Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why is the fort surrendering?

In the course of a visitor season I hear some of the same questions over and over again. Some of these are innocent questions and they are easily answered. Some of these questions take a bit more time to answer properly. One question I find difficult to answer quickly is "Why is the fort surrendering?" A few years ago when I first heard this question I really had no idea what the visitor was talking about. Was there a re-enactment planned that I didn't know about? No, that was not it. Apparently there was a white flag flying at Fort Anne and it looked like they were surrendering to some unseen enemy. Well, I didn't know the answer so I had some questions to ask myself.

When I have a question about Fort Anne I have found that Alan Melanson is usually the source for the answer. Alan has worked his entire career as a Parks Canada interpreter with the vast majority of his years being spent at Fort Anne. He has an extesive knowledge of the site and an amazing gift for sharing our history with visitors. Every community should be lucky enough to have a heritage resource like Alan. I was told that the flag was not a flag of surrender but a white cross flying on a white field. During the Acadian period, this was the battle flag of the French.

This was the flag which would have flown not only in Acadia but in Quebec, Louisbourg and Plaisance. As early as the 1620s this white flag would have shown up in the new world. While it was a common flag there were a number of other French naval or merchant flags which were also flown. In 1661 King Louis XIV decreed that the white cross would be the official flag of the French Navy and that this flag would fly over all coastal forts and colonies. This would have been the flag which generations of French citizens fought under.

So, now to answer the original question. The fort is not surrendering. Parks Canada have chosen to fly the white cross to show what would have historically been flown at the fort. Rather than a flag of surrender, to someone in the seventeenth century, this flag would have been seen as the mark of a mililitary who was ready to fight.

All for now,
RGS

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