Acadia began in the 17th century, when about a hundred French families settled in the area of Port Royal, along the banks of the Baie française (Bay of Fundy). Gifted with a rare sense of community, the Acadians slowly developed their own customs and culture in a new environment based primarily on agriculture. Their numbers grew to approximately 14,000 people by 1755.

The hotly disputed region finally fell to the British in 1713. Acadians were committed to remaining neutral during the conflict, which saw Britain opposing France in the present-day Atlantic region. However, the British government doubted the Acadian commitment and demanded an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. This demand led to decades of strife. In 1755, Charles Lawrence, the British governor, deported the Acadian families living in the Scotian peninsula to the American colonies. Many Acadians found temporary refuge on Île Saint-Jean (soon to become Prince Edward Island) and on Île Royale (Cape Breton Island). Others found a haven in what is now New Brunswick and in the area of Quebec City. With the exception of the latter, Acadians did not form permanent settlements. The fear of newly arriving English colonists and of new deportations held them back, as did the dream of returning to their home.

Acadians were allowed to return to Nova Scotia in 1764, but were forbidden from settling in numbers large enough to form an independent society. Thus they dispersed and settled, spread out along Nova Scotia's coasts. Nevertheless, Acadian communities arose in several locations. Strong family ties led to a network of community support systems and a sense of solidarity among Acadian settlers. With the Church's help, they succeeded in building a strong community while coping with an extremely difficult political environment. But they accomplished this in a state of near self-sufficiency, without participating in the benefits of the market economy that was then in full swing.

Many Acadians who escaped the Expulsion or were deported thus ended up in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. It was in that last province that the Société nationale des Acadiens was created in 1881. Its goal was clear: to bring the Acadian people out of marginalization. Thus began a focus that remains, over a hundred years later, a priority for the Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse, which was established in 1968.