From civil war in Acadia to integration with the U.S.

Fortune and La Tour: The Civil War in Acadia

M.A. MacDonald
Halifax: Nimbus, 2000
226 pp, incl Appendices A-C,
Notes (18 pp), Bibliography (6 pp) & Index

Reviewed by Janeen Keelan and Gary Zatzman

Burying our past is a bad habit we should be shedding, so itís not a bad thing to see this work back in print. But its presentation also reflects the myopia of much Anglo-American historiography since the nineteenth century concerning colonial experiments, particularly of the French period before the fall of New France. Some of this has consequences for the present. The current and preceding generation have been so badly served when it comes to Canadian history in school that one of us, from Alberta, had never heard of the La Tour story. The other remains just as unaware of the foundations of how Alberta came to be settled by Europeans. This review aims to push the will to discover and uncover more of the inner meanings of some of that long-forgotten French/Acadian past.

This Saint Johner grew up across the street from a strangely-marked cairn marking the boundary between the original New Brunswick Museum building and the park that afforded one of the finest views, anywhere in Saint John, New Brunswick, of the St John River between the Reversing Falls and The Narrows -- but without any concept (for quite a few years) of the link between the Miíkmaq and Maliseet portage that it marked and a hardly-excavated, stratified mound -- the site of Fort La Tour -- about 800 m southwest, down Bentley Street hill and along the Chesley Drive harbourfront, past which generations later walked downtown from the northwest end of the city. It was from here that French colonisers and fur traders initiated ongoing contact with the aboriginal peoples of the Maritimes.

Almost entirely ignored until the late 1970s, pushed from various directions including the museumís history curator Gary Hughes during the lead-up to the cityís bicentennial in 1983, Fort La Tour finally garnered some attention. In addition to provoking resumption of serious historical and archaeological investigations, this gave rise to the first edition of Fortune and La Tour. After receiving critical acclaim, it sold out and remained out of print until this current Nimbus edition appeared in 2000.

Charles La Tour became embroiled in a series of clashes with a noble-born royal courtier and rival, Charles díAulnay. There was more to this than a struggle for wealth and power. There were differing strategic visions at stake, regarding the relative significance and weight that France and those prepared to finance a colonising effort should assign to controlling access to the St. Lawrence basin (with major colonisation of Acadia) on the one hand, and going for more plentiful fur trading profits up the St Lawrence system itself on the other. Unfortunately, although the author included extensive scholarly apparatus (even baggage), she entirely missed this point.

Was the La Tour-díAulnay conflict indeed a civil war? Or does it hold other lessons for us today -- as an example, in embryonic form, from another time, of the kind of inter-monopoly commercial wars that lead to shooting wars? As the seed of conflicts that would grow to mutilate the fate of peoples and countries for generations into the future? The author never asked or even framed this question. Nevertheless, the preoccupations that created and drove the La Tour-díAulnay conflict have something to say to us at the end of the 20th century and start of the 21st.

DíAulnay aligned himself with those pushing the New France option, painting the La Tours as defenders of the Acadia-first option when he thought this would swing royal favour on his side and effectively strip his rival of any continuing support for Acadian enterprises. La Tour tried to hold on by relying on his links with the aboriginal tribes supplying him with furs. As Quebecís fur trading enterprises grew well beyond the scale achieved in La Tourís territory, however, the Company favoured díAulnay. La Tour made a desperate bid to retain his position by lining up with the British commercial colonists in Boston, but díAulnay used this to instigate his French backers to extirpate the La Tour operation once and for all as a threat to overall French colonial security.

From its Reform Party days, the Canadian Alliance advocated economic union of the Maritimes with New England, into "Atlantica." This could cure Canadians of their unfortunate delusions about retaining Confederation as an east-west project independent of the United States. Since Sept 11 they have demanded in the name of "national security" even more insistently than the current government that much greater control over Canadian border security be entrusted to the U.S. Inviting the Americans in to help police our permieters, however, is another old habit we should consider shedding. As the experience of, and for, French colonialism can teach us today, such invitations can have disastrous consequences. La Tour attempted something similar with the governor of New England in order to maintain his grip against díAulnayís pressures. The upshot was the launch of a tradition among expansion-minded interests from that part of the world, where it was assumed that the fisheries and everything else in the relatively empty reaches of the Maritimes would be theirs for the asking -- and, eventually, for the taking. La Tour acting in desperation paved the way for the kind of national betrayal the Alliance would be willing to counsel and countenance as a routine matter of policy.

