(Research by Phil Vogler, Berwick, NS)
Wednesday Evening, October 26, 1927
Little Village Of Morden Has Romantic History
Played Prominent Part As Setting For Early Struggle of Acadians
Lone Stone Cross Is Now Only Link With the Past.
Old postcard courtesy of Murray Saunders July ? (looks like 192?) 2 cent stamp
(By C. R. Gould in Halifax Herald)
In the year of the anniversary of Confederation hitherto little known towns and villages of our expansive Dominion have come into a certain prominence due both to a re-awakening of their natural charms and to a revival of interest in their historical properties. One of these little villages comes into the minds recollection at a period when interest casts a glamour, sixty years old, over a time when east and west were united, English and French joined together, to weld into one unity what we term the Dominion of Canada.
This little village in question, nestling along the Nova Scotia shore of the rock-bound Bay of Fundy, has gained some prominence by association with another celebration.
It was only a few weeks ago that the French-Canadians of Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia congregated in the far-famed Acadian land to pay homage to their ancestors, whose persecution in an strengthening band of fellowship and harmony that binds two peoples of different tongues, English and French, into the closest sort of concord. Grand Pre was the locality chosen by Mr. Henri Bourassa and his party at the culmination of their purpose, but that does not destroy the glamour hovering over the little village of Morden, removed some thirty-five miles from the land of Evangeline, and the scene of one of the earliest tragedies connected with the French Canadian people.
In summer and in the golden-tinted autumn the Bay, as it is affectionately termed, presents a scene of sheerest beauty. The water changes with the tide, but at all times it exhibits an expanse of dazzling blue, pulsating and dancing with the energy of the sun. At its setting the tree-topped cliffs emanate a spectacle of gold and emerald. On the Nova Scotian side, indentations run into the land affording glimpses of lush little hollows resplendent with the purple of early springtime columbine, or the golden glory of the later goldenrod. In one of these little coves, scarcely glimpsed from the sea, lies Morden, surrounded by a locally popular in legend and entrancing to the teller of stories. It stretches along the rim of the bay, not more than a mile in length, modern as any coast village, so that it is with surprise that the tourist hears of its undying past.
Today its only link with history is a cross of varicolored stone standing rigid and sentinel-like on one of its rocky promontories, yet to them who are aware of its silent remembrance it is eloquent enough reminder of a tale of strife.
It was in the autumn of 1755, at a time that England and France were heavily waging war, that an intrepid body of a two score people left behind them their fertile fields and rolling champaigns, like the mysterious lemming, to set their faces seaward.
It was around the old French Fort of Port Royal, lately commanded by the victorious English forces, that the story begins. Impossible as it is to reconstruct the scene, one can imagine the tardiness of spirit, prompted by the sight of a prosperous countryside of Acadian farms and habitant holdings, that advocated a program of strong resistance or else utter passiveness.
At any rate, nearly all of the habitant farmers of Belleisle, so firmly attached to their land a little remote from Port Royal, agreed that some measure of protection had to be adopted to combat the import of the message which had come to them in the season of harvest when the sheen of dew is on the corn blade and the red of the maple shouts its proclamation of winter.
It had come by the way of the Annapolis River, this message for the peace-loving inhabitants of Belleisle. A canoe, well manned by stalwart Indians, had swept westward down the stream to convey the intelligence that Grand Pre was in the hands of the English enemy, and to add the information that their settlement was to be the next to follow the same course of destiny.
These Indians were of a tribe friendly with the French and many times had aided the struggling Acadians. Undoubtedly they described the situation in emphatic if somewhat cryptic terms, striking terror and fear into the habitant heart as the Acadian compared his fate with that of his compatriot at Grand Pre.
It was not a pleasant prospect for the bourgeois of Belleisle to picture his dependents and himself upon the treacherous seas, buffeted by the gales of autumn. This, said the Micmacs, had been the part the villagers of Grand Pre had played in the universal scheme of things.
The news spread rapidly as ill news had a habit of doing. In Upper Granville, in the region known as Belleisle, a meeting was called whereby the people were to prepare a program of resistance. Many were the arguments for passivity, but the fervant spirit of the Roman Catholic Church and a high note of intense patriotism impregnated the majority with the desire to break any oath of allegiance that they may have been forced to adopt at any earlier period. Consequently, resistance was the keynote of the assembly, all it awaited was a leader.
