ACADIAN CHURCHES (December 7/15)

Chipman's Corner Memorial Stone

This stone in the Chipman Corner cemetery marks the possible site of an Acadian and a Planter church.  

A memorial stone in the Chipman Corner cemetery indicates it was placed in memory of two early churches on this site, the Church of St. Joseph and the Congregational Church. According to the stone’s inscription, the Church of St. Joseph was established by the Acadians in 1689 (Wikipedia gives 1670 as the establishing year).  The Church of St. Joseph reads the stone, “served the Acadians living between the Cornwallis River and Pereau.”

Writing about the Acadians in the History of Kings County, Arthur W. H.  Eaton states that the “large district of Minas” was divided into two parishes, “St. Joseph at Riviere aux Canards and St. Charles at Grand Pre.”  Eaton states that the church of St. Joseph stood in Chipman Corner, serving the Riviere aux Canards parish; Eaton doesn’t give the date it was established.

Further, a website containing the history of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church of Kentville states that the first St. Joseph’s Church “was built in 1688-89 in the area we now know as Chipman Corner.”  In a booklet published by the Kings Historical Society (Sketch of Chipman Corner c.1670-1985 by James Fry) the author also places the Church of St. Joseph in Chipman Corner as well.

It would appear from what Eaton wrote, from Fry’s sketch, the Catholic Church history of St. Joseph Church and the memorial stone’s inscription that an Acadian church once stood in what may be a historically important community.  Not everyone agrees, however.  In a recent email Susan Surette-Draper, the president of Les Amis de Grand-Pre, asks if Chipman Corner actually was the site of the Church of St. Joseph.  In effect, she questions that it was, or that it hasn’t been proven convincingly that it was.

“This summer our group has done quite a few guided tours of the Riviere aux Canards area since many Acadian families were documented as living there,” Surette-Draper wrote.  “We always take them to the Chipman Corner cemetery since this is identified as being the site of the Acadian church of St. Joseph de la Riviere aux Canards, but something about that place doesn’t seem right.”

Ms. Surette-Draper gave several reasons why she says this about the Chipman Corner site.   “It seems inland, not at the mouth of the (Canard) river.  The dykes had been built by the time of the deportation in 1755 but the church was just built in 1727 so blocking off the river was underway when the church was constructed, thereby blocking water access.

“It (the church) doesn’t seem to be in a prominent place.  Usually Acadian churches are on high ground where they would be visible from the water.  Jawbone Corner seems more likely (as a church site).

“Here’s another reason why it doesn’t make sense.  Why would the Planters want to establish their church on the site of a Roman Catholic cemetery and former location of a Roman Catholic Church?  When you think of the animosity of the religions at the time, this doesn’t seem likely.”

Is there any justification for claiming that Chipman Corner was the site of the Acadian church, Surette-Draper asked.  “What have you found on the subject?”

As I said in replying to Ms. Surette-Draper, I’ve never found any confirmation, official or otherwise, that an Acadian church was located at Chipman Corner.  Arthur W. H. Eaton says it was, as did James Fry who was using Eaton as a source.  And I suspect the Roman Catholic Church history used the same source that Fry did.  What’s obviously missing from all this is the source Eaton used to place the Acadian church in Chipman Corner.

There definitely was an Acadian Church somewhere near the Canard River, which is practically a stone’s throw from Chipman Corner.  This is implicated by a map on the website called Minas Acadian History, which was established originally by Roger Hetu.  The map, dated 1714, came from the government and it indicates that an Acadian church was located along the Canard River.

You will note above the conflicting dates on when the church of St. Joseph was established.  Wikipedia, the stone monument at Chipman Corner and the Catholic Church history all differ on the date of the establishment.  Some sources claim Chipman Corner was said to be the church site by Charles Morris, an army officer who surveyed the Minas district in 1748.  Morris wrote a 107-page document on his findings (A Breif (sic) Survey of Nova Scotia) and this may be Eaton’s source.  I did a Google search for this document and found an inaccessible copy at a university in the United States.

If you want more confusion about the location of the church of St. Joseph, some sources (Eaton among them) claim that in addition to the Church of St. Joseph and the church of St. Charles in Grand Pre, there were Acadian chapels, with priests serving them, located north of Canning around the Pereau area and in New Minas, the latter only a short distance from Chipman Corner.

I should mention here the Journal of Col. John Winslow. He was the army officer charged with carrying out the expulsion of the Acadians in 1755 and he is often quoted as describing the Acadian church in Chipman Corner as beautiful.  Winslow’s journal is on line and after reading it I found no mention of an Acadian church in Chipman Corner and no entry where he described this church as beautiful.

Where this incorrect attribution probably came from is an entry in Winslow’s journal where he quotes a fellow officer’s report about an Acadian church: “Septr. Srd. This morning Capt Adams returned from their march to the River Cannard &c and reported it was a fine Country and Full of Inhabitants, a beautiful Church & abundance of ye Goods of the world.”

Here we have confirmation that an Acadian church was situated somewhere near the Canard River, but not confirmation that the site was Chipman Corner.  As Susan Surette-Draper says, tradition places the church at Chipman Corner, but who started the tradition?  And, I add, what proof, if any, exists that Chipman Corner was the site of the church of St. Joseph.

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