of dikes and sluice-boxes to create farmland from marshes and became able hunters and fishermen. They also established and maintained a trading relationship with the New England colonies. Both the British and the French left the Acadians in relative peace, and they thought of themselves as politically neutral.

Once the British gained permanent control of Acadia in 1713, they began establishing their own colonies. They also demanded an oath of loyalty from the Acadians, who refused (although they did agree to an oath of neutrality). By 1749, with France still holding the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton island, and building Fort Beausejour in New Brunswick, Britain grew anxious to resolve the Acadian problem. After the Acadians refused a final chance to swear an oath of loyalty in 1755, British soldiers began deporting the people by ship to British colonies in the United States. From there, many were sent on to France or the Caribbean. A few managed to escape by fleeing into the woods. Many others perished aboard the ships from hunger or disease.

When the Acadians finally agreed to an oath of allegiance in the late 1700s, Britain allowed them to begin returning to the area. However, British settlers now occupied many of their former farms and villages. The Acadians were forced to relocate to less fertile areas along the coast. They turned to fishing and forestry as means of making a livelihood, but many lived in abject poverty. Because they were Catholic, they were denied the right to vote or sit in the legislature. For a short period of time, they were not even legally allowed to hold land. Schooling was obtained largely through travelling teachers who served many villages at once. It was not until the time of Confederation, nearly a century later, that the Acadians were able to re-establish some semblance of their former society. Schools and churches were founded, a professional class of citizens emerged, and the people began taking an active part in political life: the first Acadians were elected to the legislatures in the 1840s and 1850s.

Sources

Chiasson, Père Anselme ; Landry, Nicolas.  --  "Acadia, History of".  --  Canadian encyclopedia : year 2000 edition.  --  Ed. James H. Marsh.  --  3rd print ed.  --  Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999.  --  P. 11-13.

Griffiths, Naomi.  --  "Acadians".  --  Encyclopedia of Canada's peoples.  --  Ed. Paul R. Magosci.  --  Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1999.  --  P. 114-136.