At any time of public strife, leaders of men arise to exhibit their nearer alliance with divinity or to portray the play of a mind of super-average mental capacity. Such a man was Pierre Melanson, whose name was to be perpetuated to the present day. Of his ancestry, one can find little, although an account of Rameau de Saint Pire in Uni Colonie Feodale in Amerique LAcadie publishes a detailed account of habitant life in the seventeenth century. Rameau mentions an inhabitant of Port Royal, residing there in 1680, by the name of Pierre Melanson, a tailor as well as a farmer, who enjoyed the prosperity of both professions afforded him. Melanson, so the account continues, was a man of forty-five, and the father of five children.
It further appears that he was of a morose nature, upon occasion churlish, yet fixed with a purpose of achievement. This prompted him to remove his effects to Grand Pre where greater opportunity was offered him, land more easily tilled and of a greater fertility. Melanson then, we are told, went eastward, abandoning friends, relatives and old associations for the high light of ambition.
At this time of stress in 1755, it was a Melanson who rose to take the rod of authority in hand in an attempt to guide his people to security. If not a son of the Pierre Melanson, who immigrated, this figure of dauntliness must have been a near relative. For, as it is told, the Pierre Melanson, of Belleisle, displayed the same moroseness, the same aloofness, and the same tenacity of purpose that had marked his ancestors at Grand Pre. This Melanson is reputed to have been a well known figure in the neighborhood, so his was the plausable leadership.
Only a man conversant with forest way, the roaring streams and the still depths, the paths of traffic, east and west, could hope to be fortunate enough to lead an unfortunate colony eastward to the chosen goal. The plan, it is apparent, included Blomidon as a refuge, thence ships to transport the flock across the Bay of Fundy to New Brunswick, where friends would be found in similar condition, or else more worthy of rendering assistance.
A New Trail
Melanson realized that to follow the ordinary trails was to court disaster. Wise man that he was, he decided to blaze a new trail before him, some distance north of the Annapolis river and north of the narrow horse path. As their progress was to be on foot, Melanson saw the advantage of leaving behind all but the prime necessities of life.
According to legend and authentic information the small band of stricken fugitives travelled three weeks marked by distress and the pangs of hunger. Many fell by the wayside overcome by the rigour of the march and the heat of the day. Game and fish were shot and caught along the virgin trail, but even these were inadequate to still the hunger that beset all.
At length came the day when the small party of loyal Acadians, with the indomitable Pierre Melanson at its head, encamped a few miles west of the existing village of Auburn.
At the present date the site chosen is one unattractive to the eye, a long monotonous stretch of low shrubs and sand dunes that appear devoid of beauty. But to the oncomers of a day long past it must have impressed itself as a haven and a refuge for the night.
News filtered through to Melanson of the deportation of his countrymen of Grand Pre and Fort Louis and it caused him to hastily change his course. Instead of proceeding to Blomidon he adopted a new procedure. This was to strike north toward the North Mountain, as the ridge abutting the Bay of Fundy along the Annapolis River is called, then to scale its short, steep height, journeying to the Bay, then across the water to Chignecto on the opposite shore, where an asylum of peace was certain to be found.
But before he turned perpendicularly from his former trail, Melanson had a sad duty to perform. During the short stay on the plain, disease and contagion had worked their will. So the French Burying Ground the spot where Melanson interred loved ones and relatives, remains traditional as making one of the worst phases of the expulsion of the French. It is still a menacing flat of level country, as if the dead had left their own memorial.
Finally the old, but daring leader roused his charge and set out for the Cobalt-tinted waters of the Bay. Although no substantial evidence has been left to reconstruct the slow march, it is evident that its general direction must have corresponded roughly to the road that runs from the old Church of England at Auburn through the cross roads now called Weltons Corner, to the beautiful sea village of Morden.
So Melanson reached his proposed camping ground and proceeded to arrange for a winters stay. Before him and his people was the menacing bulk of the Isle Haut, but beyond that was an egress, a sealane that led to safety and a peace of mind. English schooners, with the running of the tides, were coasting up and down the bay, but so sheltered was the little green covered cove into which old Pierre had directed his flock that detection was well-nigh impossible.
