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Malpeque where & when

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Malpeque - What, Where, & When


It can be very confusing to interpret references to the geographical setting of "Malpeque" or "Malpèque” (with the French accent) – or "Malpec" as it was sometimes written. 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 became 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 57 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

The first non-aboriginal settlement of this name occupied the western shore of the bay from 1728 until 1758. (See the accompanying map. The community focused around the headland on the bay in what later became Lot 13.)

It began in 1728 when a few closely related households of the Arseneau clan moved across from the mainland, after some of the men had explored the Island and Cape Breton for a new home site. The migrants came 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]

A census in that very first 1728 identified three farming couples there with their children.[2] Only the husbands/fathers were named, but we can reconstruct a tentative list of the individuals in the two Arseneau households.

(1) Pierre Arseneau (the Second) was the first-born son of the "original" Pierre Arseneau of Beaubassin.

,,,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.

Three decades after the 1728 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.[3]

Post-Expulsion Settlements c 1760 to c 1817

That war and the Expulsion 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 as fishers and woodcutters for British entrepreneurs.[4]

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.[5] In many lots, Acadians were unwelcome or were subjected recurrently to unaffordable rents. This caused a series of migrations - not only in the Malpeque region but also in several other locales on the Island. When Acadians changed their successive footholds around Malpeque Bay,[6] they carried the community name of "Malpeque" with them for a time.[7]

See the accompanying maps for the changing locales in this eight-part outline.[8]

1. Possible starting-point in Lot 18. We don’t have clear information about where Acadians settled when they first returned to the area around Malpeque Bay. Arsenault suggests they might initially have focused on the eastern side, “near the present-village of Malpeque” (see below). He mentions a record of some Acadians living there in 1770.[9]

2. The 1770 invitation to Lots 17 & 19. The newly assigned British governor of the Island colony turned up in 1770. He held personal interests in two of the 20,000-acre (8,100 hectare) Lots, #17 at the south side of the bay and #19 at the southeastern corner. Wanting settlers, he tried to recruit Acadians “probably living in Lot 18 and elsewhere.” However, again, we don’t know how many – if any – accepted the offer.

3. Lot 16. “Later on,” says Arsenault, “many Acadian families did settle in Lot 16,” near the western end of the southern shore of the bay, presumably in the vicinity of today's Belmont area. The timing remains unclear.

4. Lot 17 in 1798. By 1798, a census showed “the Acadian population of Malpeque was concentrated mainly in Lot 17” – again, on the south side of the bay. It had been bought in this year by that same governor and his business partner (along with another lot much further east).

5. Lot 17 and the Founding Tignish & Cascumpec, 1799 & 1801. The new owners of Lot 17 immediately squeezed the residents for rent. That drove “numerous families” of Acadians to abandon the bay area altogether. In 1799, several headed for the far northwestern tip of the Island to found Tignish in Lot 1 and the adjoining edge of Lot 2, where no non-aboriginal settlers had yet put down roots. This became the Catholic parish of St. Simon & St. Jude.[10] In 1801, other Acadian families left Lot 17 to found Cascumpec on the bay of that name in Lot 5, midway to Tignish. This would become the Catholic parish of St. Anthony’s, although the centers of settlement (and the parish church) subsequently moved inland.[11]

6. Lot 17, 1804 to 1812. Again in 1804, a new owner took over Lot 17. This Harry Compton “was so interested…that he actually left England” for the Island. His excellent rapport with the Acadians, however, was collapsing by 1812, and relations between Acadians and British settlers there were working out poorly. Dissatisfied Acadian families began pulling up stakes.

7. Lot 17 and the founding of Egmont Bay & Mount Carmel, 1812. From Lot 17, these latest migrants went the short distance southwest to Lot 15 – another previously unsettled area. There, on the southern shore of the Island, along the Northumberland Strait, they established two communities. The one now called Egmont Bay (on the inlet of that name) eventually would be the Catholic parish of St. Philippe and St. Jacques. The second community and its Catholic church eventually took the name of Mount Carmel.

8. Lot 17 and the founding of Miscouche, 1816-1817. Some families stuck it out in Harry Compton’s Lot 17. In 1816 he finally sold 6,000 acres (2,430 hectares) to approximately 15 Acadian families for a price they could afford. They moved to that land and named it “Belle Alliance.” “This was how,” says Arsenault, “the parish of Miscouche came to be founded in 1817 and why the Acadian settlement in Malpeque disappeared.” The Catholic parish is called Saint-Jean-Baptiste (St, John the Baptist).

19th & 20th-Century Anglo Malpeque

In Lot 18 near the shore at the eastern side of the bay, Malpeque continued to be used as a community name during the 1800s and throughout the 1900s.

In 1947, the former Princetown or Princetown Royalty[12] in the northeastern sector of the bay area (surrounded by Lot 18) was officially assigned the Malpeque name. When it was amalgamated with other rural concentrations in 1973, the new formation was named the Rural Municipality of Malpeque Bay.[13]

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.
  2. For all these pre-Expulsion census texts, see the transcriptions listed in the Island Register menu at http://www.islandregister.com/censusindex.html, in the subsection headed "Acadian/French Census Isle St. Jean." Accessed 2 Mar 2020.
  3. Lockerby 2008, esp. Ch. 4; Arsenault 2019, Ch. 2, esp. p. 27.
  4. Arsenault 2014, p. 284; 2019, p. 31.
  5. The last remnants of that system did not disappear until abolished by law in 1875.
  6. By the way, in the survey of lots, the bay itself was designated as “Richmond Bay,” and the land on its western and southwestern side was labeled “Richmond Parish.” See surveyor Samuel Holland’s map of proposed boundaries and names on the Library and Archives Canada site, accessed 1 Mar 2020 at http://data2.archives.ca/nmc/n023350k.jpg, or through the Island Register site at http://www.islandregister.com/holland/hollandmap.html.”
  7. Arsenault 1989, pp. 25, 43-47, 55-66, and specifically for the land around “Malpeque,” pp. 60-64.
  8. Parts 1-3 of the following list are found on p. 60 of Arsenault 1989. Parts 4-7 are on p. 61. Part 8 overlaps pp. 63 and 64, and the bold text was added to the name Miscouche.
  9. Arsenault also remarks on an earlier author’s speculation that the returnees would have first gone to “the original properties in Lots 13 and 14” (endnote 31, p. 259). But, Arsenault adds, no documentary citation was provided as a basis for the guess.
  10. The Tignish founders of 1799 and 1800 were all closely related by parentage or marriage. REF to BE ADDED once I’ve created a free-space account for founding of Tignish – J. E. DeRoche.
  11. It appears that the original settlement and church at Cascumpec were near the bay shoreline in the rural hamlet still called Cascumpec, and where the St. Anthony’s Pioneer Roman Catholic Cemetery has been preserved as a historic site. See https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=16121, accessed 1 Mar 2020.
  12. Princetown was one of the three sites mapped out and reserved for towns in the 1764 survey for the 67 lots. It never attracted enough of a populace to retain that status.
  13. 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. (The original French edition came out in 1987.)

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.

Arsenault, Georges. 2019. Histoire illustrée de l'Acadie de l'Île-du-Prince-Édouard. Tracadie N-B: Éditions La Grande Marée. (Also published in English by Acorn Press, 2019, transl. Sally Ross, entitled Illustrated History of the Acadians of Prince Edward Island.)

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.

Lockerby, Earle. 2008. Deportation of the Prince Edward Island Acadians. 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.)

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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