Travel about 150 miles southeast from Halifax, Nova Scotia and you’ll hit something: Sable Island. Seen here, it is a small, tree-less crescent of sand positioned precariously on the Northern Atlantic edge of the North American continental shelf. At its widest point it runs not quite a mile and in total, is only thirteen square miles in area. No one has been born there since 1920 and, save for a handful of transient researchers, no one lives there, either.
Unless you count the 350 or so feral horses.
How did they get there? While many believe the horses’ ancestors were stranded on the island after a shipwreck (Sable Island has a history of causing such disasters), that’s not the case here. During the French and Indian War, Great Britain deported thousands of French settlers, known as Acadians, from Canada, stripping them of their property in the process. One merchant hired to assist in this forced relocation was a man named Thomas Hancock (uncle of the now-famed John Hancock). Hancock took some horses for himself, and relocated them to Sable Island.
Today, this species of horse is called the Sable Island Pony — “pony” because the horses are smaller than most horses. (They are not truly ponies, however; the name is a misnomer.) The Sable Island Pony lives only on the island, other than a few kept at Shubenacadie Wildlife Park in Nova Scotia, to ensure the species’ preservation. But at this point, that may be unnecessary. The horses’ Sable Island habitat is protected by Canadian law, which mandates that the creatures be allowed to live on the island without human interference.
Bonus fact: The deported Acadians were relocated to many different places — some to other New World colonies, some to England, some to France. A group of those sent back to France would later return to the New World, settling in the then-Spanish colony of Louisiana. There, these Acadians would revive their culture, one which still survives today. But we don’t call it “Acadian.” We call it by a similar sounding word which developed over time: “Cajun.”
From the Archives: The Land of Dragon’s Blood and Elephant Plants: The tiny (but not quite as tiny) island of Socotra — and the amazing plants which are native to there, and only there.
Related: “Sable Island: The Strange Origins and Curious History of a Dune Adrift in the Atlantic” by Marq de Villiers. Four stars on six reviews.
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