Behind them were heavily wooded slopes of evergreens spicing the air with odor of their balsom. The site that provided them with breathing space, as it is today, only slightly modified, was a rocky formation stretching far out into the sea, black and forbidding, yet in the very neutrality of its coloring containing nothing to catch the eye of a searching enemy schooner.
The season that the habitants spent there under the shadow of the cliff has by another writer been aptly called the Black Winter. To quote is not amiss: "The last tidings brought them late in the autumn was that all the Canadian homes had been burned. Disease dogged their steps from the sand dunes to their cold camps on the shore. Death claimed more victims. Close by the shore, opposite their camps, was an open space, green till covered by the snow. There they dug more graves for their fallen companions."
Then the never-flagging Pierre enacted a roll that has perpetuated his name in history. Death and disease had stalked his companions throughout the long, black winter. Food was scarce; long since had the small stock of provision brought from Belleisle been consumed.
Consequently, all had been forced to subsist on the spoils of the forest, the world of game and fish. But even these items of diet became scarce as a starving clan depended more and more upon them to keep the body alive. Long before spring came, the shell fish that harboured along the rocks of the Point, in the crevices and water-swept crannies were practically the sole article of food.
They called them mussels, and by the advent of spring, a great heap of bleaching shells spoke eloquently of the struggle for maintenance of life. Disaster was not assuaged even then, for, it is said, their last source of food, the shell fish, began to disappear, and the refugees of the Point found death had almost surrounded them. The mussels were longer to find and required more diligent search. What were they to do?
(Continued next week)
November 2nd, 1927
Village Of Morden
Has Romantic History
(Continued from last week)
Across the Bay, the roaring rip of tidal wave with the fresh impetus of spring upon it, was the opposite shore, Chignecto, with its promise of food and shelter, Pierre Melanson, scarcely surviving the distress of his people and his own personal suffering, realized that to remain at the Point was to court calamity. Yet in between was the plough of the breaking water and the grim warden of the Bay, the Isle Haut.
Just as hope was giving way to despair however, a lone Indian and a slight, wiry boy rounded the Point and beached upon the gravel beneath the towering red and gold cliffs. Apparently they had heard in some manner of the plight of the refugees and desired to lend them encouragement and aid.
Legend tells the rest of this story. How the old Indian assured the starving Acadians of the help that would come to them if only the sympathizers on the other shore were aware of their condition.
It was a grim spectacle, however, the band of struggling men, women and children clinging to the last vestige of hope, and the ancient redskin explaining to them their only means of future livelihood. He would have to be a dauntless individual who would brave the rage of the loosened floods, surmount the rushing wave to gain Chignecto shore.
Once again it was the old, whiteheaded Pierre who found a means to evade the difficulties. Legend has it that at the time he was ill, undergoing the effects of a fatal malady. But such was the condition of his company with its majority of women and children and the greater part of the men woodsmen and hunters rather than seamen, that Pierre felt that he himself was the only one suitable to undertake the expedition. Legend has it that he set out upon the short and fateful voyage with the young Indian stripling as his sole companion.
They tell of the pathetic parting at the Point the black bulk of rock with the services and depressions caused by the fierce onslaught of water and the friction of the sand; the hurtling blocks of ice that chocked the passage to the cove; the swaying trees of fir and spruce that paralleled the small but swollen stream leaping to lose itself upon the beach. It was a situation that must have struck terror to many hearts.
It was a death-defying undertaking, but, we are told the French Pierre and the young Indian lad navigated the thirteen miles, that stretch between the Point and the Isle Haut. On the other side hidden from the watchers on the Nova Scotian shore, on a sandy beach, the pair shelved their canoe on the island that had appeared so formidable from afar.
They rested awhile, then fought their way onward, content to assail the tide if only to reach their destination. The shore loomed in sight, eloquent with welcome. There, in Chignecto, Pierre related the cause of his adventurous struggle across the bay with the result that the Micmacs and Frenchmen of the district set out immediately to relieve the ones left behind.
Yet, according to story, Pierre Melanson, arriving at the Point, surrounded by his small group died from the effects of the exposure. Thus did he culminate in the supreme manner an act of supreme bravery. As one may imagine it, many were the tears shed on the distant strand for the old hunter, their leader. Still, time could not be wasted in mourning. For at the back of them, behind the mountains, down in the valley, guided by the shining Annapolis River was the vital, if hostile menace of the English forces.
