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Fort Beauséjour – Fort Cumberland, a Turning Point for Canada’s Francophones

The French Forces of New France built Fort Beauséjour in 1751 to assert their sovereignty over the Chignecto Isthmus, which today separates Nova Scotia from New Brunswick. It was captured by the English Forces in 1755 and renamed Fort Cumberland. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada classified this site as early as 1926 because of its historic importance, as that is where the battle giving the British control over the entire current Canadian territory began, and where the Deportation of Acadians began. The excellent state of preservation of the site was also an asset. Today, Parks Canada employees work as facilitators at the site and guide visitors through an exploration of this star-shaped fort, the first one built in America; it includes remnants of the French period and buildings built by the British. A museum illustrates the lives of the soldiers of that period and the Acadian colonization of the region. Located on a promontory, the fort provides a splendid panoramic view of the surrounding areas.

 

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Fort Beauséjour—Fort Cumberland, 1751–1835

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Fort Beauséjour in the evening

The Governor of New France, based in Quebec City, sent troops to the disputed territory of the Chignecto Isthmus in the mid-1740s. They built a small fort on the current site of Fort Beauséjour—Fort Cumberland in 1749, and then a real fort in 1751. This was a star-shaped, pentagonal, five-bastioned construction, the first of its type in North America; it was designed by French military architect, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban. The construction was not completed when the British troops attacked it in June 1755, with over 2,000 men against a garrison of about 100 soldiers and some 200 militiamen. The French commander capitulated after a two-week siege.

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Fort Cumberland, Nova Scotia (1755)

The British kept this ideally located fort and renamed it Fort Cumberland. They added the following various improvements in the ensuing years: new barracks, additional shops, a blacksmith shop, a carpentry workshop and a hospital. After the Seven Years’ War (or the War of the Conquest) which made Canada a British colony, Fort Cumberland resisted the attack of troops coming from the United States during the American War of Independence in 1776. A new barrack was built in 1778, and the regular troops withdrew in 1793. A small maintenance garrison remained in place until the fort was permanently abandoned in 1835. As the region was sparsely populated, the entire site was very well preserved when the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated it as a site of national historic significance in 1926.

The archeological digs conducted in the 1960s revealed a powder magazine and a pillbox of the French era, French and British barracks, remnants of the 1751 wooden palisade, and thousands of artefacts, many of which are exhibited at the museum adjacent to the site. The current enhancement makes it possible for visitors to circulate on the ramparts of the fort, see the remnants of buildings, understand the defensive organization of the surrounding areas, which include old observation posts built on the shore of the Bay of Fundy and on neighbouring hills, and put themselves in the shoes of the soldiers of that era.

A region of major strategic importance

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Map of Sackville, Cumberland and Amherst townships based on plans borrowed from the Surveyor General (September 6, 1809)

For centuries, the Micmac have been travelling along the waterways of the Chignecto Isthmus in order to move between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy, over a distance of barely 25 kilometers, instead of making a 1,500-kilometer detour by the Atlantic Ocean. When the Acadians settled in that region, around the end of the 17th century, the Chignecto Isthmus gained importance as a gateway between the French settlements in the St. Lawrence Valley and those in Acadia.

When France ceded Acadia to Great Britain in 1713, through the Treaty of Utrecht, the boundaries were poorly defined on the Chignecto side, where several hundreds of Acadians were already living. The region became a disputed area and provoked the conflict that erupted in 1750.

The Acadian drama

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Fort Beauséjour museum and restored wall

In the 1740s, the British tightened the control they had over Acadia which had been ceded to them in 1713. Acadians from the Chignecto Isthmus in particular were subjected to pressure on the part of both the British and the French. The former complained that the Acadians from that region supplied the fortress town of Louisbourg and that they welcomed French troops to their lands and villages. The French urged these Acadians to leave the land disputed by the British and settle in areas that were officially French and consolidate them.

In 1750, when the conflict erupted near Fort Beauséjour, the English, from that point on, prohibited the Acadians from supporting the French. The French troops adopted the scorched earth strategy to weaken the British. They set fire to the Acadian village of Beaubassin and forced the Acadians to support them. For the following five years, a few hundreds of other Acadians from the Chignecto Isthmus suffered a fate similar to that of the Acadians in Beaubassin. They had to sacrifice their assets, their harvests and their lands to weaken the British army and take refuge with the French. In vain, because all the French positions and strongholds in the Atlantic region fell into the hands of the British, including Fort Beauséjour in June 1755. On August 11, the British convened 400 Acadian men to the fort that they renamed Cumberland, supposedly to inform them of what would happen to their lands. However, these Acadians were taken prisoner and deported. Soon after, the British forces travelled through the region to capture more Acadians, pillage and burn their homes. A total of some 1,014 men, women and children in the region were deported in fall 1755, out of a total of 2,900 inhabitants, slightly more than one-third of the population of the Chignecto Isthmus and of the three rivers of Memramcook, Petitcodiac and Chipoudie, located a little more to the north, in the current province of New Brunswick. That’s where the deportation of 11,000 Acadians began.

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