French Acadians in Nova Scotia

By Juliana L’Heureux

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One of the first images a summer tourist to Nova Scotia sees this year are banners flying from flag posts with one blue, one white and one red vertical stripe adorned by a single five point golden star image printed in the left hand corner.

These banners are not variations of an American flag. Instead, they're symbolic of Nova Scotia's Acadian heritage. Acadian flags flying on businesses or homes indicate places where sources of pride in Nova Scotia's French heritage remain after the 1755 deportation of the French by the British. This deportation is called le grand derangement (the displacement).

Acadian flags even unfurl alongside and at the same height as the provincial flag of Nova Scotia. Actually, Nova Scotia's official flag displays a Scottish emblem because the British named the area "New Scotland" when the French were expelled after years of conflicts. Of course, the French name for this beautiful peninsula in the Canadian Maritimes, first explored by Jacques Cartier, was "Acadia", which included territories beyond Nova Scotia.

Acadians were the French fishermen and farmers who lived along the western shores as well as in the southern town of Barrington and in Cape Sable.

In fact, peaceful Cape Sable and Barrington experienced their own Acadian deportation in 1756, one year after the expulsion at Grand Pre, when the island's French colonial inhabitants were carried off to Boston against their will and all their homes burned.

Moreover, the troops who participated in the Acadian deportation at Cape Sable were paid with possessions seized from the Acadians when they left. Sadly, many of these mercenary troops were from colonial New England. Today, the term Acadians refer to the descendants of the French settlers who came to Port Royal in 1605, and to the fishermen and farmers who settled along the western coast of Nova Scotia in the Annapolis Valley and Cape Sable. French settlers were attracted to Nova Scotia because of the rich fishing available from the shores of the Bay of Fundy. Sieur de Monts established the first formal French settlement in 1605, at the Port Royal village. Nova Scotia's Acadians display their French heritage by flying the Acadian flag in Nova Scotia's picturesque small coastal towns.

Nevertheless, the Acadian flag was not evident during our three day visit to Halifax, the largest city and provincial capital founded on July 9, 1749, by the British General Edward Cornwallis. A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC,) report explains how the Acadian flag was established at the second Acadian Convention in held in 1884 at Miscouche, Prince Edward Island. A priest named Father Marcel-Francois Richard designed it. Like the flag of France, it is blue, white, and red. The gold star at the top left is the Stella Maris (Star of the Sea), placed there to seek the guidance and protection of the Virgin Mary, patron saint of the Acadians.

Although tourists expect to see Acadian flags in Nova Scotia's Grand Pre historical park where the deportation of 1755 is memorialized, the numbers of Acadian flags throughout the coastal areas of Nova Scotia are surprising. Likewise, tourist kiosks sell Acadian flag items like lapel pins, t-shirts and painted wooden plaques. Souvenirs are trivial reminders of the Acadian deportation.

As a suggestion, perhaps Quebec's license plate slogan, "je me souviens" (I remember) should also be available for Nova Scotia's Acadians, but with one five point gold star emblem as the distinguishing mark, rather than the fleur de lis.

Published in the August 18, 2005, Portland Press Herald,
York County Edition

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