The Story of The Acadian Bells:
Those of Minas Basin And The Isthmus Of Chignecto
Minas Basin, which comprised Grand Pré and Cobequid (Truro), is the region in all Acadia which has been the most exalted by songs and poetry, but not by its bells. In fact, we find hardly any traces of them here.
At Grand Pré, it is true, Longfellow speaks of Evangeline's beautiful heifer bearing the bell, and of the bell that "from the belfry softly the Angelus sounded," when it tolled in the morning, at noon and in the evening, in memory of the Annunciation. Nevertheless, the annals do not mention any bell in Grand Pré, even though many authors, along with Longfellow, do so; it would have been strange, in fact, if it had been otherwise. Most probably the church at Grand Pré, which was dedicated to St. Charles, was set on fire at the time of the Expulsion, just like St. Joseph's Church, which was located in the vicinity of Canard.
Likewise, we have no records of bells in the PISIQUID region, even though there were at least four churches here: one or more at the Assumption parish (Windsor) and three or more at the Holy Family parish (Falmouth).
Regardless of Grand Pré, of Canard River and of Pisiquid, we are certain that there was a bell in COBEQUID (Truro). Cobequid, which had been granted in 1689 to Mathieu Martin, because he was said to be the first Acadian born in Acadia, had a church, measuring 100 feet by 40. It was dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. We do not know when it was built, because the church registers disappeared with the church when it was set on fire by the invaders at the time of the Expulsion. Its bell was a big one, we are told. Thomas Miller, who wrote the history of Colchester County, tells us that he learned from a man by the name of Alexander Vance, of Masstown, about 12 miles west of Truro, that one day, while he was plowing his field, he found the melted metal of the Cobequid bell; it was at the exact spot where the church had stood. And this hideous and shapeless junk of metal, blackened by fire, is all that we have left of any of the bells of the Minas Basin region.
We will have more luck if we explore the churches of the Isthmus of Chignecto region. It was called originally "Beaubassin", close to the Missaquach River that I mentioned in sketch No. 58. There were seven or eight churches here, namely at Beaubassin proper (Chignecto, close to Amherst); Beausejour (Fort Cumberland); Tantramar, N.B. (on the river of the same name); Baie Verte, N.B. Chipoudy, N.B. (at St. Anselme, Fox Creek); and even at the "Coude" (Elbow, now Moncton). There was also a chapel at Minudie, N.S., in the peninsula that stretches out into Cumberland Basin.
Of all these churches, we know that there has been a bell for a time at Beaubassin proper, which was transferred afterwards to Beausejour, and another one at Tantramar.
Beaubassin proper had its first church in 1686. It had cob-walls covered with stones and a datched [sic] roof. Known at first as the church of "Notre-Dame du Bon Secours," its name was changed to that of "Notre-Dame of the Assumption."
Benjamin church, from Massachusetts, who invaded Acadia in 169[?], set this church on fire. It was replaced in 1723 and burned again in 1750, this time by the Acadians themselves, with the rest of the village, at the approach of Lawrence's fleet, when they moved on the other side of the river, in what is now New Brunswick territory. Before doing so, Father Germain had lowered the bell from the steeple; it was taken to Beausejour. It measures 20 inches in height and has a diameter at its base of 22 inches. It is well ornamented with fleur-de-lis and is inscribed with the latin words AD HONOREM DEI FECIT F M GROSS A ROCHEFORT in 1734," that is "To the Glory of God. Made by F. M. Gross of Rocherfort in 1734," Rocherfort being 20 miles south of La Rochelle, France.
At BEAUSEJOUR, where there was at first but a small chapel, was started in 1753 a church which was to be under the patronage of St. Louis, in which was installed the Beaubassin bell, after it had been completed in April of 1755. Unfortunately, it rang during one morning only, because at the approach of Monkton's fleet, the Acadians, realizing that they would have to capitulate, set the church of fire on July 4. But before doing so, they saved the bell.
After a number of years, the Beaubassin-Beausejour bell was installed in the St. Mark Anglican church, at Mount Thatley, now on route 16, close to Fort Cumberland. When the museum at Fort Beausejour alias Fort Cumberland, was built in the 1930's, the bell was placed here on display, where it is still one of the main attractions of the museum.
At Tantramar, the site of today's Upper Sackville, N.B. there were at the time of the Acadians three churches, one of which had been built purposely for the Indians. One of them had a bell, but it was after Robert Hale visited the place in 1731; I said, in fact, in sketch No. [?-cut off] that then a flag was raised to call the people to prayeer [sic]. He is the one who tells us of another bell, much smaller, just a hand-bell that I mentioned in sketch No. 40, when he says that he saw here a priest go to one of the churches, "habited like a fool in petticoat, with a man after him with a bell in one hand ringing at every door, and a lighted candle and lantern in the other."
The church at Tantramar, in which was the bell, was set on fire by the invaders in November of 1755. But the Acadians had already buried the bell in the ground. Returning from exile, they recovered and brought it to Memramcook. After having been in use for several years, it cracked. It was then sent to Troy, New York, with two of the small bells to be cast into a larger one. And that was the end of Tantramar Bell.
To these bells, I want to ad [sic] the small bell of the Museum of Cathedral of Moncton. It is a hand-bell, weighing 13 1/2 ounces, which had belonged to an Acadian at the time of the Expulsion by the name of Jacques Leger, which had served either at the Memramcook church or at the Chipoudy church. It had been put at first in Grand Pré, in the museum, before it was given to Archbishop Arthur Melanson of Moncton.
Next week, I will tell you the story of the bells of Prince Edward Island