A familiar sight at Easter is the image of three crosses on a hill. Well, Kings County has it’s own historic crosses representing an Acadian trinity.
The first is the Herbin Cross at the Grand Pre National Historic Site. It was originally constructed on what had been the parish cemetery of stones thought to come from the foundation of the Church of Saint-Charles-des-Mines.
Saint-Charles-des-Mines was the church where 418 men and boys of the village of Grand Pre were summoned at 3 pm on September 5, 1755, to hear the King’s Orders and learn of His Majesty’s final resolution of the Acadians. After the reading the order of deportation, the church became a temporary prison while the fleet of transport ships gathered nearby at Horton’s Landing.
The final resolution was for the Acadians to forfeit their lands and livestock. They were allowed to keep their money and any chattels they could carry that wouldn’t impede movement on the transports. Colonel Winslow, who oversaw the reading and imprisonment, noted it was “a day of Great Fatigue & Troble”.
Originally the Cross was a bare stone construction erected in 1909 to mark the cemetery. In 1925 a bronze plaque was added and dedicated to John Frederick Herbin, the Wolfville jeweler, optician, poet and author, who was so passionate that the story of his mother’s people would not be forgotten that he compiled the land for a commemorative park for both these local landing-owning Acadians and the more than 10,000 people across the Maritimes who became refugees. Grand Pre was the first wave of what became several years of deportations.
Most people come to Grand Pre and miss a couple of points. One is the plaque on the road to the park which commemorates The Attack of Grand Pre in 1747 which left 71 British soldiers dead. The Valley is so pretty it’s easy to forget that places like Grand Pre and Annapolis Royal are some of the most blood-soaked soil in Canada.
If you hike or bike you can follow the old railway tracks that border the park to the Minas Basin shore. In a car take the Old Post Road which passes the attack park, to Horton Landing. A secondary route is to backtrack to Just US! Coffee by the 101 exit and take the first left to the end. There is a farm on your right. On a fence post is a small wooden cross, which is a marker to the second part of the trinity, the Deportation Cross.
The Deportation Cross is the actual site where Acadians from the lands around Grand Pre and as far away as Piziquid (Windsor) and Gaspereau, were forced on to transport ships to be deported. It’s believed this is also the spot where over 100 years before, the Acadians first stepped ashore to begin their community in Les Mines. Nearby is a cairn for the New England Planters who came ashore here to take possession of the abandoned Acadian farms.
The Deportation Cross is here at the request of the Societe Nationale de l’Acadie, who wanted it to be as close to the final deportation point as possible. It, like Grand Pre, are sacred grounds where Acadian exile began.
The final part of this triptych is in Morden, on top of the North Mountain, overlooking the Bay of Fundy. Acadians from the Annapolis/Port Royal area, having heard of what happened to their Grand Pre cousins, turned to their Mi’kmaq friends for help escaping impending confinement and deportation. The Mi’kmaq brought them to the area of Morden to hide. It offered fish, game, isolation and a perch to watch what Bruce Murray in his novel about pre- and post-deportation life, PIAU, Journey to the Promised Land, calls “prison ships” transport their Acadian kinsmen to parts unknown.
In the little bayside park across from the Morden Community Centre is the French Cross. The Acadians who came to Morden broke into two groups. One stayed, one risked the journey across the Bay of Fundy to hide in the forests of what would become New Brunswick. Those who risked crossing the Bay survived, while most of those who remained in Morden perished. In the spring of 1756 an Acadian man, Pierre Melanson, aided by a young Mi’kmaq boy crossed the Bay seeking aid for the survivors. On the return trip Melanson died. History isn’t always full of happy endings, but it shows the perseverance, inspiration and innovation it takes to survive extraordinary events.
These Acadian crosses can be visited at any time of year. When that road trip happens will determine what the local add-ons will be, from snowshoeing the Harvest Moon Trail in winter or cycling it in summer. Or there might be a community breakfast or meal happening in the Morden community centre when local residents sell crafts from hooked trivets to driftwood trees and stone pictures.
For one of the prettiest drives in the province, drive highway 221 along the base of the North Mountain. This is a quiet road with a brief rush of morning and late afternoon traffic of school buses and farm equipment. One of the surprises of this drive is the road to Victoria Harbour offers an optical illusion like Moncton’s Magnetic Hill, which makes it look like your vehicle is rolling uphill.
This Acadian trinity offers a backyard discovery of a major world upheaval that is unimaginable to those of us who grew up here. The Acadian deportation may have happened over 260 years ago, but around the world people are still losing their homes and being forced into exile. History does repeat itself.