Last modified: 2004-07-31 by ivan sache
Keywords: nord | bray-dunes | bray's duinen | bray's duynen |
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by Olivier Touzeau
Bray-Dunes (Dutch, Bray's Duinen; ancient Flemish writing, Bray's Duynen; 4,700 inhabitants, 856 hectares) is the northernmost municipality in France, located 20 km north-east of Dunkirk and bordering Belgium.
In the past, the coastal area of the extreme north of France was a vast,
uninhabited expanse of sand and marshes, regularly flooded by water from
the sea and the hinterland rivers and storm-lashed.
In the beginning of the XVIIth century, the canal of Veurne and adjacent watergangs were cut. Watergang (from Dutch water, water, and gang, way) is the name given in Belgium and the north of France to a canal or a ditch bordering a path or a polder. A few farms could be set up in the area, but the coastal stripe remained a royal hunting preserve, as prescribed by a royal decree in 1662. Game was made of wild boars, wolves (both were eradicated in the XVIIth century), hares and rabbits. What is today Bray-Dunes was then the A section of the municipality of Ghyvelde, limited on west by Zuydcoote and on east by the Belgian border.
At the end of the XVIIth century, a conflict concerning hunting privileges broke out in Dunkirk between the staff of the garrison and the bourgeois. On 20 April 1775, the State Council, presided by king Louis XV, stated that the cities of Dunkirk and Bergues, as well as the parishes depending on them, would be concessionary of the dunes and uncultivated areas located between Dunkirk and the Belgian border. One of the duties of the concessionaries was to limit the proliferation of hares and rabbits, which seriously threatened grain and vegetable production on the lands located on the left bank of the canal of Veurne.
The boundaries of the plots allocated to the municipalities were a source of quarrel after the French Revolution, when municipal authorities were set up. On 21 August 1806, an imperial decree prescribed the share of the dunes. The application of the decree took place only in 1839, with 38 municipalities sharing a coastal stripe of 245 hectares, which remained administratively part of the municipality of Ghyvelde. The southern border of the municipality of Ghyvelde was set up as the Dunkirk-Veurne railway in 1868.
At the end of the Second Empire, the shipowner Alphonse Bray (1804-1887)
wanted to found a retirement home for the old seamen of the merchant
navy and proposed to fund it for ever with an annuity. On 8 October
1869, after four years of discussion, the municipality of Dunkirk
rejected Bray's offer. Next year, Bray purchased a big stripe of coastal
land in Ghyvelde in order to build his Maison de bienfaisance (Charity
house). The retirement house was also used as a school for the children
of the hamlet that had been established along the road to Belgium,
cobbled in 1837, by fishers involved in the Icelandic Grande Pêche.
Bray later built a church dedicated to Our Lady of the Dunes. On 27 February 1875, Bray donated the house and the church to the municipality of Ghyvelde. The Bray foundation was recognized by presidential decree on 15 July 1876. The foundation was separated from Ghyvelde by the canal of Veurne and asked for its autonomy, which was granted on 26 February 1883. The municipality, then with 800 ihnabitants, was founded, with its administrative center located in the village of the Dunes, renamed Bray-Dunes. The same year, the municipality of Ghyvelde funded the building of a bridge over the canal, near the Belgian border, to replace the old, not free ferry used until then by the inhabitants of Bray-Dunes.
At the end of the XIXth century, an important sea resort developed in Bray-Dunes. The municipality of Hondschoote sold by lots the land it had been allocated in 1839. The first hotel, the Nautique, was built on the sea shore. Industrials and merchants from Tourcoing built the first villas called Suzon, Hortensia, Theresa and Marguerite. A 900 m long promenade was also built. Being close to the main cities of the north of France and the Belgian beaches and linked to Dunkirk and Hondschoote by railway lines, Bray-Dunes attracted the investors. The most important investors grouped into the limited liability company La Plage de Bray-Dunes in order to promote the coastal area. In 1928, a second society was created to sell villas with immediate entry. Even if fishing remained the main activity, tourism dramatically increased the income of the city.
Bray-Dunes was not damaged during the First World War since the city was set back the Yser front. It was a rest center for the French and Belgian troops. During the Second World War, the fishers from Bray-Dunes actively contributed to the re-embarquation of the Allied troops from 25 May to 4 June 1940. During the German occuption, access to the coastal zone was prohibited. In 1945, Bray-Dunes was part of the Dunkirk pocket, lately liberated and completely trashed: 76% of the houses were destroyed and the remaining ones could not be safely inhabited. The reconstruction was slow and delayed by a tidal wave which broke the promenades in three places in 1953.
On 28 May 1969, Bray-Dunes joined the Communauté Urbaine de Dunkerque, but its modern development started only in the 1980s, definitively oriented towards summer tourism. Bray-Dunes is today famous for its 5 km long sand beach, which continues beyond the Belgian border up to De Panne, particularly favourable to sandyachting.
Source: Municipal website
Ivan Sache, 4 April 2004
The flag of Bray-Dunes is flown in front of the city hall, and on the top of the neighbouring church, which is rather uncommon in France. The flag is made of three horizontal blue, yellow and green stripes, which probablystand for the sky, the sand of the beaches, and the lands around Bray-Dunes, respectively.
The flag is also hoisted over the War Memorial, along with the flags of France and European Union.
Olivier Touzeau & Pascal Vagnat, 4 April 2004