In 1605 France established its first permanent settlement in the New World. For well over half a century it had done nothing to exploit the new lands found by Jacques Cartier because of a drawn-out war of religion caused by the Protestant Reformation. Early in the Seventeenth Century with stability established in the country France was ready to turn to the New World. The greatest explorer of the time was Samuel de Champlain who crossed the Atlantic many times, established settlements in Nova Scotia and Quebec, and wrote profusely about his adventures. As Geographer to the King, he also produced several maps of the New France, in at least one of them calling the territory of Nova Scotia Arcadia with an “r.” His artists drew bird’s eye views of his Habitations (headquarters) in Quebec and Port Royal and added a key to identify each structure and feature in the landscape.
We must never forget that at that time the goal of explorers in the Atlantic was to discover a short route to the Orient. As late as 1612 Marc Lescarbot could write in a book called Les Muses de la Nouvelle France (page 54) this sonnet dedicated to Champlain, which sees the New World merely as a bridge to China. The French is archaic but with a little effort is intelligible.
AV SIEVR CHAMPLEIN
Geographe du Roy.
VN Roy Numidien poussé d’vn beau desir
Fit jadis rechercher la source de ce fleuve
Qui le peuple d’Egypte et de Libye abbreuve,
Prenant en son pourtrait son vnique plaisir.
CHAMPLEIN, ja dés long temps je voy que ton loisir
S’employe obstinément et sans aucune treuve
A rechercher les flots, qui de la Terre-neuve
Viennent, apres maints sauts, les rivages saisir.
Que si tu viens à chef de ta belle entreprise,
On ne peut estimer combien de gloire vn jour
Acquerras à ton nom que desja chacun prise.
Car d’vn fleuve infini tu cherches l’origine,
Afin qu’a l’avenir y faisant ton sejour
Tu nous faces par là parvenir à la Chine.
In his explorations Samuel de Champlain had discovered a beautiful sheltered and elongated inlet near the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, in what is now the Annapolis Valley – a truly Arcadian paradise – famous for it extremely gentle climate and in later times, its glorious apples. In 1604 Champlain, with his colleague Pierre de Monts and their followers first tried to put down roots on Ile St. Croix in the southwestern corner of New Brunswick, today near Calais and just inside the American border. They had a terrible time of it and moved across the Baie Française (Bay of Fundy) to the Annapolis Basin, another world altogether, entered by the defensible narrow Digby Gut.
This detail from Google Maps shows what the area looks like today and gives the locations of the Habitation, the second site of Port Royal which the English later named Annapolis Royal, and, upriver, the village of Belleisle where an Acadian house was excavated.
Champlain illustrated his works with a map of the Annapolis Basin which showed the location of the Habitation and the wider exploitation by his colleagues in the area.
Carte de la baie de Port Royal par Champlain, dans Les voyages dv sievr de Champlain Xaintongeois, capitaine ordinaire pour le Roy, en la marine. 1613. 19,5 x 25,5 cm, Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, btv1b8595932d.
Here is a detail from the area of the Habitation itself.
Champlain provided a very detailed legend of all the sites that were of importance to him in this new settlement. As well as the site of the Habitation (A) there is his personal garden (B) between it and the water. Across the basin on a promontory are wheat fields, soon to be the future site of Port Royal. Because this legend is so deeply interesting, recording as it does Champlain’s very personal interests in the various locations and even minutia of his settlement, I insert an annotated version of it here. It is a most important document to the recording of topography in the New World,
LEGEND TO CHAMPLAIN’S MAP OF PORT ROYAL
A – Site of the Settlement
B – The Sieur de Champlain’s Garden
C – Path through the woods which the Sieur de Poutrincourt had made
D – Island at the mouth of the River Equille (now Goat Island)
E – Entrance to Port Royal
F – Shoals which become dry at low tide
G – St Anthony River (now Bear River)
H – Cultivated field where grain was sown (Annapolis Royal now stands here)
I – Mill which the Sieur de Poutrincourt had built
L – Fields which were covered by water at spring tide
M- Equille River (now Annapolis River)
N – The seacoast of Port Royal
0 – Slopes of Mountains (North Mountains)
P – Island near St Anthony River (now Bear Island)
Q – Rocky Brook (now Deep Brook)
R – Another brook (Moose River)
S – River of the Mill (now Allen’s River)
T – A small lake
V – The place where the Indians catch herring in the season
X – Brook of the Troutery ( now Dixons Brook)
Y – The path which the Sieur de Champlain had made
The 1605 Habitation
In the summer of 1605 Champlain and his colleagues had built their centre of operations on the north shore of the Basin. They called it the Habitation. The word means “dwelling” but in this context implied much more.