Facing them was the growing possibility that with the coming of spring and the unchecking of the waters, some English vessel would be prompted to poke its nose in the sheltered cove that we today call Morden.
So behind them the fugitives left the site of a difficult winters encampment. There in various heaps were the bones of moose, deer, and game of the forest, whitened by the winter snow and the spring rain. There, at one side, was the pile of mussel shells that told their tale of the means taken to outwit death by hunger. And at the Point was a hallowed spot, here and there mounds packed firm by the snow, others, bearing traces of recent excavation.
It was the latest place, the burying ground of the refugee habitants. It could not be left behind without some mark to signify the tragedy of it. Some thoughtful mind conceived the idea of planting a cross upon the ground, a reminder to passing ships.
So in the spring of 1756 was erected the first wooden cross. It was fashioned of the soft white driftwood from the beach, in itself bearing the traces of conflict with the sea, and becoming in this way a spirited witness of protection for the dead. Thus the cross remained for many years, alone and solitary against the leaden sea with the encroaching forest creeping upon it, its only companions the gulls that wheeled along the shore.
Finally the Point was rediscovered. A few Indians haunted it throughout the year, finding along the bluff alder shoots which they turned into baskets of finest weave. Soon settlers found their way up the mountain slopes and sown to the little inlet. By the beginning of the past century a large number of the settlers of the valley invaded the quiet fastness of the North Mountain, finding at the shore a means of communication by water with the other provincial settlements. Among the earliest families at the cove, the settlers of whom were by now nearly all English, was one by the name of Orpin.
Grants Of Land
In the records of the Aylesford town grantee book, revealing the various grants of land bestowed by the English crown, is the name of John Moore Orpin, who around 1800 was given a tract of land up on the southern slope of the North Mountain.
His son, John E. Orpin, has uttered various accounts of the cross erected by the fugitives supplementing in great detail what a later period has revealed.
To quote from a message left by the late Mr. Orpin, referring to 1815: "I saw on the Point a cross about seven feet high which was called by everybody the French Cross. I have seen the cross since 1815, dozen of times; in 1820 it still stood. It stood close by the shore, on the extreme point, but the waves have washed the spot bare, and the spot where it stood is now on a ledge of rocks, a few feet from the shore."
The scourge of time had worked havoc upon the cross so erected by the Acadians, who, so many years previously had escaped to the Chignecto shore. But in 1887 a new cross was executed by John Orpin, its exterior painted by a George Fail, and the inscription applied by Mr. Thomas Jones, whose descendents still live in Morden. Of necessity, due to the force of the tide, the promoters of this second emblem were forced to plant it some distance back from the original site, so that the old location is now surrounded by water.
The impression exists that the burying ground of the descendents of Pierre Melanson is today occupied by a row of summer cottages and contains the grounds of the Catholic Glebe house. Be that as it may, the second cross stood a few feet from its original location, well into the twentieth century.
Then in 1925, a number of the citizens of the village remarked that the old cross put up by John Orpin was showing the ravages of time, decaying in its timbers and tottering from its base. The final result was that the same year, effort was expended to place there, a new cross, this time to be of more weatherproof material.
Due to the efforts of interested individuals in Kentville and to the energy of cottagers, a large group, realizing the great historic value in perpetrating the dead of Pierre Melanson, contributed to the building fund. Material was found close at hand, for nothing harmonized so well with the surroundings as the variegated smooth, round stones to be found at the waters edge.
Careful selection was made of this medium, so that a cross of symmetrical form and beauty was erected, worthy of the greatest admiration. At this time the location was removed still further from the original spot marked by the fleeing Acadians. Today the memorial stands austere and plain, a golden hued cross against the shining surface of the bay, by its very form reminding all of its purpose and a reminder of the sacrifice of the Acadian habitants that inhabited the ground long ago.
Other tragic reminders of their flight may be found in the vicinity of Morden. Not only is the Aylesford Burying Ground eloquent, but the old Anglican Church of St. Marys in Auburn has borrowed some of the veil of glory that hovers over the French Cross.
An Early Church
In 1790, one of the very earliest Anglican churches in the Province was organized. A short distance north of the river, in the general direction of the passage that the Acadians took to reach the Bay, the third oldest house of the Church of England of Nova Scotia survives to this date.
