Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Melanson Settlement

The Annapolis Royal region has more than its fair share of National Historic Sites. The most obvious are Fort Anne, the Port Royal Habitation, Kejimkujik National Park, the Annapolis Royal Courthouse, and the Sinclair Inn Museum. In addition to these we have Charlesfort, the Iroquois Fort, Bloody Creek, the Nova Scotia Pony Express and a handful of monuments to commemorate nationally significant individuals. To top it all off, the business district of Annapolis Royal has been commemorated as a National Historic District. For a community of our size, this is an almost unbelievable wealth of nationally significant sites.

Located on the waterfront between Granville Ferry and Port Royal, the Melanson Settlement National Historic Site is one of our region’s more recent commemorative sites. More than just a memorial to one family, the Melanson Settlement represents all of the Acadian families who once lived in this area. Imagine a number of small, family based settlements laying themselves out along the shores of the Annapolis Basin. Here the Acadians worked tirelessly to reclaim fertile land from the salt marshes by building dykes to hold back the tides of the Bay of Fundy. As one of the best preserved examples of this unique style of farming and community living developed by the Acadians, the Melanson settlement is an excellent choice as a representative of the early Acadian presence in our province.

It is very, very difficult to find something positive which came out of the Acadian deportation of 1755 - 1764. During these traumatic years, the French speaking Acadians of Nova Scotia (Acadie to the Acadians) were removed from the farms and communities which they had been developing for 120 years. Families were broken apart, people were killed or lost at sea, and homes were burned to prevent the Acadians from coming back. Without a doubt, this is the most devastating event in the history of the Acadian people. When this is the framework, it is very hard to find a cloud with a silver lining.

Surprisingly, the Melanson Settlement and sites like it do provide a very small silver lining. When the Melanson Settlement was destroyed, the British burned the site to the ground. While this does nothing on a humanitarian basis, it provides a wonderful archaeological site. Fortunately, the lands of the Melanson Settlement were not redeveloped after the Acadians were removed. With the exception of some light farming, this site has remained untouched since the descendants of Charles Melanson were loaded onto ships. Because of this, the archaeological work at the Melanson Settlement in the 1980s has given us a great deal of our current knowledge about the material culture of the Acadian community. We have been able to learn about the types and sizes of houses as well as the type of tools used by the Acadians. We have also been able to learn about the Acadian diet and their trading patterns with Europe and New England. Since the whole community was destroyed at the same time, there is little chance of post 1755 material contaminating the site. Thanks to the destruction of the community we have been able to learn a great deal about it. As I said, in the broader sense, it is a very small silver lining.

If you visit the site today, you will find a short trail with some interpretive panels which tell the story of the settlement. From the viewing platform you can look off to the right and see a dyke holding back the water in much the same way that those built by the Melanson family would have. To the left is a hill where much of the settlement is actually located. The trail purposefully avoids the hill to discourage people from conducting their own digs. The main archaeological feature which can be seen from the viewing platform is a foundation which may have once housed a windmill.

As a final note, I feel that I need to mention that the commemorative plaque at the site mentions that the site was "abandoned". When the man with the bayonet poking in your back tells you that it is time to go, I feel that this is stretching my concept of abandonment.

All for now,
RGS

5 comments:

  1. "The trail purposefully avoids the hill to discourage people from conducting their own digs."

    Such a difference from 60+ years ago when tourists were encouraged to poke around important archaeological sites and pocket artefacts to take home with them! Sometimes I wonder about where all those bits of history are now.

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  2. Some of the local newspaper articles which discuss archaeological work at Fort Anne during the first part of the twentieth century are fairly comical by modern standards. In my favorite article, it seems like they have been digging for a couple of hours before someone finally decides that they should get a box to put things in.

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  3. ''When the man with the bayonet poking in your back tells you that it is time to go, I feel that this is stretching my concept of abandonment''

    I am a direct descendant of Charles Melanson. My ancestors left British Acadia (now known as Nova Scotia) in 1753 exactly to re-establish in the area of a village then known as ''St-Jacques de l'Achigan'', in Québec. Consequently, Charles Melanson's decendents never had to suffer the horrors of the 1755 deportation since they had already left Acadia two years ago. The text on the plaque, which has been written by professional historians and archeologists, is 100% right when it says the site was abandoned by its owners (without being forced to do so).

    Thank you.

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    Replies
    1. Hello,

      I am also a direct descendant of Charles Melanson. My great great grandmother was Marguerite Mathilde Melanson Boudreau. She married Celestin Boudreau. Their daughter, Chantele married Hilaire Romain and had nine children. One of which was my grandfather Phillip Romaine. The "e" was added when he moved to the U.S. I have gathered quite a bit of info on the Laverdure/Melanson family. If you would like to contact me just leave me a post and I will include my email address in a reply. Regards, Pat (Romaine) Phoenix

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  4. As per the above comment, while some members of the Melanson Family had indeed left Acadie by the time of the deportation this is in no way the case for the entire family. In December 1755 members of the Melanson family were among those who were loaded into the ship Pembroke. This ship, which held 33 men, 27 women and 162 children, was bound for North Carolina. Somehow the Acadians managed to struggle control of the vessel away from the British and piloted the ship to the Saint John River. From here they made their way overland to Quebec. When the deportation order was revoked some members of the family returned to Nova Scotia to settle in the Clare and Pubnico regions.
    RGS

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