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Monckton’s Ghost: At the Heart of our Zeitgeist

Moncton is the largest city in New Brunswick. Nestled alongside the muddy Petitcodiac river—affectionately called the ‘Chocolate river’ by locals—while the city was once a major wooden shipbuilding port, Moncton is now the fastest-growing city in the Maritime provinces, with an economy built on transportation and call centers drawn here by the bilingual workforce. Since Moncton was traumatized in the 1980s with the closure of the CNR locomotive shops, the city rebounded and took the task to challenge to stand upright on its own two feet again, and it did! The city chose to adopt the motto Resurgo after its rebirth as a railway town. With a small redbrick downtown along the muddy banks of the Petitcodiac, the city is quaint and filled with interesting people and old friends, conjuring up many good memories.  And, although I love the city itself—my hometown—the name ‘Moncton’ is one that I am not proud of. The history of how the city came to be called such evokes stories of bloodshed, burning houses, and deportation. It also brings to mind the very reason why, as Acadians, we no longer live in a land called Acadia. And, of course, our friends and relatives, the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet nations, have suffered a similar fate alongside us.

Evidently, the name ‘Moncton’ is a reminder of the truth behind the fact that there are Acadian communities scattered everywhere—all along North America’s Eastern seaboard. Further, ‘Moncton’ also serves as an answer as to why a significant part of my culture seeks to remember the time before le Grand Dérangement (“the Great Upheaval”). If you weren’t already aware, Acadian culture often seems to focus on family reunions and genealogy—to help recall the ties that once bound us together, pre-expulsion, prior to when families were torn apart forever.

In August 1755, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Monckton sent Captain Sylvanus Cobb to deport the Acadian population of Chipody (Shepody)—which formed a part of theTrois-Rivières (“Three-Rivers”) region. The Trois-Rivières region includes the valleys of Chipody, Petitcodiac, and Memramcook. English soldiers were sent to the settlements of Beaubassin, Petitcodiac, Chipody, and Memramcook to take all of the Acadians as prisoners. However, through the guidance of Father François Le Guerne, the local missionary, the Acadians hid in the woods. Then, in late August, a significant leader of the Acadian militia, Charles Deschamps de Boishébert, accompanied by a guerilla force that included Acadian and Mi’kmaq fighters—as many as 125 soldiers in all—surprised 200 New Englanders whom Colonel Monckton had dispatched under the command of Major Joseph Frye of Massachussetts to torch and ransack all the Acadian settlements along the Petitcodiac River (1). The English had boarded their ships and sailed down river and, in the end, they would set fire to the church of Chipoudy and 181 homes, as well as 250 houses in Petitcodiac. Boishébert had waited for his chance to strike and finally gave the order to attack at the moment that the English were setting fire to the church of Chipoudy (also known as Village-des-Blanchard, present-day Hillsborough). The well-respected Halifax author, Dean Jobb, describes well the battle that ensued (2):

On September 2, after a profitable morning of burning on either side of the river, a detachment landed at a village nestled below a newly built church. As the soldiers went about their work, a small group headed uphill to set fire to the church. At that moment, as many as 300 of Boishébert’s fighters charged out of the woods, firing as they ran. A battle raged for three hours, leaving more than twenty New England soldiers dead and several more badly wounded. Boishébert lost only one man. The British casualties—eclipsing those of the entire siege of Beauséjour—put the entire camp on edge.

After three hours of fierce fighting, the English retreated, leaving behind 42 killed, and around 45 wounded (3). It was thus that 200 Acadian families were able to escape the deportation and who, for the most part, would end up resettling in the areas between Shédiac and Cocagne—that which includes my own native village of Memramcook, right there along the Petitcodiac river.

Memramcook had been home to the Mi'kmaq for many years before the Acadians first settled there in around 1700. While a large part of the Acadians from Memramcook would end up being deported in 1755, the village itself survived. Significantly, Memramcook was the only village from "Old Acadia" to survive the Grand Dérangement (the Expulsion of the Acadians”). This is why that, after the deportation, Memramcook would become even more important to Acadia, as a symbol of Acadian heritage. Commonly referred to as le berceau de l’Acadie (literally “the cradle of Acadia”), in the 18th century, Memramcook colonists would lay down the foundation for important villages such as Bouctouche and Richibouctou. But moreover, in more recent times—especially since the founding of the Université de Moncton, in 1963—Acadians from Memramcook have played a key role in the development of Acadian culture in the greater Moncton area, that which of course includes the neighbouring city of Dieppe, a predominantly Acadian city which connects Moncton to Memramcook.

In looking back at the history of Acadian persecutions in the Maritimes, Memramcook, as the only Acadian village to have survived deportation, has proven to be resilient. Further, up until the middle of the 19th century, Memramcook even had the largest Mi’kmaq populations in the area. Although, unfortunately, for a variety of reasons the Mi’kmaq have since left the area (the former Mi’kmaq reserve at Beaumont, a.k.a. the Fort Folly reserve) and have resettled in nearby Dorchester. Thus, even if Monckton tried to stamp out our presence there, Memramcook is a quaint little village that still stands. But, as the old adage goes, whoever understands the past, controls the future. In consideration of this wisdom, it is very true to say that if the people of Memramcook, Dieppe, Moncton—and New Brunswickers in general—fail to understand the negativity the name ‘Moncton’ represents, then, I daresay, it will be difficult for our communities and cultures to look towards a brighter future ahead with the shadow of Robert Monckton, a dark past, looming over them for long as the disgraceful name continues to be honoured in such a way.

The Lieutenant Colonel Robert Monckton spilled a lot of blood and, he can certainly be said to be one of the main architects of our cultural genocide. So, as part of our reconciliation process and the spirit of the times, or Zeitgeist (as Hegel termed it), the name ‘Moncton’ should definitely be reconsidered, discussed, and debated. In light of all that it symbolizes, I am certain that you can understand that while for some it sounds like a lovely name, for others the Welcome to Moncton – Bienvenue à Moncton sign that one is greeted by upon entering the city limits is hardly heartwarming. Nor have I ever been too fond of the name of our Université de Moncton, a respectable Acadian institution that is often touted to be the largest French-language university in Canada outside of Québec.

We tend to often minimalize the past—to distance it from today. But, in the grand scheme of things, ‘centuries ago’ happened only yesterday. So tomorrow and the day after, today’s events shall be questioned yet again and again, much in the same way. It is human nature, and it is the historian who will always be there to help you remember.

Paul D. LeBlanc

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(1) Daniel N. Paul 2000: 143-4; Laxer 2007: 107.
(2) As described in Jobb’s The Acadians: A People's Story of Exile and Triumph, 2005.
(3) Daniel N. Paul 2000: 143-4.


ARSENAULT, Bona. Histoire des Acadiens. Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, 1965.
LAXER, James. The Acadians: In Search of a Homeland. Anchor Canada, 2007.
LEBLANC, Ronnie-Gilles. “Les réfugiés acadiens au camp d’Espérance de la Miramichi en 1756-1761 : un épisode méconnu du Grand Dérangement.” In Acadiensis, [S.l.], may 2012. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 11 sep. 2017.
PAUL, Daniel N. We Were Not the Savages: A Mi’kmaq Perspective on the Collision between European and Native American Civilizations (New 21st century ed.). Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2000.
STANLEY, George F. G. New France 1744-1760: The Last Phase (Volume V of the Canadian Centenary Series). McClelland & Stewart, 2016.


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