It consisted of a number of special-use buildings arranged around a courtyard where a well was eventually dug. This was a typical European arrangement ingrained into their minds by all their experiences of centres of authority in France. This was the place from where missionaries of the Catholic Church would go out and convert the indigenous people to Catholicism so that, in the process they would become recognised as human beings, not savages. It was also to be the base to control the fur trade and the extremely lucrative fisheries.
The Habitation was approached from the Basin and a path led to a grand entrance gate surmounted by the coloured coats of arms of the principal directors of the project. Flanking the entrance were two protruding bastions with cannon mounts. The extremely confusing geometrical grids that you see at the base of the engraving are Champlain’s personal garden, which he had already indicated and labelled in his map of 1604-05. As incredible as it may seem in the 1605 wilderness of the new World, even such a practical thing as a garden was planned and planted in the strict formal geometric beds that had been utilised in Europe for centuries.
This garden is of the greatest historical importance because it was there that experiments were conducted to determine which European seeds – food, herbs and flowers – would take hold in this new climate. Apples may have been introduced to North America at this time.
One is reminded of the popular song of one’s childhood sung by Wilf Carter in the 1940s.
In a booklet published by Parks Canada in 1970 there is a plan of the Habitation that clearly identifies each room in the compound with its central courtyard.
The courtyard of the Habitation led to various specialised buildings. In the long building on the left there was a community hall, accommodations for the workers, and on the corner, a chapel. The latter was vital in any such establishment because the explorers were accompanied by missionary priests whose plan it was to convert the indigenous people and obliterate their culture and religion in order to make them “civilised.” A chapel was also necessary because it was the privilege and duty of each priest to say Mass every day and to administer the basic Sacraments of the Catholic religion to those who needed them. These started with Baptism, followed by Confession of Sins, First Communion and regular Communion, Confirmation by a bishop, and Extreme Unction or the Last Rites. Today few people have any idea of the importance of these functions in the life of any community of that time, especially one operating on a Royal mandate.
The buildings on the right side were for storage and trading. A palisade outfitted for defense projected out towards the river. All carefully separate and forming part of the rectangle were a forge, bakery, various specialised structures and in the back right corner, Champlain’s residence.
Even entertainment was planned to entertain and stimulate the people who endured endless winters in this utter isolation. A semi-formal “Order of Good Cheer” (L’Ordre de Bon Temps) was set up so everybody could drink wine and take part in the general entertainment. The first play known to have been written in Canada was Marc Lescarbot’s, Le Théâtre de Neptune en la Nouvelle-France, which was performed in 1606. As I mentioned above, Lescarbot, no literary slouch, published a book of Early Baroque poetry, celebrating the country, encounters with the Savages, praising the chief personalities and going on and on in Baroque French, and in 1609 wrote a popular history of his time in New France, called Histoire de la Nouvelle-France.
This modern drawing of the Habitation in use gives perhaps a better idea of how all those spaces and buildings were used. Sadly, I was unable to find the source or the artist as it was a disconnected post on Twitter.
