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Fields hide war zone history of New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border | CBC News

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A field
This property on the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border used to house the Acadian village of Beaubassin and later the British Fort Lawrence. (Khalil Akhtar/CBC)

These days the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border is a relatively calm place.

Sure you have the constant din of traffic along the Trans-Canada Highway, occasionally punctuated by the whistle of a freight train.

But all in all, it’s fairly serene.

That was not the scene 268 years ago when the border region was a literal war zone. 

The Tantramar Marshes and the Isthmus of Chignecto were a theatre in the Seven Years War between the French, who occupied Fort Beauséjour on the New Brunswick side, and the British at Fort Lawrence on the Nova Scotia side.

“Honest to goodness, there’s a decades-long period where trying to cross from one side of this marsh to the other actually could get you killed,” said historian James Upham, who contributes to the Roadside History series carried on CBC Radio’s Information Morning

Constant conflict

While Indigenous nations have called the area home for millennia, the first established European settlement at the site was built in 1672 and was named Beaubassin.

The community and its Acadian inhabitants were at constant risk due to more than a century of fighting between the British and French empires, which saw the borders of the region in an almost constant state of flux.

WATCH | Khalil Akhtar takes a walk through a war zone with James Upham:

Roadside History: The marsh that was once a war zone

Historian James Upham reveals the violent history beneath the Tantramar Marsh.

“The first time this place gets burned in like a quasi-military action [was in] 1696 … Then it gets pillaged and attacked again in the early 1700s,” said Upham.

“You have got decades where just physically existing here was not just difficult but dangerous.”

This would have made life exceedingly difficult for regular people living in the area, just looking to be left in peace.

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This 1755 painting from the British Library shows what Fort Lawrence looked like in 1755. (Submitted by Charles Burke)

“It would have been so frustrating for a person that moved here in 1673, built a house, built a farm, built a life, gets burned down,” said Upham. 

“They go and they do it again, and that also gets pillaged.”

Military build-up

Beaubassin’s days as a pastoral Acadian community came to an end in 1750.

The French burned the community down as the British advanced through Nova Scotia during Father Le Loutre’s War.

A drawing of a fort and landscape
Fort Beauséjour, later Fort Cumberland, as it would have looked in the 18th century. (Library and Archives Canada)

They did so to ensure the British could not benefit from a pre-existing settlement.

The French then crossed the Missaguash River and built Fort Beauséjour, while the British built Fort Lawrence on the ashes of Beaubassin.

“There’s a period of time where both of these forts are actually the fingertips of two massive empires that are at each other’s throats,” said Upham.

an old map
A 1755 map showing the locations of Fort Lawrence and Fort Beauséjour. (Library and Archives Canada)

“People within these walls have realized that if they make the wrong call right now, they actually could cause an international incident that will lead to a potentially catastrophic war.”

That international incident occurred less than five years after Fort Lawrence was built.

In 1755, during the early stages of the North American theatre of the Seven Years War (also known as the French and Indian War), the British laid siege to Fort Beauséjour.

close up photo of man with glasses
‘Honest to goodness, there’s a decades-long period where trying to cross from one side of this marsh to the other actually could get you killed,’ said historian James Upham. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

The British would take the fort, rename it Fort Cumberland, and abandon Fort Lawrence.

Both Fort Lawrence and Fort Beauséjour have been designated National Historic Sites by Parks Canada.

While a good portion of the ruins of Fort Beauséjour remains, little is left to indicate Fort Lawrence existed, except for a Parks Canada gazebo and a cairn memorializing the site.

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