THE ACADIANS OF TOR BAY, GUYSBOROUGH COUNTY
(Larry's River, Charlos Cove and Port Felix)
The Chezzetcook Connection
by Brad Pellerin
Nestled on the shores of Tor Bay, Guysborough County, are three small communities that were first settled by Acadians after the deportation of 1755.
Where did these Acadians come from and why would they have settled in this area of Nova Scotia so far remote from the other Acadian settlements? The first question is much easier to answer than the last. Originally, these people had settled in the Annapolis Valley and were well established farmers on the rich marshlands of the Bay of Fundy. Then in 1755 the English ordered all Acadians to be deported and their property destroyed. Some of them escaped expulsion by fleeing into the woods, however, they were eventually captured and imprisoned in Halifax where they remained until 1763. Shortly after the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, which officially ended the deportation, a number of these Acadians made their to way to the Chezzetcook area.
With the influx of American Loyalists to the area it was feared that the new settlers (the Loyalists) would be given priority to the land in the Chezzetcook. At this point some individuals decided to look elsewhere for land. In the 1770s they petitioned the government in Halifax for lands in what was then called Tor Bay. The names on the first petitions, BOUDREAU, ROI, DAVID, MANNETTE, PETITPAS, PELLERIN, RICHARD, are names that are common to the area today.
As a result of this migration east to the shores of Tor Bay, the 3 small villages of Larry's river, Charlos Cove and Port Felix were formed. Larry's River was named after an Irish moose hunter from Halifax, Larry Keating, who had a log cabin on the east bank of the river. Port Felix was named in honour of a Belgian priest, Felix Van Blerk, who had served the parishioners during the 1860s. It had originally been named Havre Mélasse. It got this name from the fact the early settlers had found a large barrel molasses of on the shore of the harbour, undoubtedly lost by a passing ship. Charlos Cove was named after one of the original settlers, Charles Richard.
Why did they choose the remote area of Tor Bay? This remains a difficult question. One can only speculate. It is possible that when the Acadians finally decided to move from Chezzetcook the choices were probably getting limited. Other Acadians had already established themselves in the northern part of the province, in the region of Cheticamp and Ile Madame and to the south in Digby and Yarmouth counties. And by the early 1770s Acadians had already settled in Pomquet, Havre Boucher and Tracadie.
Exactly how many came is difficult to determine. In 1815, Monseigneur Plessis, bishop of Québec, made a pastoral visit to the area. On July 11, 1815, he wrote in his diary, "About 8 to 10 leagues south of Cape Canso are located 19 catholic Acadian families, 7 in a port named by themselves as Havre Mélasse and 12 in a neighbouring area known as Torbay." In his entry the next day, Bishop Plessis indicates that he and 2 other priests administered the sacraments to about 30 people. It is safe to say that by 1815 there must have been about 50 Acadians living along these shores.
Bishop Plessis urged the group to move from the area and join the Acadians who had settled in Arichat. He suggested that they would not be as isolated there and they would have the services of a priest at all times. However, for most of them, moving again was not an option and so they stayed. The BREAUs, the BONINs, and the ROMAINs, who were among the first settlers, must have heeded the bishop for these names do not appear in any census during the 19th century. In 1871 there were close to 700 people of French Acadian origin in the 3 communities. By then they were a large enough number to warrant the services of a full time priest.
Preserving a culture within a larger, more dominant one, is not an easy task. Many small Acadian communities in Nova Scotia, including Larry's River, Charlos Cove, and Port Felix have reached a point of no return in the process of assimilation. This is assured when the heritage, culture and language of a people are not passed on to the younger generation. In these 3 villages today you will find Acadians by the name of BOUDREAU, PELLERIN, PETITPAS, DAVID, RICHARD, BELLEFONTAINE, MANNETTE, FOUGERE; all can trace their ancestry to the settlers who came from Chezzetcook in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Unfortunately, family names and a few of the older residents who still speak French are all that remain that is Acadian.