LaHave, Capital of New France
In early September 1632, the Mi’kmaq who lived along the Pijinuiskaq (the LaHave River) must have been astonished to see two big wooden ships sailing through the narrows between what is now known as Kraut Point and LaHave. They anchored, and 200 men came ashore led by a man with a patch over one eye. Isaac de Razilly may have looked like a pirate, but he was a French naval officer and a Knight of Malta, who lost his eye in battle. After a distinguished career at sea, Razilly was sent as the King’s representative in the colony of New France to establish a settlement in Acadie. This settlement at what is now LaHave was, for a few years, the capital of New France.
Razilly’s cousin, Charles de Menou d’Aulnay, was a member of the expedition, as was merchant and entrepreneur Nicolas Denys. Denys quickly established a lumber camp on the far side of the river towards Lunenburg Bay and a fishing station at what is now Brooklyn, near Liverpool. There were several young gentlemen from aristocratic families including Razilly’s nephew, Claude, and two sons of a fellow member of the Knights of Malta. Part of the reason Europeans justified colonizing what would be Canada, was their belief that the Indigenous people should be converted to Christianity. So, three Capuchin fathers were also members of the expedition to bring Roman Catholicism to the Mi’kmaq.
Razilly’s men set about building a fort on a point of land looking down the river towards the harbour mouth. He called it Fort Sainte-Marie-de-Grâce, because the expedition had landed on a feast-day of the Virgin Mary. Most of the newcomers were skilled tradesmen. The ships had brought bricks, lime, plaster, and planks, with which they began to build the fort and lodgings. But cold weather came quickly and some of the men died from inadequate shelter during the first winter. By the second, they were better prepared and there were no deaths. The Mi’kmaq undoubtedly helped them to adapt to their unfamiliar surroundings, shared their knowledge of medicinal plants, and taught them survival skills.
The settlement consisted of the fort, living quarters, storehouses, and a chapel where the Capuchins held services. There were gardens with a variety of crops, including peas, beans cauliflower, lettuce, melons, and cucumbers. Apple trees were planted near the fort, and native fruit and berries were plentiful. Razilly wrote that they had celebrated Mass with wine made from wild grapes. Chickens, pigs, and goats were kept, and across the river, cows grazed in a meadow behind Oxners Beach. Some of the men were sent to establish farms on the fertile slopes at Petite Rivière where a bountiful crop of wheat was harvested. Fish was plentiful in the lakes, rivers, and sea, and there was game to be hunted. Items like sugar, spices, oil, and rice were brought by supply ships from France. All seemed set for a successful settlement in what Razilly described to a friend as an “earthly paradise.”
Razilly’s dream was to establish families in Acadie, as he considered single men to be “birds of passage” who might up and leave at any time, but families would be more stable. By 1636, the settlement was well enough established that when the ship Saint-Jean sailed from La Rochelle that spring with new recruits for the community, several men had wives and children with them. Unfortunately, they had barely arrived when Razilly died unexpectedly on July 2, 1636. Charles de Menou d’Aulnay assumed command of the settlers and transferred most of them to Port Royal on the Annapolis Basin.
The fort at LaHave was abandoned and later burned down by a rival of Nicolas Denys. Currents and tides gradually eroded the point on which the fort stood, and today, nothing is visible of the former settlement. A road leads from the village of LaHave to a monument identifying Fort Point as a National Historic Site, and to a museum telling the story of the time when LaHave was the Capital of New France.