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History of Inverness County, Nova Scotia
Chapter XXXI - General Sketch of the French Districts

We regret greatly that we were not vouchsafed the necessary information for a detailed history of the pioneer settlers of these fine French communities. A special editor, was, with our hearty approbation, named and appointed to write up these important settlements of the county. This gentleman was selected for that work because he was a native of those districts, could speak the language of the people and interpret accurately their ideals and inspirations; and because he was highly competent in all other respects to perform creditably the labors and duties involved. But, unfortunately, this well qualified co-operator, was not able, owing no doubt to the pressure of imperative official demands, to attend to this optional and silent service of patriotism.

We mention this circumstance not at all by way of imputing blame to the gentleman referred to. Far from it. We know from experience the vice-like grasp in which public officials are often held. They are servants of supreme authority. We know also, that but few busy men among us are particularly prone to impose on themselves serious voluntary burdens, for no more tangible reward than "The still, sad, music of humanity."

All the same, for the sake of this work, for the sake of the noble legions of the North, we deplore the fact that our esteemed friend could not have been permitted to give us the great assistance which he was so well-fitted to give, and we were so eager to get.

That portion of this country lying between the Harbor and River of Margaree and the borders of Pleasant Bay is inhabited exclusively by people of French descent. At the time of the drastic expulsion of the Acadians quite a number of the French escaped and sought asylum in Prince Edward Island. Later on some of these crossed over to the northern shores of Inverness county. On the disastrous day of Louisburg in 1758 many of the French there dispersed into various ports of possible safety on our Island coast. Quite a number came to Arichat and adjoining haven's. From these points proceeded subsequently a goodly number of the early settlers of Margaree and Cheticamp.

The plight of these initial Inverness settlers of the French race was harder and more pathetic than that of the Scotch and Irish. The latter races came here of their own accord as ordinary immigrants, and were prepared to accept whate'er the fates would give them under their own flag. The French were driven here by the sword of conquest, and thus the conquered were compelled to seek shelter and sympathy under the heel of the conquerors. The ancestors of these French pioneers had long been the owners and masters of Cape Breton Island. They lost their title and hard won homes and possessions by ruthless force of arms. And hither they came in flight into the forest fastnesses of the victors, appealing, as a last resort, from Philip drunk to Philip sober. Luckily for the county of Inverness the appeal was allowed; and these defeated and dispersed Frenchmen have become an asset of value and lustre in our British and Canadian citizenship.

To any man who would ask us what these people have done in the development of Inverness we should say, go there and see. Standing there with your eyes open, if you want to see their monument look around you. There is not a piece of ground in Cape Breton Island, barring towns created by special and concerted industries, that maintains so many people in comfort and contentment as do these Acadian settlements. The people here are true types of the thrifty Gauls of the homeland. They are quick, alert, industrious, emotional, resourceful, and polite to the last ditch.

The farms here are carved into somewhat narrow strips running from the sea about a mile up into the mountains. On each of these strips there would seem to be three families located in ranges equidistant from each other. This gives the whole settlement the appearance of an extended village. These farms are well worked and cared for. The dwellings and other buildings on the farms are much of the same pattern, neat but not large, and very strongly built as a precaution against the violence of the South East storms which, not infrequently, come rolling and sweeping down the mountains.

The men here would seem to be drawn to the sea by Nature. Nearly all engage in the fisheries or some other marine pursuits. In the days of sailing vessels there was quite a number of schooners owned and captained here, and were busy trading from here to Halifax, St. John's, Nfld., and other places. The harnessing of steam to the chariots of transportation and commerce ended the career of that once useful sailing craft.

Practically all these people are Catholics. In fact, nothing better illustrates their wholesome vision and high planes of thought than do their vigor and fidelity in promoting their schools and churches. In the early days they were handicapped in respect of education. They were French, speaking no language but their own; the language of the schools was English; all the teachers available, were English speaking teachers. But the Acadians struggled, sacrificed and persevered. Today they have the best school houses, and some of the best teachers to be found in any of the rural schools of the Island. All the later generations speak and write English with ease, many among them became clever teachers, some became lawyers, several became doctors, one, at least, became a respected member of Parliament, and a very considerable number became priests.

As late as 1823 there were only two priests in Inverness County one a French priest, Fr. Planchette of Cheticamp, the other a Scottish priest, Fr. Macdonnell of Judique, and neither of them was a native of the county. At present there are four resident French priests, and three fine churches north of Margaree Harbor. In the near neighborhood of each of those churches there is a spacious Hall for public meetings and social service. The stone church at Eastern Harbor is, in our opinion, the most stately church edifice in the whole province. There were two priests in modern days to whom these people are deeply indebted for religious, moral, social and educational uplift. They were the late Father Gerrior and the late Father Fiset. These two departed clergymen were both good men of conspicuous energy and influence, and distinctly great leaders; and their leadership was not thrown away on the loyal and devoted French people.

In the seventies of the 18th century an enterprising commercial firm of Jerseymen came to Cheticamp "Point", and started a fish business which was conducted and continued successfully for more than a century. This firm obtained a grant of a large tract of land at and near "the Point", which was probably the first "Grant" issued and passed in Northern Inverness. This ''Company", as the firm was popularly called, struck out, at once, into extensive fishing operations. At first they had to import some of their fishermen, but as the shores became settled, the "importations" were weeded out and succeeded by the French settlers. The "Company" prospered apace. It had no rivals or competitors. On sea and land it gave useful employment to many of the struggling early settlers of Inverness county; but, it is said that, having everything its own way, it treated the French fishermen very harshly betimes. A startling narrative of such treatment was given us years ago by the late Father Fiset in his own house at Eastern Harbor. We speak from memory, but what he told us was substantially as follows:

"These French fishermen in earlier times did not own the boast, nets, and fishing gear which they employed; the "Company" supplied them. The French were required to give and sell all their catch to the Company, and to nobody else. The Company kept a store of goods with which it paid for the fish, and for which it charged its own price. It also fixed the price of the fish which the French sold it."

