Double Acadian Anniversaries

By Juliana L’Heureux

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This is a double anniversary year for French-Acadians who want to learn more about their colonial roots in Nova Scotia, Louisiana and the Canadian Maritime Provinces.

Today, Acadians live in all four corners of the world, but they’re bound together by one horrible event called “Le Grand Derangement” or “the deportation”. In 1755, the British government in Nova Scotia made a horrible move against the French Acadians who lived in the communities around Grand Pre and Annapolis Royal and other Maritime Provinces. After years of misunderstandings with the British, local French men were called together under a false pretense where they were held hostage in a church in Grand Pre until ships arrived to cart them and their families away.

“Scattered to the winds”, the Acadians were dispersed to eastern American seaports and other places. Those who eventually managed to return to Nova Scotia found their land was taken by the British.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized Le Grand Derangement in his epic poem, “Evangeline”. British governors decided to remove an entire ethnic population of French-speaking Acadians from the colony of Nova Scotia. Consequences of the decision resonated for generations. All tolled, it’s believed about 11,000 Acadians were deported from what is now the Canadian Maritimes between 1755 and 1758.

In 2005, Acadians mark the 250th anniversary of Le Grand Derangement. Commemorative events are planned in several western Nova Scotia towns and in the 22 Acadian counties in the Bayou communities of Louisiana, where many of the dispersed Acadians finally ended up.

There’s actually a dual celebration planned in Nova Scotia. March 2005 also marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first French Acadian settlement in Port Royal, Nova Scotia. Port Royal was actually settled with men who survived from the failed St. Croix Island colony, established by Samuel de Champlain and entrepreneur Sieur de Monts in the summer of 2004, located off the coast of Calais, between Maine and New Brunswick, Canada, in the St. Croix River. In March of 2005, after half the original settlers died of scurvy, the local Passamaquoddy helped to re-locate the survivors to a safer place with access to food and clean water. St. Croix Island artifacts and survivors were ultimately moved to Port Royal, Nova Scotia.

Likewise, Acadian counties in Louisiana are bracing for a surge of tourists to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Le Grand Derangement. Although the British did not intentionally deport the French Acadians to Louisiana, four families from the Acadian expulsion eventually sought refuge in the Catholic colony in 1764, where French was widely spoken due to the colonization of the territory by French explorers, like Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle. The Acadian families obviously drew in other deportees and eventually they collectively became known by as “Cajuns”.

In fact, Louisiana’s Acadians are practicing tourist friendly behavior for the 250 anniversary of the expulsion. The Louisiana newspaper, “The Daily Advertiser” reports local citizens are attending workshops to learn about guest services, “to familiarize them with what we have to see and do in this area; so when a guest asks what there is to do, they don't say 'nothing!'”

If you plan a trip to Annapolis Royal, Port Royal and Grand Pre Nova Scotia during this July’s Acadian celebrations, it’s remotely possible you’ll even see Queen Elizabeth II of England, if she decides to personally deliver the apology for the 1755 deportation, a document formally issued by the British government in August 2003.

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Copyright © 2005, Juliana L'Heureux and the Portland Press Herald