New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Gabe Acquin

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Gabe Acquin

Gabe was born in the early 1800s in Kingsclear, on Wolastoq (the beautiful river) in New Brunswick. He was a member of the Wolastoqiyik (the people of the beautiful river), now called the Maliseet. It is not known exactly when he was born, but it was likely in 1811 or a little earlier, since that is the year that he was baptized.

These were hard times for the Maliseet and other native people. The Loyalist influx resulted in great stretches of land being owned by outsiders who had little regard for the Maliseet or their migratory ways. The best of their camp sites were taken away and there was a move toward confinement of the natives onto reserves where they could be educated in the newcomers’ ways. Assimilation became a form of destruction and the people of the beautiful river were in trouble. They were entering a time of poverty and hopelessness.

Gabe’s family name is usually given as Acquin, but he was rarely called by that. Noel Gabriel, Sachem Gabe and many other variations were more commonly used. Gabe spent his early life, as was normal, moving between Kingsclear and the Bay of Fundy and back. He married Marie in 1839.

 Gabriel Acquin ca 1870

Gabe, in about 1870

Gabe was becoming well known locally, as will be explained, and in 1847 he was invited to set up camp on a Loyalist property at St. Mary’s, across the river from Fredericton. He was not the first to camp at St. Mary’s, but he was the first to settle there permanently. He stayed for ten years in a wigwam and raised several acres of potatoes before building a framed house. Gabe invited other Maliseet to join him on the property and a settlement took root. However, the land was being sold out from under them without their knowledge until, by 1867, they were reduced to only 2-1/2 acres. In 1883 they applied to the federal government to restore all of the land that they had originally occupied at St. Mary’s, but there was no reply to this request. It was well after Gabe’s death that overcrowding forced the government to enlarge upon the 2-1/2 acres, thus creating the St. Mary’s Indian Reserve.

Gabe was a hunter and guide from an early age, and continued this almost up to his death in 1901 at the age of 90 years. Guiding white hunters was a departure from the Maliseet custom and accounted for his early fame. He was very skilful at the work and was also renowned for his strength and stamina. More than this, however, he was respected for his open and friendly personality, his readiness to share native stories, and his good humour and companionship. He was a frequent guest at the barracks at Officers’ Square. He guided prominent officers and also supplied the establishment with game. As a result, he also met and became good friends with Lieut. Governors John Manners-Sutton, and his successor Arthur Gordon. He and Manners-Sutton were together on lengthy hunting trips and it was likely Manners-Sutton’s recommendation that allowed him to carry on as a guide to Arthur Gordon who also became a friend. He was a frequent guest also at the Old Government House.

Gabe was well known and is still respected for his advocacy for the Maliseet. Upon having been invited to Old Government House by Manners-Sutton, he showed up with what must have been nearly the entire St. Mary’s community. This was for celebrations following Christmas and the ballroom was the scene. The white people first demonstrated their traditions in music and dance and, following that, the Maliseet put on a demonstration using instruments made of bones and “disused powder cans, and pickle bottles filled with broken crockery that they rattled.” The evening became a bi-cultural event.

In 1860, the Prince of Wales who later became King Edward VII was 18 years of age and was touring the United States and British North America. In Fredericton he stayed at Old Government House when Gabe paddled by. The Prince called him to shore and asked to accompany him for a canoeing demonstration. Gabe paddled him over to the Nashwaak and back while a worried Duke of Newcastle yelled after them to return. The Prince is reported to have told Gabe not to bother with the old Duke. Conversations ensued about canoe making, and the Prince was given a canoe which he took back to London.

Gabe was 72 years of age in 1883 when he was invited to attend the Fisheries Exhibition in England. He set up a traditional camp in South Kensington, and his presence was a must-see event for royalty and gentry of all sorts. He was visited by many of the officers who had served in Fredericton and the entire royal family with the exception only of Victoria. Many of the visitors had known him previously and genuinely wanted to see him again. Others were no doubt drawn either by the romantic notions of the day, or to be seen with the other officers and royalty.

It has been written that Gabe was in London again during 1893-94 with a show, but others have found it difficult to verify this. There is agreement, however, that he appeared with shows in Boston, Chicago and New York. He also continued until very late in life to guide prominent people on hunting and fishing trips.

Gabe is remembered as the founder of the St. Mary’s Indian Reserve. He was a showman, and a diplomat and statesman. He was a story teller and teacher who was able to deal with white society without giving up his Maliseet identity. He was also an accomplished hunting guide to dignitaries and government leaders. He was one of those very special people who was destined through force of personality to make a large impression on those around him.

There are some ironies in Gabe’s memory. He was a teacher of Maliseet traditions, but he also departed from those traditions in significant ways. He not only worked for the newcomers, but he enabled some of their non-native values such as when he killed sixty deer in the course of two weeks. He took advantage of opportunities in dealing with elites but also permitted himself to be used for display as a showman. All of these things taken together indicate that he was a complicated man. His story is not one of those old rhymes outlining the olden days, but is a story of a real human having many dimensions. He had respect during his lifetime and he deserves it still. It was therefore too long in coming when, in 1999, he was named a person of national historic significance.

Gabe died in 1901 at the age of 90 years.


  1. Perley, Karen, Gabe, New Brunswick Manuscript in Archaeology 41, New Brunswick Culture and Sport Secretariat, 2005.
  2. Nicholas, Andrea Bear, Gabriel Acquin, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, 2000.

Written by johnwood1946

June 5, 2013 at 9:32 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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