Birch Cove on the Bedford Basin is the site of the arrival of Duc d’Anville’s storm-wracked naval fleet that had crossed the Atlantic from France in 1746 to recapture Fortress Louisbourg and retake Acadia. Consisting of some 11,000 sailors and soldiers and 64 ships, it was the largest fleet at that time to ever sail from Europe. However, due to storms and disease (including scurvy, typhus and typhoid) that struck the fleet, only 16 ships arrived. On Sept. 29th the fleet anchored at Birch Cove where hundreds of sick and dying men were put ashore to recover. But many died and were buried in hastily dug graves, with estimates varying between 1,100 and 2,000 – the total will never be known. By October 24th the fleet finally set sail and ultimately returned to France. Along with their commander, it is believed as many as 8,000 men died without ever having faced the enemy in battle. In addition, the infected woolen blankets left onshore were later used by the Mi’kmaq and the contagion spread resulting in the deaths of upwards of one-half of the entire Mi’kmaw population. In 1925, the Duc d’Anville encampment site at Birch Cove was named a National Historic Site; a cairn commemorating the encampment is located in Centennial Park, Rockingham.
For further information on the Duc d’Anville fleet see: Historical Paper No. 5: Unlucky Armada – The Destruction of the Duc d’Anville’s Fleet.