Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley contains some of the richest farmland in Atlantic Canada. For centuries, farmers have relied on its fertile upland soils, dyked salt marshes, and abundant sunshine to nurture bountiful crops of grains, fruits, and vegetables. The valley draws visitors from all over the world, but its quiet beauty conceals a history that is both violent and dramatic.
In the 1630s, French colonists settled in the western Annapolis Valley at Port Royal, near the site of the earlier fur-trading habitation of Champlain and deMonts. The Mi'kmaq people welcomed the colonists to share their land. The two peoples maintained positive relations while the French settlers secured the area's fertile salt marshes from the sea by constructing elaborate networks of dams and drains. While England and France periodically fought for control of the continent, the colonists built their communities. Developing an agricultural economy based on dyking the marshlands, tight family bonds, and a sense of independence, the colonists gradually created a new society and distinct culture. They arrived in Acadie as French people, but they became Acadians.
When Port Royal fell to the British in 1710, Acadie became Nova Scotia and the Acadians became British subjects. Permitted to remain on their land and maintain their Roman Catholic faith, the Acadians swore a conditional oath of allegiance in 1730. Nova Scotia Governor Richard Philipps offered a verbal promise that guaranteed Acadian neutrality in the event of war. Henceforth, the Acadians became known to the English as the 'Neutral French'.
Although their political masters had changed, life went on in the Acadian communities much as it had before. But when Britain and France went to war again in the mid-18th century, the Acadians' desire for neutrality was put to a severe test. Each empire demanded the loyalty of the Acadian population.
Events at Chignecto soon sparked a crisis. Acadian communities in this district, established in 1672, straddled the disputed boundary between the French and British empires. When the British built Fort Lawrence at the Acadian village of Beaubassin in 1750, French agents forced the Acadian population to move north to French territory. France built Fort Beauséjour on a neighbouring ridge, within view of Fort Lawrence.
In June of 1755, during hostilities prior to the outbreak of The Seven Years' War, British and New England forces captured Fort Beauséjour. Two hundred Acadian men were counted among the fort's defenders. Although the French commander insisted that he had forced them to fight, and the terms of surrender guaranteed their pardon, Nova Scotia Lieutenant Governor Charles Lawrence was outraged. Concerned for his colony's security, he immediately demanded an unconditional oath of allegiance from the Nova Scotia Acadians. The Acadians refused to take an unconditional oath, which would have obligated them to take up arms against the French and Mi'kmaq. On July 28, 1755 the British government of Nova Scotia made the decision to deport the Acadians.
On August 19th, 1755, 313 New England troops under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Winslow disembarked at Grand-Pré and marched to the center of the town. Winslow quickly took possession of the parish church as his base camp and ordered his men to build a palisade for their defence. Winslow then summoned all Acadian men and boys over the age of 10 to come to the church on September 5th to hear a royal proclamation. When they arrived, the 418 unsuspecting Acadians were arrested and informed that their properties had been confiscated and that they and their families were to be deported.
For weeks, the Acadians of Grand-Pré remained prisoners while Winslow waited for the deportation ships to arrive. In October, the first convoy of deportees embarked for the Anglo-American colonies of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. Due to a lack of vessels, the last Acadian inhabitants of the Grand-Pré region did not embark until December 20th. Winslow's men burned the settlements around Grand-Pré in order to deny shelter to any possible refugees.
Winslow's men deported approximately 2,200 Acadians from the Grand-Pré region. Between 1755 and 1763, British forces deported over 10,000 Acadians from what are now the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Others evaded capture by fleeing or going into hiding.
In 1764 the British government of Nova Scotia permitted the Acadians to return to the colony on the condition that they settle in small groups and in isolated areas. They were unable to settle upon their ancestral lands because the government had granted them, for free, to English speaking settlers from New England and elsewhere. At Grand-Pré, hundreds of New England Planters, mostly from Connecticut, began to arrive in 1760. They and their descendants have maintained and extended the practice of dykeland agriculture pioneered by the Acadians. Today, beneath Grand-Pré's fertile fields, the charred remains of old Acadie lie unseen.