Memramcook, sometimes also spelt Memramcouke or Memramkouke, is a village in Westmorland County. Located in southeastern New Brunswick, the community is predominantly people of Acadian descent who speak the Chiac derivative of the French language. An agricultural village, it has a strong local patrimony key to the history of the region. It was home to Mi’kmaqs for many years and was the arrival site of Acadians in 1700. A large part of these Acadians were deported in 1755, but the village itself survived.
The Collège Saint-Joseph was the first francophone university in the east of Canada, which opened its doors in 1864 and hosted/organized the first National Acadian Convention in 1881.
Memramcook was called the “Berceau de l’Acadie”, which translates to “cradle of Acadia”. Long been inhabited by the Mi’kmaq, the site saw the arrival of Acadians in 1700. It now goes by the slogan of “Notre belle vallée”, since the recent re-branding of the village in May 2015. The village name is originally Mi’kmaq and means “variegated” referring to the many intricacies of the Memramcook River. The first mention of the area used the spelling Mémérancouque in 1757. The missionaries turned it into Memerancook, Memerancooque (1757), Memeramcook (1803), Memramkook (1812), Mamramcook (1812) and finally Memramcook . There have been several recent controversies about the name, such as people who offer the spelling Memramcouk or Memramkouke.
Mi’kmaq people were already established in the region for a couple hundred years before the Acadians arrived. Their main village and cemetery seemed to be in Beaumont, and they also had a camp at what is now today Saint-Joseph. Beaumont was a strategic location, giving that it allowed them to control the Petitcodiac River, the most important marine transport route in the region. Knockout, Bernard, Skéouite, Toudoi, Argémiche, Thomas and others were the common family names at the time.
Samuel de Champlain and Jean de Poutrincourt explored the region in 1605. They noted a rocky point (the Beaumont point) and no human presence. In 1612, Father Biard, Charles de Biencourt and their four Native American guides returned to visit Memramcook. At that time, there were about 60-80 cabins.
In 1672, Acadian and European word-runners and fishers started to frequent the area and some stayed to establish themselves. The village became a part of domain of La Vallière (Beaubassin) in 1676.
In 1698, Pierre Thibaudeau, Guillaume Blanchard, Pierre Gaudet and a few others left Port-Royal to explore Trois-Rivières. Pierre Guadet, the youngest of the group, decided to stay in Memramcook. The village developed much more quickly after the signing of the Utrecht Treaty, which gave Acadia to England in 1713. Many families from Port-Royal moved to Memramcook at this time as it was still French territory.
Hamlets that would be later known as Pierre-à-Michel and Beaumont were founded in 1740. The For de La Galissoniére was constructed in 1751. Its job was to defend the entire isthmus of Chignecto, but was later replaced by Fort Beauséjour. Residents were also starting to construct the famous dyke system to dry out the marshes for agriculture. In 1752, the village was composed of 250 people from 51 different families. There were the Blanchards, Richards, Lanoues, Dupuis, Benoîts, Landrys, Aucoins, Maillets, Girourads, Forests, Dangles, Savoies, Robichauds, Bastaraches, Heberts, Deslauriers, Cyrs, Bourques and Thibodeaus. People lived mostly along the river, and the first chapel was built in 1753 at Pointe-au-Bouleau, which is Ruisseau-des-Breau today.
In August 1755, English soldiers were sent to Beaubassin, Petitcodiac, Chipoudy, and Memramcook to take the Acadiens prisoners. However, through guidance by the local missionary, Father LeGuerne, the Acadians hid in the woods. Then, on August 26, Lieutenant Boishébert of Miramichi and 125 soldiers and a group of Micmacs, surprised 200 Englishmen, under the command of Major Joseph Frye. The English had set fire to the church of Chipoudy and 181 homes, as well as 250 houses in Petitcodiac. Boishébert gave the order to attack at the moment that the English were setting fire to the church of Petitcodiac. After three hours of fierce fighting, the English retreated, leaving behind 50 dead, and around 60 wounded. It was thus that 200 families were able to escape the deportation.
After the deportation, Memramcook Village became even more important to Acadia, as much for its population of 75 families in 1786 but also as a symbol of Acadian heritage. “Old Acadia” was the villages in the marshes of Grand-Pré or Port-Royal, and Memramcook was one of the only to not have been invaded by the English. Memramcook was also the first in New Brunswick to found a Catholic parish in 1781. During the colonisation of Northumberland, from 1785-1789, a good part of the colonists came from Memramcook. This laid the foundation for important villages like Bouctouche and Richibouctou.
In 1755, Joseph Frederick Wallet Desbarres bought the territory of the Pointe, which was essentially the village territory itself. The province of New Brunswick was created in 1784. Two years later, the Acadians living on the riverbank of river Memramcook received the conditions of the government. The first agreement was signed between Desbarres and the Acadians in 1784, through their agent Mary Cannon. People of the Pointe reclaimed for the first time their land in 1786. They received new requests for the area in 1792 and 1795, and the land was re-given to Desbarres in 1805. Another petition was created in 1808 and in 1821 they were given back their rightful land. A similar situation was experienced by the Acadians of l’Anse-des-Cormier in 1822. Desbarres died in 1824 at the age of 102. The property ownership conflict was fully resolved in 1841 and ratified in 1842, and habitants of the Pointe could buy land at the price of $1 per acre.
Interior development of the Memramcook Village continued. The Village-des-Piau was founded in 1769 and Pointe-à-l’Ours the year after. The village of Bonhomme Gould (today Lourdes) was founded in 1790. In 1782, the Thomas-François Le Roux abbey hosted the first resident priest. A new church was built in La Montain.
The Mi’kmaqs of Memramcook organized themselves more and more towards 1830 to combat social issues and difficulties related to weather and natural causes. They asked for the foundation of a native reserve, Fort Folly, which was realized in 1840 in Beaumont. They constructed the Chapel Sainte-Anne there 2 years later.
In 1854, Father François-Xavier Stanislas Lawrence founded the Saint-Thomas seminary, the first francophone college of Acadia. In 1862, the doors were closed due to financial problems. Father Camille Lefebvre arrived in 1864 as the new parish priest. He founded the Saint-Joseph college the same year in the seminary building.
The opening of the college contributed to an economic growth than continued in the village into the 19th century. Between 1800 and 1925, numerous careers were exploited, specifically in Beaumont. The hamlet experienced expansion, counting 100 homes in 1860. Stone was a major industry there, being exported to the States from 4 quarries. The quarries eventually stopped their exportation to the USA because of taxes. Charbon and other mineral mines were also found in Beaumont. Four oil wells, some of the first in North America, were dug in 1859 in Pré-des-Surette by H.C Tweedal, an entrepreneur from Pittsburgh. They were not enterable but permitted for the discovery of Albert Formation, where other non-enterable wells were dug. From 1876-1879, other wells were built in Saint-Joseph. The New Brunswick Petroleum Company received an agreement for 99 years for this entire area. From 1903-1905, they dug 77 wells. The most bountiful well would give about 50 barrels a day, and it is estimated that 3000 barrels were extracted from the fields of Pré-des-Surette. There was also a copper mine, an iron mine at College Bridge from 1892-1898 and a gypsum mine in Memramcook East. Boats were built in Pré-d’en-Bas and in Beaumont. The village even had its own beurrerie from 1892-1908. There were also other industries and businesses, today most being gone, such as finishing, a mill and a foundry.
The first Acadian National Convention was held in Memramcook in 1881. The term Acadian was defined and the date for the national holiday was chosen.
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