Acadians are one of the founding peoples of Canada with the first permanent settlement established at Port Royal in 1605, which marked the beginning of the colony known as Acadia, a colony of New France covering today’s Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, parts of eastern Quebec and Maine.
From 1605 to 1713, for over 100 years, the ownership of the land occupied by the Acadians changed hands many times between the British and the French until the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 gave the territory to the British for good. The Acadians maintained their traditions, language, culture, way of life and religion and remained politically French neutrals.
However, when England and France were again at war in 1744, with the foundation of Halifax in 1749 as its new capital, the British government changed its policy and turned towards acquiring land ownership in this colony and ensuring its “Britishness”. The Acadian population was then perceived as a threat.
From 1755 to 1762, around 11,500 Acadians were deported during what is called Great Upheaval, or “Grand Dérangement”. Some of them were dispersed among the 13 American colonies, some of them, with the help of indigenous people, escaped into the then French territory (Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton, New Brunswick and Québec), some of them were deported to Britain and France, and many perished at sea. Georges Island, in the Halifax Harbour, hosted Fort Charlotte, which served as one of the four forts where Acadians were imprisoned over the years of the deportation.
After the war ended in 1764 and France ceded all its American colonies to Britain, British allowed Acadians to return to Nova Scotia in small isolated groups. With their homes destroyed and previous settlements taken over, Acadians resettled in areas along the coast and formed communities that exist to this day.
According to the 2016 Census data from Statistics Canada, the Halifax Regional Municipality has the largest Acadian and Francophone community in Nova Scotia, with 10,140 residents whose mother tongue is French, representing 2.5% of the total population of HRM and 34% of the total Francophone population across the province. In addition, it also has the largest bilingual population in the province, with 49,585 self-identified bilingual individuals, representing 12% of the total population of HRM. Francophone and bilingual individuals are quite evenly scattered across the 4 federal electoral districts in HRM, with no concentrated population in any particular neighbourhood or district.
The Acadian and Francophone community in HRM include Acadians and Francophones from across Canada as well as French-speakers from around world: the large concentration of federal and provincial government services has brought a large bilingual population to the city; the Canadian Forces Base Halifax receives numerous Francophone military families; every year, French-speaking new comers from around the globe settle in HRM as well. This all contribute to the diversity and mobility of the community, unified around the shared language.
Various organizations serve this community to address their diverse needs: Alliance française has been a cultural hub for Francophones and Francophiles alike since 1903; Conseil Communautaire du Grand-Havre has served as the spokesperson for the Acadian and Francophone community since 1991; Centre de ressources pour les familles militaires d’Halifax et régions focuses on services to French-speaking military families, whereas Immigration Francophone de la Nouvelle-Écosse provides services to support French-speaking immigrants. Many more Acadian and Francophone organizations with a provincial or national mandate have a chapter in Halifax to provide specialized French services including health care, legal services, career and business services, youth services, women’s affairs, seniors’ affairs, among others.
The West Chezzetcook, about half an hour drive from Dartmouth, is home to the largest Acadian community within the boundaries of Halifax Regional Municipality. The existence of French settlers in the area dates as far back as the 1740s.
Between 1758 and 1762, around 2000 Acadians were brought to Halifax as prisoners waiting to be deported. Some of them were deported while others were released in 1764. Some of them made their way across Halifax harbor to Chezzetcook, joined by another group of Acadians from Cape Breton. Some of these early settlers had family names such as Bellefontaine, LaPierre, Wolfe, Roma and Petitpas, which can still be found today.
Throughout the years, Acadians of Chezzetcook made their living from farming, fishing, forestry work, shipbuilding as well as clam harvesting and processing.
Today, as a rural community isolated in a strong English-speaking environment, this Acadian community faces unique challenges sustaining its ancestral language and identity. However, the active local community organization Acadie de Chezzetcook, presents a variety of activities and events year-round while managing the Acadian historic site and museum that bring to life the unique Acadian traditions and culture. The local French-language elementary school, École des Beaux-Marais, created upon the community’s request in 2011, receives students from Grade Preprimary to 9 today.