Building types employed at the Habitation
At short notice and in a hurry to prepare for winter, the builders of the Habitation would have used a variety of building techniques in wood. Possibly the most desirable and most stable was the en colombage technique where horizontal and vertical logs were enclosed in a mortice and tenon house frame. Wattle and daub could also be used to fill spaces. Frame houses would have been the prime image of any structure in their mind when they arrived. It was the memory and image they brought from home. Log houses with notched corners of different kinds might also have been familiar but to date I have not found any evidence for this. The third choice – and the worst – was driving tall stakes into the ground to form walls then binding them at the top with a string course so that a roof could be built. This style was called en picquet or en pile. It was an extension of the ancient form of enclosure called the palisade. All three types are illustrated in this 1942 drawing by Charles W. Jefferys, from Volume 1 of The Picture Gallery of Canadian History.
Jefferys notes in his book, The settlement was surrounded by a palisade of tree trunks set upright in the ground. The houses, most of which were low one-story structures, probably were built in the same way, for where the soil was not too rocky and wood was plentiful this was the quickest way of putting up the walls of a house. That of the governor was made of boards, brought. already sawn, from France. This house is seen in the picture opposite the gateway. The roofs probably were of bark or roughly-hewn planks, the windows had no glass, but most likely were covered with parchment or oiled paper, and closed with inside shutters, the chimneys and fireplaces were made of field stones.
The good cheer did not last long and in 1607, when the company’s trading privileges were taken away, the site was abandoned. Baron Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt, one of Champlain’s colleagues, returned in 1610 to re-establish the colony and only three years later, in 1613, violent American raiders, always looking for something French to destroy, led by Captain Samuel Argall, arrived with hooligans from Virginia and after taking everything worthwhile burnt the Habitation to the ground. For the moment, that was the end of the Early Baroque French dream of colonisation in New France.
The Habitation is Reborn in the Twentieth Century
It was in the 1920s that the Canadian Government began the process of identifying and marking in various ways important sites in the history of the French and British colonies in the New World. Often simple cairns with bronze plaques – a few still survive here and there – were erected. The Habitation at Port Royal was high on the list of priorities and work on a great edition of the complete works of Champlain was begun. It is still our basic reference. The Habitation was designated a National Historic Site in 1925 and interest ran high in the community. By the 1930s the site of the Habitation – mostly ashes – was discovered and there were archaeological excavations. Curiously interest in the site was greatly heightened by a novel called Quietly My Captain Waits, written in 1940 by Evelyn Eaton, a Canadian novelist. The plot was set in Port Royal of the Seventeenth Century. It is still in print.
There was tremendous interest to rebuild the Habitation, and this was done in 1939-41 – in wartime – and based on a set of plans recently discovered in France. This was a most significant moment in the commemoration of events in the early history of Canada because the Habitation was the first replica of a very substantial site ever produced for historical interpretation.
Thus far in my discussion of early Nova Scotian architecture I have not discussed construction particulars because the Habitation is a modern construction, a hasty wartime effort, and we cannot be sure of all the techniques used. Certainly, originally there would have been structures en picquet, especially the defensive palisade, and major buildings constructed using horizontal logs presumably set on foundations, although I am not sure if that was the case in 1606. I am not sure if the platform for cannon on the left of our illustration was meant to be a cribwork of wood and soil, as was used in later bastions such as at Fort Beausejour, or if stone was used in any amount. If I can obtain these details I will in time insert them here.
The following photographs, all taken from various Parks Canada sites, give you an idea of what you will see if you visit it today.
All photos courtesy of Parks Canada
Port Royal/Annapolis Royal
The site was too important to be abandoned and so a whole new effort was directed at a new Port Royal, across the basin, on a projection of land that in the earliest maps is designed at wheat fields. France relocated the settlement about 8 km (5.0 mi) upstream and to the south bank of the Annapolis River, the site of the present-day town of Annapolis Royal.
The English were ever present and the subsequent century and a half until the founding of Halifax in 1749 saw what the French insisted on calling Port Royal and the English Annapolis Royal is a time of historical absurdity with on and off episodes of French and English rule and even joint control of the settlement now grown to a fort.