"One certain season mackerel was very plentiful; the fishermen made large catches; the general market price was $10 a barrel; the French were required to give and pay to the Company five barrels of this fresh mackerel, and one dollar cash, for a single barrel of flour." According to this statement the price of flour to these helpless fishermen with large families would be $51 per barrel. This very day we are seeing and suffering the disturbing and dangerous results of similar impositions, practiced the world over against the humble, horny-handed hosts of toil.

When Father Fiset came to Cheticamp many of the fishmermen there were deeply in debt. The first care of this prudent and practical pastor was to organize these people for their own defence and benefit. He devised ways and means of raising money to pay off those debts, and to build and buy their own boats and fishing gear. To break the strangled hold of the monopolist he entered, himself, into commercial business, that his people might be free to sell their fish where they liked, and to the best advantage. He also built a grist mill for the convenience of the farmers of these districts. His own personal farm, on which he worked, himself, like a Belgian expert was a veritable illustration station for his parishioners. The result was that many of the men, who were heavily in debt when he came had encouraging bank accounts when he died.

Speaking of the farms of these Northern districts we are glad to say that many of them are excellent farms. They are not large farms individually, but what they lack in quantity is supplied in quality There are no meadow lands or marshes of any considerable magnitude but the active husbandry of the region leave nothing undone to make the upland give the best that is in it. The handsome farms are well tilled. Seaweed, dogfish, barn manure and other fertilizers are applied to the soil without stint. Large crops of potatoes and oats are raised yearly and a superior stock of horses and sheep can always be seen there.

A peculiarity of the farm work here is that a great deal of it is performed by the women folk. In summer the men are fishing, and thew men heed the call of the farm. These women are strong, home loving, and true. They go to the farm work willingly from sheer sense of duty, and they do that work faithfully without neglecting the necessary claims of the household. They work modestly, quietly, and obscurely. Not for them the tempting glamour of notoriety. Unlike the suffragettes and petticoat M. P.'s of modern times, these dutiful dames and damsels believe implicitly that woman's Kingdom is her home. They are intrinsically domestic in soul and service. Wise women! Long, long ago the great Athenian, Pericles, declared and said that woman's finest and rarest merit was never to be heard of.

These French people of the Margarees are uncommonly keen and clever in respect of things political. Nowadays they are well informed as to the vital public affairs of our Dominion. They can read our political literature in French and English, and are quick to grasp the meaning of problems inviting public attention. The knowledge of both languages gives them a tremendous advantage. We must know these two languages to know Canada. These people are strong in their convictions, and blessed with the temperament of the Latin race; but they are not what might be termed crass partizans. They are swayed by reason and deeds of Justice, not by the unreason and devious discourse of the ever wise party preacher. During the whole regime of Sr. Wilfred Laurier they lined up strongly with the Liberal party. That is capable of various explanations that are not discreditable.

But at the federal election of December 1921 they gave surprising support to the young candidate of the Farmer-Labor party. This shows that, in the presence of large issues, they are able, to change their minds, and rise aboon the mere passions and prejudice of party.

That portion of this French territory called Cheticamp won a prominent place on the political map many years ago. In 1832 there was an election in the district of Juste and Corps. This district comprised the ground which now constitutes the County of Inverness. Just an Corps was carved from the County of Cape Breton, then the only county on Cape Breton Island. The candidates at this election were Sir William Young and a Mr. Smith, an official of the General Mining Association at Sydney. During the campaign excitement ran high culminating in a memorable riot at Cheticamp. We have given the details of that riot elsewhere and shall not recount them here. (See Chapter on our Public Men and Politics). Ever since our politi-cans of all shades appeared to feel that Cheticamp was a place to conjure with,a place to fight for.

The French people always took a lively interest in the education of their children. When our common schools system was introduced in Nova Scotia, these Acadians carried out its principles actively and well. School sections were carefully established, appropriate and creditable school houses were erected, the best available teachers were employed, and plains were taken to see that the children attended school. Good Reverend Father Gerrior, a native of Tracadie, and a Parish Priest of Cheticamp, gave a distinct impetus to this educational movement; and in no part of the county was the result of that movement more noticeable and satisfactory than in these French districts. And they were equally solicitous concerning their church organization and progress. The influence of the church and schools among those people is self evident everywhere.

Cheticamp was the first section of these districts to have a resident priest. We have said elsewhere that In 1823 the whole county had but two priests', one a Frenchman Fr. Planchette, the other a Scotsman, Fr. Alexander MacDonnell of Judique; but we are not sure that Fr. Planchette was the first priest of Cheticamp. The next section to have a resident pastor was East Margaree where, we think, Rev. William Chisholm was the first regularly stationed priest. Now there are four French priests in three large well organized parishes here, namely: Rev. Fr. Cormier, a zealous young Priest of East Margaree; Rev. Fr. Broussard, a venerable pastor of modest mien and great piety, at Friar's Head; and the sternly straight and strenuous Fr. Le Blanc, with his curate, at Eastern Harbor. All but Fr. Brous-sard are natives, and young natives of these districts.

The people here would seem to have, not only a solemn and sincere appreciation of their Church as a divine institution; but, also, to take a perfectly proper pride in the decent upkeep of their sacred places. It impresses everybody passing along to see the neat, clean and respectably kept condition of their church buildings and premises, including their cross-gleaming grave yards, the dormitories of the Resurrection. Sic itur ad astra.

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