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Habitation at Port-Royal
In 1604, the French nobleman Pierre Dugua de Monts (Sieur de Monts) led an expedition to North America to reconnoiter lands between 40º N and 45º N latitude where he had been given a monopoly on the fur trade by the Government of France.
A condition for this grant was the stipulation that he establish a colony, thus Dugua, accompanied by cartographer Samuel de Champlain and 77 other settlers, all men (most of whom were hired for a one-year term), a settlement was established on a small island in a river on the north shore of what they called Baie François (today called the Bay of Fundy).
The island, named Île-Saint-Croix in the Riviére-St-Croix (which drains into Passamaquoddy Bay), became a deathtrap in the winter of 1604-1605 as the settlers succumbed to scurvy and diseases brought on by malnutrition and the cold. Due to the island's small size, the meagre wood supply was quickly depleted and isolation on the island in the river kept settlers away from area wildlife, or assistance from the nearby Passamaquoddy Nation.
In the spring of 1605, the surviving settlers (44 of the 79 had perished), left with Dugua and Champlain on an expedition to a more favourable settlement location on Baie François.
Dugua and Champlain decided to move their settlement to the north shore of present-day Annapolis Basin, a sheltered bay on the south shore of the Bay of Fundy which had been discovered by Champlain earlier in the spring of 1605 during a coastal reconnaissance.
Nestled against the North Mountain range, they called their new location Port-Royal and set about constructing a log stockade fortification called a "Habitation." With assistance from members of the Mi'kmaq Nation and a local chief named Membertou, coupled with the more temperate climate of the fertile Annapolis Valley, the settlement prospered.
Mindful of the disastrous winter of 1604-1605 at the Île-Saint-Croix settlement, Champlain established l'Ordre de Bon Temps (the Order of Good Cheer) as a social club ostensibly to promote better nutrition and to get settlers through the winter of 1606-1607. Supper every few days became a feast with a festive air supplemented by performances and alcohol and was primarily attended by the prominent men of the colony and their Mi'kmaq neighbours while women, children, and poorer settlers looked on and were offered scraps.
Unfortunately in 1607, Dugua had his fur trade monopoly revoked by the Government of France, forcing settlers to return to France that fall. The Habitation was left in the care of Membertou and the local Mi'kmaq until 1610 when Sieur de Poutrincourt, another French nobleman, returned with a small expedition to Port-Royal. Poutrincourt converted Membertou and local Mi'kmaq to Catholicism, hoping to gain financial assistance from the government. As a result, Jesuits became financial partners with Poutrincourt, although this caused division within the community.
In May, 1613 the Jesuits moved on to the Penobscot River valley and in July, the settlement was attacked by Samuel Argall of Virginia. Argall returned in November that same year and burned the Habitation to the ground while settlers were away nearby. Poutrincourt returned from France in spring 1614 to find Port-Royal in ruins and settlers living with the Mi'kmaq. Poutrincourt then gave his holdings to his son and returned to France. Poutrincourt's son bequeathed the settlement to Charles La Tour upon his own death in 1623.
Port-Royal in history
Port-Royal was a French "beach head" in North America and is counted as the second continuously-occupied (i.e. permanent) European settlement on the continent after St. Augustine, which was settled by Spain in 1565.
Port-Royal outlasted the ill-fated English settlement at Roanoke and pre-dated English settlements at Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620) and the French settlement at Québec (1608). As such, Port-Royal is also the founding community of la Nouvelle-France, the start of French colonization efforts in North America.
Despite the destruction of the Habitation in 1613, French settlers continued to establish communities in the fertile Annapolis Valley which Champlain had discovered in his quest to relocate the Île-Saint-Croix settlement. These settlers moved into the better soils on the tidal marshes of Minas Basin in the eastern reaches of the Bay of Fundy (Baie François) and also the Bay's northern reaches at Beaubassin on the Tantramar_Marshes. These settlers named the region surrounding the Baie François Acadie and referred to themselves as Acadien.
Port-Royal was also the site of the first sailing ship built in Canada in 1606 for coastal exploration, and it was also the first site of crops being planted in Canada (as can be authenticated). Nearby the first grist mill built in North America was located - a reproduction today hides a small hydro-electric plant.
In the 1930s, Nova Scotian preservationists and historians began lobbying the Government of Canada to build a replica of the Habitation which stood from 1605 until its destruction in 1613. The government agreed after much persuasion and a replica was built in 1939-1940. Today, this replica serves as the cornerstone of Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada, and coupled with the nearby Fort Anne National Historic Site of Canada in Annapolis Royal, continues to commemorate this important historic region for Canadians and visitors.
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