You can read a summary of these confusing events here, and of course there are numerous books to consult as even today, the convolutions of history in that place still require sorting and analysis.
In 1686, at the end of French interests and control in Port Royal, Monsieur De Meulles, Intendant de la Nouvelle France, visited Port Royal. It was a gala event, burgeoning with propaganda, and the result was the production of an exceptionally handsome bird’s eye view of the settlement as the French saw it, despite the comings and goings of the English during the century. The map, in its title, expresses clearly that this is a general view of the whole settlement and that the Intendant had personally visited every building depicted in this large sheet, embellished with ink drawings and watercolour topography. I found this map in the French National Archives. You can visit their site and explore it at very high resolution. Once you have entered the site use the ZOOM tool to focus in on the map to slide it around or using the mouse wheel, to zoom in on any area that interests you.
Franquelin, Jean-Baptiste (1650-17?). Cartographe présumé, Carte G[énér]ale de la Baye et Rivière du Port Royal, et de toutes les habitations que Monsieur De Meulles Intendant de la Nouvelle France a visité et dont il a fait lever le plan en sa présence avec beaucoup de soin, 1686, ink and watercolour, 47 x 86 cm, Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, catalogue bnf. 12148/cb43656959j.
In this detail of the settlement itself, dominated by a church, we see that it occupies that promontory into the river noted on the earliest maps, In the town there is an attempt to bring order to the placement of buildings, but we have no information about what functions they have. At the bottom we see that a large mill has been constructed on the damned-up river. With this view it is easy to lower yourself down into that space and walk around.
In the detail to the left of the town we can see many houses stretched out along the river. They are grouped closely in what we have now come to expect as typical of Acadian settlement and they are probably mostly built en picquet and have a central chimney. It is difficult however to be certain about the various building techniques employed by the settlers as there was nobody to write about such mundane things. Lescarbot, from time to time, mentions fine wood fittings in some of the more important buildings, but does not specifically describe their method of construction. Historians generally assume that the colonial aim was to imitate the building styles that were left back in France. Most of these houses would have one or two rooms on the ground floor.
The third detail from this map, showing the distribution of houses upriver there is less clustering but still, the houses are quite close together and all have easy direct access to the river.
The celebratory map is a great treasure in the study of early Acadian settlement in Nova Scotia, and by extension in other places as well, showing the pattern of settlement always close to the water’s edge and the great forests, starting at the edges of their fields or reclaimed marshland, stretching on into oblivion. This is the home of the Mi’kmaq and Malecite tribes with whom the French, particularly the Acadians, would establish such close and friendly relationships.
There is another map, presumably by Franquelin, that looks at this settlement from the eyes of another bird. Let us get aboard this small boat and return to Port Royal, perhaps a few years later than the celebratory map we have just been examining.
Franquelin, Jean-Baptiste (1650-17–), PLAN TRES EXACT DV/ Terrain où sont scitüces les maisons du/ Port Royal et ou lon peut/ faire une Ville/ considerable. watercolour and ink on paper, 47 x 86 cm, [1680s], Bibliothèque nationale de France, bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb43656938k.
What a dramatic piece this is! Franquelin has narrowed his field of view to the promontory upon which the new settlement – still exceedingly small – has been built. As in his previous version the centre of focus is the church, the churchyard in the process of being enclosed by a rectangle of two rows of cypress trees. The cypress is not native to Canada and so these must have been among the experimental plants brought over by Champlain earlier in the century when he set up his garden of French specimens at the Habitation. Since ancient times the cypress has been associated with mourning and death. Its dark leaves dampen the spirit and once cut, sprouts will not grow from the stump, which dies.
