What does it mean to be Acadian?
Having lived in Sackville, NB, for 29 years, in a town that once was known as Beaubassin, I could not help but be drawn to a book Justina brought home from another library. It was Clive Doucet’s 1999 Notes from Exile: on being Acadian. He, a newspaper man and prolific author, was telling what he learned from the 1994 Retrouvailles, when 250,000 Acadians came together for their first world reunion held along the eastern shore of New Brunswick. This was 239 years since the Deportation of the Acadians. They had lived in Acadia since 1604 and then, because they would not swear allegiance to the British during the build-up to the Seven Years’ War between France and England (1756-1763), they were ruthlessly uprooted from the only land they knew and dispersed far and wide in 1755.
Actually, the forcible removal took place during most of the 1750s. By burning down their villages in Acadia (east of today’s Wolfville), they were able to force the most terrible upheaval (called the Grande Derangement) to the area around the French-built Fort Beausejour and Acadian Beaubassin (at today’s border between Amherst, NS and Sackville, NB). When the Fort surrendered to the British land forces and naval forces floating in on Fundy tides, the surrounding villages were destroyed and those who did not escape were removed. Approximately 11,500 Acadians were expelled, their lands and property confiscated. They were not killed nor enslaved as were the Germans, including Mennonites, in Russia under Stalin, yet the Acadians were completely uprooted. Doucet wrote the English idea was to “dismantle their communities and sense of themselves as an independent people so that they would never again challenge British interests in North America. It was an 18th century precursor to ethnic cleansing.”
The Acadians were deported throughout the British eastern seaboard colonies from New England to Georgia. Thousands were transported to France. Most of the Acadians who went to Louisiana, according to a Google account, were transported from France (without the King’s knowledge) on five Spanish ships “provided by the Spanish Crown to populate their Louisiana colony and provide farmers to supply New Orleans. These new arrivals from France joined the earlier wave expelled from Acadia, creating the Cajun population and culture.”
How could Acadians return to their former lands when others were encouraged to consider them as ‘vacant.’ The ‘Damn Yankees’ came immediately after 1755; the Baptists landed near Sackville in 1763,* the Yorkshire Wesleyan Methodists came to Chignecto in 1772, the Scots Presbyterians on the Hector landed at Pictou, NS, in 1773. The United Empire Loyalists (Huegenot and Anglicans) came to the Saint John River valley in 1784 and thus launched the creation of New Brunswick with a capital at Fredericton.
The Acadians came back however. Doucet wrote about Caraquet, Richibucto, and who has not hear of Shediac, the lobster capital? But let me concentrate on how they settled along the banks of the Memramcook, the river below Monkton, opposite Dorchester, and there built a new capital for themselves. The village of Memramcook became known as “the cradle of New Acadia.” There Acadians built their cathedral and their Acadian College which became the “corner stone of superior education in Acadia.” This College became the Université de Saint-Joseph, the first francophone and Acadian university of the region. When this became the Université de Moncton in 1963, “the campus reinvented itself as the Memramcook Institute and began offering adult education courses … the true heart and soul of this community.”
With a population of 4,638 inhabitants and covering 185 square kilometers the Memramcook region, according to Google, “offers numerous cultural and recreational activities such as the Apple Blossom Festival, the Lumberjack Festival, the Accordion Festival, as well as the Bluegrass Festival.” That is a small portrait of Acadia.
I, ‘from away,’ became aware of Acadians in a traumatic way while researching the 200th anniversary of Sackville’s Methodist/United Church in 1987. Not surprisingly, I came to the 200th anniversary of the Acadian deportation, 1955. I was amazed, nay dismayed, that the editor of the United Churchman would through a period of five years, 1951 to 1956, raise a huge stink about what was termed an Acadian ‘Renaissance’. First he thought that building a retirement home for United Church ministers in Sackville [not more than ten miles from Memramcook, by crossing the second longest covered bridge] would help to create a rallying place, a ‘bastion’, against a “different culture pressing down the east coast of New Brunswick” threatening to engulf the whole Maritime area. In 1955 he was calling on all Protestants to hold the fort, to adopt the English strategy of 1755 against the French. He feared that Acadian and Roman Catholic propaganda was behind that Renaissance. All Protestants should renew their loyalty ‘to their Lord and to their Church.’ He feared losing the ‘war of the cradle’ in NB and ‘Acadians will rule the Province led by a totalitarian church!’
I was appalled. Could anything be more WASPish?
Actually, the Acadian survival was strong enough by the 1960s for Moncton to become its hub and New Brunswick to become officially bilingual. An Acadian named Louis Robichaud, head of the Liberal Party of New Brunswick, became the Premier of the Province. He introduced an education bill for equal opportunity of all NB children regardless of their background. One of the chief architects of this bill was Charles Forsyth who was minister of Sackville United Church when I took a position at Mount Allison University in 1965. When he was asked to move to Fredericton to become, in effect, private secretary to Robichaud, there was utter consternation among Sackville UCC congregants. How could a Protestant minister leave a congregation in mid-stream to become secretary to a Liberal, Catholic, Acadian Premier!
Perhaps I may conclude this Post by asking what did the Acadians come to mean to us? They were not very evident in the student body of Mount Allison, especially once New Brunswick had its own French-speaking Universite. When we renovated our kitchen in 1985, a local Baptist had the contract, but the cabinets were produced in Shediac. When we redecorated the whole downstairs, the men who did our walls, ceilings, and hardwood floors were Acadians, some of them Pentecostal. They walked on stilts while plastering the nine-foot ceilings in our 1909 house. Two men who made our attractive loveseats and wing-backed chairs from scratch were Acadians from Richibucto.
Their ‘revenge’ was our satisfaction for work well done.
*Have just seen for the first time a SACKVILLE POSTAL STAMP, WITH THE NUMBER 250 ON IT. This came on a Christmas letter from Charlie Scobie, Sackville resident. if you add 250 to 1763 you get 2013.** Next year the Baptists of Sackivlle will celebrate 250 years of presence in Beaubassin (Sackville). they landed at Slack’s Cove, brought in on the tide.
**Actually, this is not the way it was celebrated. The founding date of Sackville was taken to be 1762 and thus 2012 was the anniversary year. According to the published outline of the celebrations of 2012 in Sackville there is no mention of the Acadians nor of the Baptists. Interesting.
 The Chignecto ‘Connexion’, The History of Sackville Methodist-United Church, 1772-1990
 See “The Chignecto Bastion”, 146-147