Colonial Canada: Canadian history in the early modern era

Module 2: French Canada, Acadia, and the Mi'kmaq

Image: A View of the Plundering and Burning of the City of Grymross, by Thomas Davies, 1758. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Our lectures and readings this week take us into France’s two 18th-century colonies, Canada and Acadia. Though neighbouring colonies, their histories were quite different. Canada (modern-day Quebec, Ontario and parts of Michigan and Illinois) was by far the largest, and it was given firmer military and financial support by the French state. As the centre of the fur trade, its bases for wealth and settlement were greater, and its continental possibilities for growth much greater.

Acadia (modern-day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Maine) was smaller, but strategically valuable as a base for controlling shipping and the fishery. It was smaller and hemmed in by the oceans and British colonies to the south, and thus much more vulnerable to attack from British and New England forces. From the middle of the 17th century to the early 19th century, Britain and France fought several major. Thus, the French colonies were in a more or less endless war with the British colonies to the south.

On the maps of the era, it looks as though Britain and France controlled huge swaths of territory, but much of it remained firlmly under Indigenous control. Thus, the frontier between Canada and northern New England remained largely marked a zone of continuous small-scale, and sometimes large-scale, warfare involving Canadian settlers, New England settlers, French and British troops, and the Indigenous peoples of eastern North America. The Haudenosaunee/Six Nations peoples were aligned with the British and dominated the territory between Canada and New England/New York as far west as the Ohio River Valley. While in the northeast, the Mi’kmaq and their allies in the Wabanaki Confederacy were aligned with the French and spanned territory from northern Massachusetts to Cape Breton and southern Quebec. That endless level of small-scale war culminated in the Seven Years War (1756-1763), a global war centering on the British and French rivalry for imperial domination in not only North America, but also Africa and Asia, and military dominance on the European continent. 

The outcome of the Seven Years War fundamentally reshaped North American history. It's outcomes very much explain the basic shape of the world we live in today.
Acadia doesn’t receive as much attention as Canada for fairly obvious reasons: it was significantly smaller, and did not go on to create so large a piece of the Canadian assemblage.  Canada became Quebec; its large population and cultural differences marked it as a major, and different, political force in what would become Canada. Acadia didn’t, largely because the British tried to destroy Acadia. Between 1755 and 58, as the Seven Years War loomed, the British brutally expelled most Acadians from the colony. Over 12,000, of a total population of about 15,000, were deported, a quarter of whom died (most of ship-born diseases and ship-wrecks). Deprived of the properties they had developed over the past century, some returned to what was now renamed Nova Scotia but they returned not to their own lands but to marginal sites on the periphery of the colony. Today, over a third of New Brunswick and almost 20 per cent of Nova Scotia are Acadians; your professor is Acadian on his father's side of the family (Scots on the other). Clearly, the British may have destroyed Acadia, but they did not eliminate Acadians.

Acadie and the Expulsion

Read in Belshaw, sections 4.2, 4.3, 6.9.and 6.10.

The Seven Years War and the Conquest

Read in Belshaw sections 6.11, 7.2 and 7.3.


This module take us into the heart of Acadia and we explore life in this smaller colony. Situated between the larger colonies, and thus between the empires themselves, Acadia was small, vulnerable to attack, and strategically valuable – a combination that meant warfare would be common. Acadia had passed to British control in 1713, and official British policy was to preserve the French colonists’ place in the colony because they supplied agricultural good and fish to the British fleet. There was great unease about this. It was not common for French Catholics and English Protestants to share political governance, and thus the relationship required near constant renegotiation. For forty years, that worked. But in 1755, for the fourth time in over four decades, the Acadian leadership again offered loyalty, but not armed support, to the British Crown. This time, the British military insisted on a complete declaration of political and military support.
Our readings this week explore Acadia and Acadians, and particularly the relationship between Acadians and the Mi’kmaq – the people who lived in what the French called Acadia and the Mi’kmaq called Mi’kma’ki. Much debate has occurred on why the expulsion took place. We will explore the lead-up to that decision, asking who were the Acadians, what forces were acting on them, and how can we understand their predicament? Only by understanding who the people of Acadia/Mi’kma’ki were can we can understand not only their actions, but also British imperial goals.

An Introduction to the Edge of Empires

A Discussion at the Edge of Empires

Questions and Instructions

This module we read chapter 3 "On the Edge of Empires" in the Visions reader.

This module, I want you to think about how historians work, and to think about historical questions. Historians begin with questions. If we think about what questions they’re asking, we can understand their answers better.
We have five secondary excerpts to be read. You should read all five (and if you do this chapter for your first assignment, you MUST report on all five). However, this week in our forums, I only want you to report on the first one (Parkman) and either both of the second and third excerpts (Plank and Farragher) or the fourth and fifth (Griffiths and Wicken). As we explore the texts more, you’ll see why I’m making these choices.

So, for those writers you choose, tell me:

1. tell the forum what you think each author’s argument is.

2. tell the forum what you think each author’s main question was in writing the essay
3. propose a common question for all the readings. That is, looking at all the excerpts, propose a question that you think all the pieces share – a question that unifies all these historians basic approach. To be clear, it need not be the case that these historians ever actually thought of their work in this way. But find a question that unifies the fundamental concerns of all the authors.

For all of these questions, you should also offer evidence, and you should feel free to elaborate. But out focus should be succinct statements on the arguments and thoughtful questions proposed.



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