Yarmouth Vanguard, November 21, 1989
On the shore of the Bay of Fundy, in Kings county, not quite five miles from the Annapolis county line, stands the small village of Morden, which used to be called “French Cross”. Here is to be found, close to the beach, a cross made of oval beach stones, the trunk of which measures seven feet high and two feet and three quarters wide; the arms measure four feet and three quarters. It is known as the “French Cross” – there are two plaques attached to it; one reads French Cross -1755, and the other, French Cross. Tradition has it that on this site Acadians from Belle Isle wintered in 1755-56 – in the spring of 1756 Pierre Melanson with an Indian boy crossed the Bay for help – on their return trip he died.
In 1755, the task to apprehend the Acadians of Annapolis River to send them into exile had been entrusted to Col. John Handfield, who in his correspondence, expressed more than once how unpleasant a task this was for him; the maternal grandmother of his wife, Elizabeth Winniet, was an Acadian, Madeleine Bourque, who still had many relatives in Annapolis; her grandfather was Pierre Maisonnat, the “Baptiste” I told you about in two of my previous sketches, No. 10 and No. 11.
On Sept. 12, 1755, the Acadians of Annapolis River learned what had happened a few days before to the Acadians of Grand Pré. Immediately, some of them, especially those who lived up the River, had time to make their escape before Handfield was able to reach them, especially those of the Belleisle region, consisting of about 20% of the population. Belleisle, which still bears that name, is located about halfway between Annapolis and Bridgetown. They were about 300 in all. So that they might not be discovered, instead of following the River or the road that led to Minas Basin, they made their way through the woods, having at their right the road and on their left the mountain.
After travelling about twenty-five miles, with their luggage on their back, babies in their arms and old people in makeshift carts, exhausted, they stopped in the Aylesford plain, about a mile east of Kingston, according to tradition.
It is said that they stayed here about a month, but it seems that it was closer to two months. The food that they had brought with them did not last long. They were compelled to eat berries, herbs and wild fruits. As a result, a number of them died of dysentary. There is here a location that the first English settlers called “The French Burying Ground.”
Some have said that they spent the Winter here, but, according to circumstances, that seems impossible. What happened, rather, is that when the first snow started to fall, they decided to get on the other side of the mountain to the shore of the Bay of Fundy, from where they might be able to contact other Acadians whom they knew, thanks to the Micmacs, to be hiding around the Chignecto Isthmus. It is also thanks to the Micmacs that they were able to find their way to the shore. The Indians had told them about the Morden region, because it was on the same levels as the water, exempt of cliffs, contrary to many other regions along the shore. Although the distance was of only six miles, it was for them a tremendous task to reach this location, weak as they were from want of food, especially to climb the mountain.
The plaque indicates that it was in the Spring that Pierre Melanson and the Indian boy crossed the bay, to be able to get in contact with the Acadians who were not too far away. But as it was precisely for that purpose that they had come to Morden, it seems more likely that they tried to get in touch with them right away. Anyway, Pierre Melanson and the Indian boy did cross to Cape Chignecto, about sixteen miles from Morden, up to a cove known since as “Refugee Cove.” What happened then, we are not told. Probably too exhausted to do anything else, Pierre Melanson had to come back to Morden, where he died on arrival.
With regard to those who were to spend the Winter in this isolated and desolated place, words are wanting to describe the sad plight that was to be theirs. They made shelters the best they could with branches, ate the best they could, like ducks, sea gulls, crows, rabbits, squirrels, algues and fish that they caught through the ice. But most of all, they ate shellfish. The fact is that with the shells that were found here, the authorities were able to pave the entrance of the park which was erected here. Moreover, when Saint Mary’s Church, in Aylesford, was built in 1790, those shells were used to make plaster.
Out of the 300 persons who had left Belleisle in September, there were only 90 left at the end of Winter, according to one version, 60 according to another. In the Spring, with the help of the Indians, they were able to cross to Cape Chignecto, to a place called since then “Starvation Point,” and from here to Chignecto Isthmus, with the intention to go to Quebec.
Before leaving Morden, they erected over the tombs of those who were not able to make it, a large black cross, that withstood the elements of nature till about 1860, thus over one hundred years.
After a number of years, the people of Morden, who had seen the wooden cross, decided to erect another one, to keep alive the tradition of this episode of the Expulsion of the Acadians. This was in 1887 when an oak cross was erected, as close as possible to the location where the first cross stood, which location has been eroded by the sea. It was replaced in 1920 by a third cross, this time made of rounded beach stones.
As people who were coming to see the cross were increasing in number, it was decided twenty five years ago, that is in 1964, to build here a park and to erect a more artistic cross, the one that I described above. Its unveiling took place the 29th of August of that year; it was done by an Acadian woman residing in Morden, Mrs. Denis Boudreau, née Agathe Gaudet, from Concession. She just died last year, May 10.
Whenever riding up the Annapolis Valley, it would be worth your while to turn off route 1, at Auburn, and to go to Morden to see the “French Cross”.