WHITEWASHING THE ACADIAN EXPULSION (August 27/04)

As mentioned in a recent column, Robert R. McLeod’s history of Nova Scotia, or Markland as he called the province, appeared early in 1903. Actually, calling his work a history wasn’t accurate on my part since McLeod also included descriptions of our “natural resources and native beauties.” Thus you’ll find extensive chapters on geology, mining, the Mi’kmaq, the fisheries and so on. There’s even a plug for the province as a tourist stop.

As for the historical part, McLeod included a brief history of each county and a lengthy overview of the province as a whole, beginning with the French occupation. It is this section that is of the most interest since McLeod attempts to whitewash the expulsion of the Acadians, arguing that other people fared far worse. “It was a mere flybite compared to thousands of experiences incidental to such work, or arising out of perverted ideas of religion,” he wrote.

McLeod excuses the expulsion on the grounds that it was a necessity and there was no other alternative. “While all right feeling persons will regret the scenes,” McLeod says, “perhaps not one of us placed in the circumstances of Shirley and Lawrence would know what better course to take,” he writes.

Besides, McLeod continues, the expulsion wasn’t all that bad after all. “In a short time the Acadians were quite content to return (to Nova Scotia) and comply with the conditions required of them, and very largely they found there way back, and began anew to make homes in Digby, Cumberland, Halifax (and) Yarmouth Counties, and in parts of the Island of Cape Breton and their descendants are numerous among us.”

Again, excusing the expulsion, McLeod writes that it really was nothing to be concerned about. “We must not be over captious in these matters concerning the hardships of three or four thousand people,” McLeod claims. Especially when at this “very date far more distressing scenes are being enacted in South Africa and the Philippine Islands by the same world-dominating Anglo-Saxon stock.” McLeod adds that incidents such as the expulsion are “incidental to the progress of the world; they are the growing pains of the race.”

As for the often-expressed view that New England coveted the rich dykelands of the Acadians and this explained the expulsion, McLeod says that this simply wasn’t so. He points out that after the Acadians were removed, the authorities had problems in colonising the land that was vacated and it took years to do it.

“Lawrence issued a proclamation, inviting British settlers to take the confiscated land of the Acadians, or select any desirable point, and come along,” McLeod explains. “There was a response from New England but it was tardy. For six years, the fields and furrows of the expelled (Acadians) lay unclaimed, and then people came from the State of Connecticut and took possession of the region of Grand Pre, Canard and Habitant, and they were joined into the Township of Cornwallis.”

McLeod overlooks the fact that it took a couple of years to have the land of the Acadians properly surveyed and divided into lots. And that colonisation by the New Englanders was also delayed by a spat over who would underwrite the immense cost of moving settlers here and supplying them with food for the first year.

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