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The Acadian Expulsion

The Acadian Expulsion is a defining event in Acadian history. The deportation of Acadians–French settlers who were living in what is now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island–began in 1755 when the Governor of Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence, ordered Acadians to swear allegiance to Britain or face imprisonment or deportation.

in what is now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island–began in 1755 when the Governor of Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence, ordered Acadians to swear allegiance to Britain or face imprisonment or deportation.

Embarkation of the Acadians, 1755 by Charles William Jefferys via Library and Archives Canada, C-070232k.


In 1710, Great Britain formed colonies throughout Acadia, which consisted of what are now known as the Maritime provinces and surrounding areas. The British and Acadians were apprehensive of one another due to their differences in language and religion, and longstanding tensions between the British and French. In 1730, Governor Philips of Nova Scotia convinced Acadians to take an oath of neutrality The oath of neutrality did not suffice for the next Governor of Nova Scotia, Edward Cornwallis,  who demanded the Acadians sign an unconditional oath of allegiance to demonstrate their loyalty to the British Crown. The Acadians refused, with the belief that the oath of neutrality should have sufficed, and that an unconditional oath to Britain might mean they would have to fight against France.

During this period France continued to develop its military presence in Acadia. The most significant development at that time was the construction of Fort Louisbourg in Cape Breton. The conflict between Britain and France grew because of the increasing use of Fort Louisbourg as a North American port for trade with the South. Great Britain was displeased by the loss of capacity for trade and countered with the creation of a naval base in Halifax. This naval base led to the expansion of Britain’s Fort Lawrence in the Village of Beaubassin, which eventually reached the ridge of the French fortress, Fort Beausejour. War was imminent.

The expulsion (le grand dérangement)

In 1754, with the increasingly likelihood of war between the British and French, Charles Lawrence, who succeeded Cornwallis as Governor of Nova Scotia, called for Acadians to take an unconditional oath to the British Crown. Lawrence also wanted Acadian sovereign lands to become the property of the Crown. When Acadians declined his request to align with Britain, he ordered their deportation from  Nova Scotia beginning in 1755. The British military was deployed to begin the deportation process at Fort Beausejour and to dismantle Acadian settlements. The deportation resulted in approximately 10,000 individuals being removed from their homes in Nova Scotia and exiled to other parts of North America and Europe. The deportation shattered families, sending members to different areas and aboard separate deportation ships. Acadians experienced derelict conditions on board these ships, resulting in over 1,600 deaths due to drowning and illnesses which resulted from the negligent conditions on board.  Acadians coined the violence of the deportation as “le grand dérangement”, or “the great upheaval”.

Map of Acadian deportation routes via Wikimedia.

After the expulsion

Eventually, some Acadians began returning to Canada in 1764. Upon returning, they built their new homes far from English settlers, concentrated mostly along the St. Lawrence River. This migration of returning Acadians continued into the 1820s.  They created what they called a New Acadia; here, they began to rebuild their identity. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, a fictional poem based on the experiences of the Acadians during the expulsion, sums up the resilient spirit of the Acadian people and also brought international attention to the experience of Acadians . Today, Acadians worldwide are connected by their culture, namely their language, music, dance and storytelling. and united under the Acadian flag. August 15th was recognized as National Acadian Day by the government of Canada in 2003, in honour of that same date in 1881, when the first Acadian convention was held.  Despite “le grand dérangement” Acadians have managed to keep their culture alive.

Acadian Festival in Evangeline region of PEI via Government of PEI.


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Contributors: Isabelle Fletcher, Austin Chapman