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Acadians on PEI

 

Period     1758-1860

Tignish

Exodus

By 1798, many of the Acadian families living in Malpeque found themselves unable or unwilling to pay the prohibitive rents demanded of them by English landowners. Numerous families left their homes in Malpeque, moved to Lots 1 and 2 at the northwestern tip of the Island and founded the community of Tignish in 1799.

Conflict and Foreclosures

The Acadians who left Malpeque believed they were heading for a better life in Tignish, and for a time they were able to farm, construct houses and build a community free from the demands of the English landowners. This period of relative ease was not to last. By 1817, the Tignish Acadians were under pressure to sign leases and pay rent to the English proprietor John Hill. Tignish was well on its way to experiencing a mass exodus similar to that in Malpeque, as evidenced by the words of Bishop Plessis:

"It was merely a repetition of what happened in Malpec... It is with dread that I foresee the day when the poor Acadians will be completely dispossessed and shoulder their foolish bid based on false confidence." [Arsenault, Georges. Les Acadiens de l'Île 1720-1980, Éditions de l'acadie, 2e édition, 1989, p. 61 ]

Many of the Tignish settlers were unable to afford the terms of their leases, and were often forced to sign through outright threats and bribery. As in Malpeque, many Tignish Acadians abandoned the farms they had spent years preparing and making productive, forced to relocate yet again to less productive land. By 1840, the remaining tenant farmers were so indebted and impoverished that they organized a resistance movement and refused to pay rent. The movement saw widespread support among the Tignish Acadians, such that in 1844 the entire community banded together to confront an English agent who arrived to foreclose and seize a number of properties. Five-hundred armed men squared against the English sheriff and his officers. The details of that confrontation are unknown, but the resistance appears to have failed, as an account in the Royal Gazette indicates that lands were seized from 34 individuals in Tignish later that year.

Establishment of the Fishery

The Island fishery had waned and died during the years of French occupation in the early to mid 1700s, and the first Acadians to settle in Tignish and neighbouring Cascumpec lived off the land. Farming was their exclusive trade. This was to change by the middle of the 19th century. In 1845 the arrival of merchants like Frank Arsenault and Thomas Caie led to an expansion and the recovery of the Islands fishery. In 1850, the first large scale fishing and commercial establishment in the colony was founded near present-day Tignish and within two years Tignish was exporting more fish than any other port on the Island.

First Acadian Priest

Sylvain Poirier of Tignish was the first Acadian priest on the Island. Father Cecile describes Poirier in a letter to Monseigneur Plessis:

"A young Acadian expressed a desire to continue his studies, thinking of the Ecclesiastical estate. He is a little old, being in his seventeenth or eighteenth year. He has only average skills... Above all, he is virtuous, and resolutely good. I request that your Lordship put him in the College that you deem appropriate..."

Poirier was enrolled in the Seminary in Nicolet and even though financing his education was a problem for the impoverished parish, he was able to continue his studies. Father Sylvain-Ephrem Poirier (or Perrey, as he usually signed his name) was ordained on Prince Edward Island by Bishop Angus Bernard MacEachern on June 28, 1828. For many years, Fr. Poirier was the only French language priest in the province. He exercised his ministry for 50 years until he retired.

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