The Community of New France
In 1892, Jean-Jacques Stehelin come to Nova Scotia from France to explore the possibilities of establishing a business here. His father, Émile, knew some of the faculty at Collège Sainte-Anne at Church Point, so this is where his investigations began. Seeing that the lumber industry was booming, he bought land between Langford and Tusket Lakes on the Silver River, where he built a cabin and a sawmill, employed local Acadians, and married an Acadian, Katie Thibodeau.
Two years later, Jean-Jacques’s enthusiastic reports persuaded his three brothers, Émile-Jean, Roger, and Paul, to join him. They cleared land around the mill, built a house, and proceeded to establish an industrial complex with a dam, a turbine to run a gang saw, and also a forge, a haul-up to bring logs to the mill, and a cookhouse for the workers. The fledgling settlement was called New France
In 1895, Émile Stehelin and his wife, Marie, came to New France to inspect the operations, and liked what they saw. They returned to France to close up their home there, returning the following spring with the rest of the family – Charles, Thérèse, Louis, Germain, Maurice, Simone, and Bernard. A much larger house was built to accommodate them. Meanwhile Émile-Jean’s fiancée, Anne, had joined him in New France. They were married in Halifax and built a home of their own. The family lived in style, as they had in Normandy. They imported barrels of wine, the men hunted game with dogs in the forest, and they raised chicken and ducks in a big poultry coop.
The community expanded as the business developed. Acadian and Black workers lived in a bunkhouse, and the facilities included a new forge, an office, a “casino” for entertainment, and a clubhouse. The most exciting innovation was the installation of a water-powered dynamo that provided electricity for the settlement. Homes had electric light, and a row of lights illuminated the central street. All this was before Weymouth and the neighbouring settlements had electric power. New France became known as “Electric City.”
In order to bring the lumber to market, it had to be hauled down to Weymouth harbour to be loaded onto ships. For a while, oxen performed this task, but in 1897, a railway with wooden tracks was built on which a primitive locomotive hauled a few flat cars laden with lumber. Later, new locomotives were purchased, and a passenger car allowed people to travel between New France and Weymouth.
Social life flourished in the community. A chapel was built, where visiting clergy conducted services from time to time, while on other Sundays the family gathered for prayers and hymn singing. Visitors were welcomed to join the family for games, music, and dancing.
The community flourished until the early 20th century, when the family began to break up. Jean-Jacques left Katie to go to New York, and later divorced her. Roger left and went to sea, and Charles moved to Weymouth to manage the family store. Germaine married a sea captain and accompanied him on his voyages. Maurice enrolled in Collège Sainte-Anne, while the younger daughters boarded at a convent school, also at Church Point. After Marie-Thérèse died in 1910, Émile Stehelin closed the big house and moved to Weymouth, leaving Paul, Bernard, and Louis to manage the lumber operations.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Charles, Paul, Roger, and Maurice all enlisted, leaving Louis to manage the business, which flourished, as the war brought increasing demands for wood. Their father died just before the war ended. The lumber industry declined after the war, and operations ceased in 1923 when New France was sold.
Several lumber companies have worked there since then, but they did not last, and the buildings deteriorated and were torn down or rotted away. The community was never revived, and now only the foundations remain in a clearing in a remote area of the forest. The area around Long Tusket Lake, which includes the former settlement site, was given to the Nature Conservancy of Canada in 2014.