It would be difficult for visitors to look around this bucolic, pastoral country and imagine it as a hotbed of quarrelling neighbours, all with verbal daggers drawn and their backs up. But it is hard to ignore the evidence. Vitriolic emails have been flying back and forth that reveal anger and resentment that boggles the imagination. We have been coming here since 1987 and have never seen anything quite like it.

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We are not here long enough to have a good understanding of the fracture lines, but things have always been a bit dicey in this little backwater hamlet with the pretty French name. It has been farm country for several centuries now, and the French peasants who settled here in the 1680’s needed to cooperate to carry out the extraordinary kind of farming they did, building dykes and reclaiming land from the sea. But it is never been free from conflict.

Even though the Acadian peasants who settled here among the native Mik’maq natives tried to remain neutral in the wars between the French and British, they suffered regular raids by New Englanders. In June, 1704, Benjamin Church led a devastating raid on Grand Pre, burning houses and destroying dykes. When the British took Port Royal in 1710, they became the titular “owners” of “Acadie,” a land populated by natives and French farmers.

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In 1745, the French laid siege to the fort they had previously held, now called Annapolis Royal. They were rebuffed after a six week siege. The next year, Versailles launched a massive expedition with seventy ships and thirteen thousand men to take back the city of Louisbourg, seize the fort at Annapolis Royal and raise hell up and down the eastern seaboard of the Colonies. Fortunately for the New Englanders, everything that could go wrong did. The expedition was plagued by incompetent admirals, horrific storms, scurvy and other diseases.

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Soldiers from Boston were dispatched by ship to come to the defence of British at Annapolis Royal. It was fall when the New England militia arrived, so the commander of the fort sent them down to Grand Pre to settle in for winter. As soon as the “Bastonnais” arrived, an Acadian went out on snowshoes to alert French land forces, known to be holed up about 200 kms away in a French fort. When the French soldiers realised they would be up against superior numbers, they chose to attack in the middle of a snowstorm in the early morning hours. The battle left some eighty new Englanders dead, including the commander, Colonel Noble. It was the bloodiest battle on the Nova Scotia mainland.

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Eight years later, in 1755, the infamous oath of allegiance would be set forth by the Governor of Nova Scotia, a proclamation that would trigger “le Grand Derangement” — the expulsion of the Acadian population of Nova Scotia to lands far and wide, with the majority landing in Louisiana. Grand Pre would become the symbolic centerpiece of the expulsion, thanks to “Evangeline,” the long narrative poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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The UNESCO brochure talks about an Acadian “re-appropriation of the land of their origins… in a spirit of peace and cultural sharing with the local area community.” My own view is that the Planters, the settlers who came after the Acadians, have had as much, if not more impact on shaping and preserving this place than the Acadians, but it is not politic to say so. And I am biased, of course, since my wife’s ancestor was a Scot who took advantage of opportunity to buy property in the fertile land.

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You would think that in an area like this, “No Farms, No Food” would be a safe bet. Think again. It has riven friendships among our neighbours. Fences, property lines, rights of way, pets, and even potholes can set people off. We are a quarrelsome species, ready to take issue with one another over the least slight.

It is hard to get riled up about much of anything on a balmy summer evening, when the sun sheds the longest light of summer. Take a walk with me out along the dykeland, listen to the birds, feel the soft breeze on your face and fingers. You won’t want to be anywhere else.

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