Written by Marie-Claude Rioux
For 2021 Rendez-vous de la Francophonie
In my first editorial, I wrote that as of 1763, some Acadians who survived the deportation chose to return to their former homeland and inhabit the present-day Acadian regions of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
This homecoming was brought about by the Treaty of Paris, which signaled the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763. Nevertheless, repressive laws remained in place until 1784. The British Board of Trade, the department in charge of trade and industry, ordered Governor Wilmot to free those Acadians who were still imprisoned and to allow them to settle in the region, like the deported Acadians, on the condition that they take an oath of allegiance.
While he did not contravene this order, Governor Wilmot nevertheless imposed additional conditions on the Acadians to discourage them from staying in the region: he granted them plots of land that were far from each other and unsuitable for cultivation, prohibited Acadians from gathering in groups of more than 10 people or from owning land, confiscated their property, required them to sign an oath of allegiance renouncing their Catholic faith and expelled the Catholic clergy. Finally, a law enacted in 1759 cancelled all property titles to which Acadians could have laid claim.
Discouraged, the Acadians accepted these conditions and settled the lands granted to them. Spread to the far corners of the Maritimes and surrounded by more densely populated Anglophone regions, they became even more vulnerable. Furthermore, because their former properties and other arable land had been given to English settlers, many Acadians had no choice but to turn to the sea to ensure their livelihood. They were at the mercy of rich landowners from England and Jersey, which further hampered their progress.
Next came a series of legal measures to slow the development of the Acadian communities. Acadians were denied the right to vote on the basis of their religion. Similarly, they were denied education in their mother tongue. In Nova Scotia, for example, it wasn’t until the year 2000 that Acadians could go to school in French from primary (kindergarten) to Grade 12.
Despite all these challenges, Acadian communities developed at a rapid pace. Populous communities sprang up because the plots of land granted to Acadians were quite large. These are now the Acadian regions of the Acadian Peninsula, Madawaska, the Evangeline Region and Baie Sainte-Marie.
Furthermore, Acadian communities and regions were almost entirely Francophone and isolated from Anglophone communities. Communities and families lived their lives in French, so their lack of access to French-language education had hardly any impact on the language’s survival. Starting in the 1980s, however, English mass media, the Internet, and an increase in marriages outside the community (brought on by a decline in religion) significantly changed the uniform French landscape of the Acadian regions.
The forced scattering of Acadian families throughout the Maritime provinces also gave rise to multiple Acadias, or an Acadia with many facets. These various cultural facets were defined by geography, speech patterns, traditions and even political power.
For this reason, the regions of Baie Sainte-Marie, Par-en-Pas, Chéticamp and Isle Madame, Nova Scotia, have each developed their own personality. Dispersed across all corners of the province and separated by over 800 km in some cases, Acadians in each region speak a totally different type of French and have adopted and preserved distinct customs. Some areas enjoy political representation, while others do not. Some communities consist of a series of small villages and some are situated between the sea and the hills, while others are on isthmuses that separate them from other towns in the same region.
These regional differences also apply to the Acadian areas of Prince Edward Island: The Evangeline region benefits from more robust French-language services than the regions of Tignish, Rustico and Souris, which were largely assimilated but have recently established French schools so that local Acadians can rediscover the language of their ancestors.
As for the Acadians of New Brunswick, their political representation has been the envy of Acadians in other provinces. However, cultural and linguistic differences between the northwest, north, east and southeast regions are just as evident. Acadians in Madawaska (the Acadia of plains and forests) are mainly farmers, while those of other regions have turned to the sea for their livelihoods. The accent and expressions of Acadians in the Southwest differ substantially from those of Acadians in other regions.
In conclusion, when it comes to the Acadian regions of the Maritimes, it’s important to acknowledge that each region—and sometimes even each village within these regions—has its own unique characteristics.
Some Acadians eat ployes; others enjoy rappie pie, Acadian pâté or poutine. Some celebrate Tintamarre; others, Mi-Carême. Some Acadians have political clout; others do not. Regardless, this multi-faceted Acadia is characterized by resilience and a common history that have ultimately forged an identity that can be claimed by each and every Acadian.