It is small and compact with many antique features, old high straight-backed family pews with prayer benches at the foot, all in the atmosphere of a miniature cathedral. High up in the church, a spot a few feet in diameter, a patch of greyish white plaster, serves to commemorate these same Acadians.
According to the records of the church, the builders were forced to ingenuity. They had to supply their own nails, hand-fashioned of steel, and their plaster too exhibited the inventive mind. It is conceded that the old heap of mussel shells left by the Acadians supplied that item of material.
Skepticism would point to what remain of a pile of shells, disintegrated by thirty-five years of sleet and rain, as practically negligible. Be that as it may, whether in fact or fiction, in this original manner have the Acadians perpetuated their memory.
Naturally the greatest degree of perpetuation has come about through the establishment of the village itself. The life of the little settlement in the cove revolves around two chief points of interest, the cross of the fugitive French and the wharf that projects itself out into the frigid swell. The origin of the name, Morden, is not difficult to trace. In 1783 a grant of vie thousand acres of land in Aylesford was received by Mr. James Morden, an Englishman and ordinance shopkeeper at Halifax, the same gentleman who a few years later, with Bishop Inglis and Henry VanBuskirk was to promote the raising of the Anglican Church in Auburn. His land extended to the Bay of Fundy, including the site of the French habitation. Gradually, from 1783 to 1825, tenants settled upon the land, transfers were made so that soon the important families along the shore included such names as Orpin, Jones, Benedict, Cook and Dodge.
The name of the village, then, apparently originated as being the holding of Mr. James Morden, of Halifax and Morden. However, a transfer put through in the year 1833 presents a new angle. This
(Continued on page 6)
Little Village Of Morden
Has Romantic History
(continued from page 1)
transfer shows a grant having been carried Whitehall, to John Butler across from George Foreman Morden of Scotland Yard, Butler, Esquire, commissary generalonce owned by James . It is mentioned that the land in question was Morden.
It is the same Colonel Butler Butler that carried out a number of improvements in the village. Consequently, it is asserted by some that it was due to Colonel Butler that the hamlet received its name, Morden being the birthplace in England of the man. The only means of concording the two theories is by suggesting that both James Morden and John Butler Butler colonized from some town in England called Morden. It has been shown conclusively by the grantee records that Colonel Butler was a relative of James Morden.
In this way Colonel Butler, assignee of the old haven of the refugee French with its historic cross, came at a time when the village was beginning to assume its present proportions. By 1868 it was of considerable size, and used a great deal by the valley farmers as a shipping point. In 1884 Colonel Butler had caused an Anglican Church to be erected so that it was through his philanthropy and munificence that the Church of St. Marys in Auburn had a sister organization at Morden. Colonel Butler also gave a certain parcel of property to be set aside for public utility. The site of the existing wharf, in the east end of the village, was granted by him as a shipping point for lumber, cordwood, and fish. A few years later a wharf was thrust out into the Bay, its ownership transferred to the Dominion Government.
It was Colonel Butler, too, who gave Morden its present plan of habitation three streets running parallel with one another on different levels along the shore. The lower, or waterfront avenue, extends from the wharf in the east to the French Cross in the west, winding along the glory of dazzling blue water and wave swept cliffs. A middle street runs similarly, while the upper street runs east ward into the road that leads to the valley floor, a trail similar to that trod by the weary feet of Pierre Melanson.
Morden, today, while it has progressed with the spirit of the years, is essentially a village of old traditions. The new cross stands as did the old, testifying and alone. Upon, the graveyard of the French, so it is said, upon the hill back of the cross, a string of summer cottages looks proudly toward the green mound of the Isle Haute. A little to the east extends the property of the Glebe house, established there by the Roman Catholic Church in the last decade, and harboring under the green arches of its trees some more graves of the stricken Acadians.
A Modern Village
The Morden of today is a modern village in the possession of its fine summer cottages, its general store, its fine wharf, and its Morden of the past, sleeping beneath its exterior of gay summer activity, the Morden of the old Anglican Church, the spire of which stretches up and up, as if to look down upon the cross of the fugitive French, to read there what commemorates their deed for all time:
"On this site the Acadians from Belleisle wintered in 1755-56. In the spring of 1756, Pierre Melanson with Indian boy crossed the Bay for aid. On return trip he died. The original cross was erected by the Acadians to his memory."