Thirty Lost Villages: The Minas Environs Project
Acadian French colonists from Port Royal began settling along the tidal estuaries of the Minas Basin in the 1680s. Drawn to the area's vast marshlands, which they transformed into arable land with their dyking technology, by the mid-18th century the Acadians had created a distinct and independent culture, with Les Mines as its heartland. Several thousand Acadians lived in villages dispersed around the Minas Basin in 1755 when, in a prelude to the Seven Years' War, the military government of Nova Scotia, fearing their loyalty to the British crown, ordered the deportation of the Acadians. An entire people was uprooted and dispersed among Britain's Atlantic colonies and further a field. The journal of John Winslow, the New England officer charged with the task of deporting the Acadians of Grand-Pré and its neighboring district, records that his troops put approximately thirty Acadian settlements to the torch that November. By the 1760s, the old Acadian lands were resurveyed and granted to New England immigrants. Nova Scotia has been predominantly English speaking ever since.
The history of the Acadian settlements of Les Mines has been a source of interest for many years, as successive generations have attempted to reconcile the natural beauty of the Annapolis Valley with its often tragic and tumultuous past. Unfortunately, while historians have written absorbing histories, archaeologists have conducted periodic surveys, and local people have told and retold their rich oral traditions, the results of decades of interest still remain largely disarticulated. Consequently, we are unclear as to the exact extent and disposition of the Acadian communities destroyed in the autumn of 1755, and countless archaeological sites have been damaged or lost through ignorance and neglect.
The Minas Basin lies at the center of Nova Scotia and is one of two bays at the head of the Bay of Fundy. The entire Fundy system is world renowned for its mega-tides, and the tidal range at the head of the Minas Basin can exceed 15 meters (45 feet). This twice-daily process, operating for thousands of years, has deposited countless tones of sediment along the river valleys feeding into the bay. As a result, immense salt marshes dominate much of the intertidal zone. Exceeding 30 meters (90 feet) depth in places, the salt marshes are composed almost entirely of marine sediment. Free of both stones and trees, the salt marshes were a regarded as a rich resource by the Acadians. Their dyke-building technology allowed them to put this otherwise marginal land into arable production, thus saving them from the backbreaking task of clearing the stony and heavily wooded upland.
The Minas Environs Project brings a multidisciplinary approach to this rich archaeological landscape. It combines historical research with archaeological survey in an effort to weave together disparate threads of evidence. It seeks to identify the full spectrum of natural and cultural elements that formed the Acadian landscape, and to use this information to achieve not only a deeper understanding of Acadian history and culture, but to provide a higher degree of protection for a valuable cultural resource. Since 1998, with the assistance of funding from The Nova Scotia Museum, this project has identified over one hundred areas of high potential for Acadian archaeological resources in Kings and Hants counties. These sites include homesteads, wind and water mills, dykes, roads, chapels and churches, graveyards, a fort, three sites of historic battles, and one mass grave. A program of ground-truthing through limited archaeological testing began in 1999 and is ongoing.