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Malpeque - where & when

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It can be very confusing to interpret references to the geographical setting of "Malpeque" or Malpeque” (with the French accent) – or "Malpec" as it was sometimes written --- can be very confusing. First, it’s the name of a bay. Second, several communities have had the name. Malpeque Bay is a large, virtually landlocked body of water in west-central Prince Edward Island. It opens onto the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the north shore of the province. Both within and beyond the region, it is probably most famous for its oysters. When locating a settlement (or rather, settlements) named Malpeque, trouble emerges, because things changed over time. On the one hand, it seems, when people described events in the colonial periods, they sometimes used the name for any and all settlements around the circumference of the bay. That’s a distance of at least 90 km or mi, traveling by roads near the very uneven coastline with its many inlets and headlands. On the other hand, Malpeque also meant specific settlements – but different ones at different times. The original Acadian settlement of Malpèque or Malpec occupied the western short of the bay from 1728 until 1758. It began when some closely related households of the Arseneau clan moved across the Northumberland Strait from the Beaubassin region at the Isthmus of Chignecto (the land connecting the peninsula of present-day Nova Scotia to what is now southeastern New Brunswick).[1] Three decades arriving the founding, however, the settlers had to flee the area to elude the Expulsion in the wake of British victory at Louisbourg in the summer of 1758.< ref >Lockerby 2008, esp. Ch. 4.</ref> That war formally ended in early 1763, but a handful of Acadian families had already re-emerged in the area a few years prior and gone to work for British entrepreneurs.[2] Acadians on the Island were rendered landless by the method the British adopted for allocating territory there. The Island was surveyed into 67 numbered "Lots" that were granted to privileged British landlords, most of them absentee.[3] In many lots, Acadians were unwelcome or were subjected recurrently to unaffordable rents. This caused a series of migrations. When Acadians changed their successive footholds around the bay, they carried the community name of "Malpeque" with them for a time.[4]

In the 20th century (officially in 1947), the former Princetown in the northeastern sector of the bay area gained a monopoly on the Malpeque name. When it was amalgamated with other rural concentrations in 1973, the new formation was named the Rural Municipality of Malpeque Bay.[5]

Citations & Footnotes

  1. For a rather detailed account of the factors prompting this migration, along with names of the pioneering migrants, see Surette 2015, esp. pp. 238-239. For a French-language historical account interwoven with fictional dramatization, see Arseneau 2012, esp. pp. 81-96. The census of 1734 found four families there, containing 13 persons: see Baldwin 2009, p. 21. The thorough census of the Sieur de la Roque in 1752 counted 22 households.
  2. Arsenault 2014, p. 284.
  3. The last remnants of that system did not disappear until abolished by law in 1875.
  4. Arsenault 1989, pp. 25, 43-47, 55-66, and specifically for the land around “Malpeque,” pp. 60-64.
  5. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malpeque_Bay,_Prince_Edward_Island (accessed 25 Feb 2020).


Arsenault, Georges. 1989 (1987). The Island Acadians 1720-1980. Transl. Sally Ross. Charlottetown PE: Ragweed.

Arsenault, Georges. 2014. “Acadians in Prince Edward Island.” Pp. 282-286 in Acadie Then and Now: A People’s History. Edited by Phil Comeau, Mary Broussard Perrin, & Warren Perrin, for the Acadian Heritage and Cultural Foundation. Opelousas LA: Andrepont.

Arseneau, Maxime. 2012. Théotiste Bourgeois : Le drame de Beaubassin. Roman historique – Tome 1. Lévis QC : Les Éditions de la Francophonie.

Baldwin, Douglas. 2009. Prince Edward Island: An Illustrated History. Halifax NS: Nimbus.

Sieur de la Roque 1752 Census for Prince Edward Island/Ile Saint Jean. Accessed 27 Feb 2020 at http://www.islandregister.com/1752.html. (Scroll to “Malpec,” which covers pp. 11-12 in this version.)

Lockerby, Earle. 2008. Deportation of the Prince Edward Island Acadians. Halifax NS: Nimbus.

Surette, Paul. 2015. Atlas of the Acadian Settlement of the Beaubassin 1660 to 1755: The Old Valleys Mésagouèche and LaButte. [Often referenced as Vol. 3 of the Atlas.] Sackville NB: Tantramar Heritage Trust.

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