In front of the church is a formal garden enclosed with pickets but with a formal arched entrance. The space is quartered by cruciform paths which define the beds, associated with French Mediaeval monastery enclosed gardens – the hortus conclusus. It would be very interesting to discover what plants grew in that garden. Most surely there would have been medicinal herbs because the church, in its monastic aspect, had always had an infirmary with an attendant monk skilled in the medicine of the day. This tradition most surely have been carried over by whatever branch of religious order served this church, for all of them had monastic origins. There would no doubt have been herbs for cooking and whatever vegetables could be grown there at that time.
The church has an off-centre door on the four bay long side and a spire mounted in the centre along the roof ridge. This is topped with a variety of ornaments, perhaps a rooster ? wind vane, and below directional pointers which we are all familiar with. The style of the church appears to be based on the classicism of the Renaissance, not Gothic, which by this time was unfashionable. The altar and sanctuary were surely placed along the short side, facing the cross on top of the opposite gable. Next to the church is a small residence, probably for the priest, and next to it one optimistically supposes is a hen house.
The cemetery is beyond the church, it too enclosed by a picket fence. As is traditional in Catholic cemeteries there is a monumental cross that dominates the space.
Franquelin went to great lengths to give this small map – only 47 x 86 centimetres – the most impressive monumentality possible. Take for example the structure that frames the map’s legend on the right side.
We are only shown part of it and that part is extraordinary. The massive architectural structure that holds the panel on which the legend is inscribed is framed by a pair of caryatids – the other is out-of-picture. Now this is most interesting and clearly tells us that Franquelin was intimately aware of the Italian Renaissance influence on French architecture of the Sixteenth Century, particularly Francis the First’s complete remodelling of the Louvre. The most famous architectural sculptor of the day, Jean Goujon (c. 1510-65) had created a monumental entrance to a great hall that was framed in a style similar to what we see on the map (Dunlop pp. 100-101). Goujon had four caryatids in his great doorway; Franquelin on a small map drawn on paper is content with one, a second being implied by the symmetry of the design. Franquelin would no doubt have seen the original Goujon doorway in the Louvre which survives to this day. That it crept into his map of Port Royal in Acadia is a mystery. The Ancient Greeks invented the caryatid as a sensuous female body column substitute in the Ionic style. The most famous example of this is found on the Erechtheion on the Athenian Acropolis that was begun in 421 BC, where six such ladies hold up an ornamental porch. In exploiting classical detail Renaissance France in some ways surpassed what was happening in Italy in building of that sort.
And the legend contained in this temple? Here it is:
- The houses on the big cape [above high cliffs]
- The Parish Church
- A destroyed fort
- The cemetery
- Store belonging to an Englishman
- Store belonging to an Englishman
- The Governor’s house
- Sieur le Borgne’s house
- Water mill
If we walk along the shore, we see first a windmill to pump water to a communal tank, and then a series of properties – modest and grand – extend to the picture. There is no inland community. In the French fashion in Acadia all houses are near the water, on the edge of the vast agricultural resources, and placed closely together – even the upper classes!
In the detail I magnified for you here three properties are identified. Number 6 is a store belonging to an Englishman, 7 is the house of the Governor and 8 is the house of a wealthy and influential man, the Sieur le Borgne, Governor of Acadia and deeply interested in what riches could be gleaned from his territories. He has the largest garden of all, which ostentatiously protrudes into the agricultural land.
The houses vary in size, probably only 1 or 2 rooms around a chimney except for the Governor of Port Royal who has what appears to be quite a large house, at least three times the size of the others along that shore. It may be what in France would have been called a chateau.
The community continues on the other side of the church in an area on top of high cliffs appropriately called on the legend le gros cap – big cape – and is well-populated with quite a variety of houses, all the same size, but differing in orientation and detail.
A road runs through this part of the village which is mainly agricultural, with no signs of fishing wharves and stages common in other maps of the time. It makes sense that farming would win over fisheries in what would become the Annapolis Valley of today.
