Introduction A Taste of History Hard Times for the Colonists Port-Royal: A Landmark of Preservation
Port-Royal Habitation rests along the Annapolis River-Basin shoreline © Parks Canada/T. Bunbury
“…this place was the most suitable and pleasant for a settlement that we had seen.”
When Samuel de Champlain wrote those words in the early 1600s, he was describing a terrain of wooded hills, meadows and a luminous stretch of water that came to be called the Annapolis River-Basin in southwest Nova Scotia. Surrounded by natural abundance with many resources—fish, fur, timber, soil—the area held a grand vision: the creation of a better world in Acadia.
First, some background…
Our story of Port-Royal begins in France during the reign of Henri IV. In 1603, Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons, a nobleman, went to the king and proposed a settlement in an area called Acadia. The origins of the name reach back to the early 1500s when the Italian explorer Verrazano named a part of today’s North Carolina coast Arcadie. Subsequent maps pushed the name northeast until it came to designate what is now known as northern Maine, southern New Brunswick and mainland Nova Scotia. At the same time, it is likely that Arcadie became Acadie, or Acadia, under the influence of a local Mi’kmaw name for place.
Earlier trials by the French during the 1500s to colonize in North America had not been successful. An astute businessman, Sieur de Mons was more than determined to establish a French presence. De Mons’ plan called for private investors to finance the colony. In return, they received the monopoly for the fur trade in a vastly larger area between the 40th and 46th parallels. After much bargaining, the king granted the monopoly to Sieur de Mons, under the conditions that he establish a colony in Acadia and convert the native people to Christianity.
After raising the financing for the journey and acquiring the ships and supplies, Sieur de Mons set off to the northeastern part of North America along with a crew of workman, soldiers, artisans and explorers. Both Protestants and Catholics joined the expedition. Sieur de Mons, for example, was a Huguenot while others like Champlain, were Catholic. Although this period of religious tolerance lasted only a short while, France, under Henri IV, was the only country at the time that granted equal rights to the two religions.
In the summer of 1604, the expedition settled in Saint Croix, a small island on the Saint Croix River between Maine (USA) and New Brunswick (Canada). After a bitter cold winter, isolated on the island with no reliable source of water or fuel, nearly half of the 79 colonists died of scurvy. In the spring of 1605, accompanied by cartographer Samuel de Champlain, de Mons undertook a voyage south to find a more suitable location.
After exploring to the south and encountering hostilities from Aboriginal peoples in areas of present-day Cape Cod and Maine , the explorers returned back north, where the Mi’kmaq, whose ancestors had lived in the region—known as Mi’kma’ki—for thousands of years, welcomed the new arrivals. In turn, the French reciprocated, setting in motion an enduring friendship and alliance. Given the favourable conditions, the expedition settled in a beautiful, sheltered harbour across the Bay of Fundy that they had visited briefly in 1604. Resting at the confluence of the present-day Annapolis River and Basin, this wide and sheltered swath of land possessed rich soil and abundant food sources. A long chain of high hills behind buffered the dreaded northwest wind.
The colonists named their new settlement Port-Royal. In keeping with the system of land management in New France, de Mons granted Jean de Biencourt, generally known as the Sieur de Poutrincourt, seigneury of Port-Royal.
Introduction - continued