While he was in Boston trying to raise military support from the colonial Americans, La Tourís second wife, Françoise-Marie Jacquelin, "La Commandante," ended up fighting arms in hands defending Fort La Tour from díAulnay -- losing and dying soon after as his prisoner. DíAulnay died prematurely a few years later; La Tour married his widow and regained his Maritimes mini-empire. But conditions had changed: New France, not Acadia, would henceforth enjoy French royal favour. Great stuff for romantic fiction in Canada going back to the 19th century -- and the present author does not disappoint. However, her narative framework owes everything to the monographs published by Dr Ganong before the First World War.

From the 1650s, French policy aimed to encircle the American colonies from the west. Only after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 did the Bourbon monarchy at Versailles glimpse the downside. Compelling France under the treaty to hand them control over the seaboard northeast of Massachusetts (the present-day Maritime provinces), the British positioned themselves to encircle the approaches to New France from the east and control the colonyís umbilical cord, viz., the transatlantic connections to metropolitan France. Control over the sea approaches to this part of the New World from the Old represented at that time the kind of power controlling the oil spigot in the Near East and central Asia represents today.

As the Miíkmaq resisted, France tried to reap advantages for itself from their bloody guerilla warfare against the northeastward expansion of English settlement towards Acadia. But the British protracted the hostilities for 20 years beyond the declaration of a truce in 1725, then put a gun called the Oath of Allegiance to the heads of the Acadian settlers ("youíre either with us, or you are with those Miíkmaq terrorists and the King of France"), and finally deported the Acadians in 1755 so they could isolate and finish off any remaining Miíkmaq resistance to their colonial land-hunger.

State machinery was imposed, reaching its acme in the British North America Act of 1867, which institutionalised these acts of colonial occupation and theft. The story of how they came to be was recast as the saga of how we achieved institutions of representative self-government in British North America. As the reader sighs his/her last over the tragic and moving fate of Madame La Tour, there remains a darkening spot that such soap-opera concoctions canít quite dispel: is this really what democracy should look like?

The Origins and Neglect of Fort La Tour

The French explorer Champlain recorded the location, and landed at the mouth, of the St John River on June 24, 1604 (festival of St John the Baptist, still celebrated to this day in Quebec as a national holiday). In the 1620s, Charles La Tour was brought out to Port-Royal (present-day Annapolis Royal) by his father, a merchant-adventurer just-this-side of a pirate. Quickly learning the fur trade, the son launched his own enterprise across the Bay of Fundy at the mouth of the St. John, defending from poachers -- for his King in France -- the entire territory on both sides of the Bay of Fundy. Acquiring wealth and esteem, he was commissioned as the first lieutenant-general of Acadia. During the late 1630ís, however, his monopoly came under challenge from Charles de Menou díAulnay. This noble-born individual emjoyed closer links at the royal court to the circle around Richelieu, the power behind the great French colonising enterprise, the Company of Hundred-Associates (Compagnie des Cent-Associés), developed mainly to plunder New France (Quebec).

The "old" New Brunswick Museum, a construction project of the Great Depression notable for its George III-period facade, was long one of the landmarks of "Canadaís Loyalist City." As typically in its way as another Great Depression construction scheme, the Empire State Building, served New York, even after most of the museum was moved to Market Square, the extensive genealogical archives on the British Loyalists who settled New brunswick after 1783 have been maintained there. So are many of the manuscripts of the collections of Dr William F. Ganong, a professional historian from the "chocolate Ganongs" of Charlotte County, New Brunswick, whose career was at universities and colleges in New England.

Ganongís efforts preserved a great deal of pre-Deportation Acadian history and artifacts, but his writings never surmounted the Anglo-American prejudices of his time -- against Catholicism as a force for retarding civilisationís forward march compared to the Protestant ethos of individual enterprise, etc. According to this logic, the French colonial effort was doomed from the outset to give way to the more "progressive" English systems of colonization and "self-government." Thus, even though artifacts were preserved from the French colonial period as something worthwhile in their own right, their significance relative to reconstructing or promoting the British colonial achievement was automatically shoved into a subordinate position. Over the last century, outside actual francophone areas of the Maritimes, this attitude doubtless had more than a little to do with the general neglect of Acadian-related historical projects such as Fort La Tour.