Gabriel Acquin

Gabriel Acquin was born in 1811 to a Maliseet family displaced by the influx of Loyalists into the new colony of New Brunswick. This displacement also resulted from the fraudulent purchase of Aucpaque, site of the main Maliseet (Wolastoqiyik) village about eleven kilometers above Fredericton, by judge Isaac Allen in 1794. Maliseet families most often lived a migratory lifestyle, travelling up and down the Saint John River on a seasonal basis. Acquin’s family subsequently moved about in the area between Kingsclear and the Bay of Fundy. Gabe’s own hunting territory was between the Salmon and Gaspereau rivers.

Acquin is often considered to be the founder of the St. Mary’s reserve as he settled there after being invited to do so by the executors of a Loyalist estate in 1847. However, this area was used as a Maliseet migratory settlement as far back as 1818. After Gabe moved to St. Mary’s he, too, continued to live a migratory lifestyle, for when the census-takers came in 1851, both he and his family were living downriver at Sheffield, probably at the place known as Wisawtahk.

Unknown to the Maliseet, this land was sold several times. In 1865, Thomas Hughes purchased the land and threatened to eject the Maliseet. They appealed to the government for help. In 1867, just two and a half riverfront acres remained, which the Crown reserved for use by the Maliseet. In 1883, when Acquin applied to the federal government for possession of the entire tract that he and his people had originally settled, he received no reply. Because of overcrowding on the two and a half acres, nearby lands were eventually purchased and added to the reserve.

Acquin was a well-known hunter, guide, and interpreter who often accompanied British officers stationed at Fredericton on hunting trips. His skills in calling and hunting moose, caribou, wild fowl, and other game became legendary. In 1860 Acquin guided his most famous client, the Prince of Wales, on a canoe trip into the mouth of the Nashwaak River. He was subsequently invited to England as Canada’s representative to the international water and fisheries exhibitions. He made several trips there in the 1880s, forming friendships with royalty and military officers.

Faced with pressures of colonialism and the rapid destruction of hunting territories, Acquin, like many other Maliseet, adopted a more settled way of life. Acquin cleared as many as fourteen acres of land and planted a garden at St. Marys, and in 1857 he built what was possibly the first frame house on the reserve. Though compelled to adapt to new circumstances, Acquin successfully found regular employment as a guide for prominent Frederictonians, and his wife found a steady market in the city for her exquisite beadwork. Gabriel Acquin died in 1901 at 90 years of age.