Maps such as these – and quite a few were produced in the late Seventeenth Century – are rich sources of information not only on the architecture of the various classes of people but also on how town planning (if there was any) and development took place.
Today you can still visit the exact spot where all this happened and other sites too where in time a very prosperous French/Acadian communities sprang up in what was official British soil in conditions that could only be possible in the eccentric French and British of the New World of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
Up the river from Port Royal is the modern village of Belleisle. It was most likely named after Le Sieur de Belleisle who regained command of Annapolis Royal in 1667 following the Treaty of Breda. The French first appeared there in the early 1880s and by 1760, after the Expulsion, by the British.
The Belleisle House
Archaeologically Belleisle today is important not only for the remnants of British Colonial architecture found in the area but for a remarkable excavation begun in 1983 by archaeologists from the Nova Scotia Museum and Université Sainte-Anne that turned up the foundations of a substantial house dated to near the end of the French residency in the area – in the 1680s.
Here is the outline of the foundation from the excavation report published by David Christianson in 1984 by the Nova Scotia Museum.
Nova Scotia Museum
It became evident during excavations that the foundation contained traces of two houses on the same site, a second rebuilt after a fire.
The most important feature to be revealed concerned the fireplace and the oven. Generally, the oven for baking was a quite substantial rotund thing made of stone held together with brick clay and stray as a mortar and smoothed over with mud. If you wanted to bake you had to go outside.
Drawing by Azor Vienneau, Nova Scotia Museum
In this instance however there was an arrangement, never before discovered, whereby the oven door was located inside the house so that in winter weather baking did not involve a trek in the snow.
The circular oven and fireplace complex was unlike any other found in North America. The base and exterior walls of the oven were made of the same field stones used in the foundation of the house, and it seems to have been lined with clay. The oven door was probably at the back of the fireplace, inside the house.
This reconstruction painting by Azor Vienneau gives you a good idea of the placement of the oven door next to the fireplace but also a feeling for such an interior that would have been typical of almost all Acadian homes in the Maritime Region.
Painting by Azor Vienneau, Nova Scotia Museum
A Last View of Port Royal/Annapolis Royal before the Deportation.
Before we leave the Annapolis Basin there is one more document that we must examine to find evidence, in the most peripheral fashion, of the presence of the Acadians on the shores of Annapolis Royal. It is found on the lower edges of a bombastic naval painting of an event that took place in the harbour.
Samuel Scott (c. 1702-7=1772) British Vessels at Anchor in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, with a Rear-Admiral of the Red Firing a Salute, 1751 Based on drawing by John Henry Bastide, 1751, Christies Auction House.
On the left, in the immediate foreground is the corner of an Acadian settlement with small fishing boats drawn up on shore and a group of people gathered around a large stew pot.
They are preparing a meal. On the right, in the middle ground, is the gem of the painting, an Acadian house with inhabitants and their animals gathered near the shore.
The house has a central chimney and a gable end door, facing the water. A sort of lean-to has been built along one side, perhaps as a stable or perhaps to keep wood dry. So isolated in the grand naval scene that is the main subject of the painting it is easy to pass it by. Many Acadian scholars think that this is the first depiction of Acadians in the time before the Deportation.
By 1764 when this elegant map was drawn by the energetic propagandist French mapmaker, Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, all seems peaceful and quiet. But all had been lost! The name Port Royal is gone for good, but in his “I’ll never let go” way Bellin still names the area as Port Royal, with a contemptuous nod to the English who call it Annapolis Royal.
Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772), PLAN DU / PORT ROYALE / dans l’Acadie, / Appellé Aujour d’ par les Anglois / ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, from Petit Atlas Maritime, Tome I, no. 27, 13.5 x 8 inches, old colour, Paris, 1764. Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.
Here is a detail from this elegant map showing the promontory of Annapolis Royal, the very spot we visit today.
What sadness, what endless turmoil, what uncertainty of identity, permeates this beautiful spot. Knowing even a little of its history, the site will delight you – and leave you troubled.
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