World Acadian Congress in Nova Scotia

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Aug 12 17:26:33 UTC 2004

>>From the NyTimes,  August 12, 2004

Evangeline's People Gather and Weep for Ancestors' Fate

GRAND PRE, Nova Scotia, Aug. 10 - The happy-go-lucky came wearing holsters
packed with bottles of hot pepper sauce and bringing recipes for gumbo to
distribute to cousins they had never met. The sincere carry dog-eared
copies of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem "Evangeline" and
miniature French dictionaries in their back pockets.

They came in motor homes, buses and planes from as far away as Baton Rouge
and Brussels, tens of thousands of them, to sing and dance and enjoy the
same summer Nova Scotia breezes as their ancestors, who settled the French
colony of Acadie in the early 17th century.

Known as Cajuns in Louisiana and Acadians in Canada, they are joining in a
two-week reunion throughout Nova Scotia to celebrate the 400th anniversary
of the arrival of the French in North America and the 250th anniversary
next year of the brutal deportation of 13,000 Acadians from villages
across Atlantic Canada after their leaders were reluctant to pledge
unconditional allegiance to the British Crown.

"The land here was taken from my ancestors and now I have to pay for
parking here on land that could have been mine," Donald Landry, 51, an
ironworker from Dieppe, New Brunswick, told a group gathered under some
willow trees while two fiddlers took a break from playing old Cajun songs
about loneliness and unrequited love on the bayou. "We shouldn't forget
that that's history that we didn't know about for a long time," he added
with a trembling smile.

At least one-third of the deportees died at sea from disease. The others
were resettled in hardscrabble refugee camps around North America before
the American Revolution, with many scattering to Louisiana, France and
around the Caribbean basin.

Thousands drifted back to their homeland over time. But even for those who
did not, their patois and customs influenced by their early mixing with
the native Mi'kmaqs of Nova Scotia have distinguished them as a distinct
culture to this day.

The Congres Mondial Acadien began on July 31 and ends Sunday with an
open-air Mass here featuring the singing of Ave Maris Stella, the official
Acadian anthem that celebrates the Virgin Mary and the star she provides
to sailors to guide them on the seas.

There have been dances, tours of archaeological sites and lectures by
Acadian scholars who described the plight of their people as an early form
of ethnic cleansing later suffered by Jews, Rwandans and Sudanese. Nearly
100 families held reunions during which they shared information to
complete genealogical charts going back 14 generations or more. As they
left to return home some filled their suitcases with plastic bags full of
Nova Scotia rocks and soil.

"It's a gentle perseverance, a special resistance," said Susan Martin, 47,
a Nova Scotia photographer whose husband's family reunion included 70
people from around the United States, Canada and even Guatemala.

For several generations the deportation was so painful that many chose to
forget and surrender to assimilation. But since the 1960's, when Acadians
led a movement that made New Brunswick Province officially bilingual,
there has been a renaissance of Acadian art and historical writings. This
is the third mass gathering of Acadians since 1999.

Acadians initiated a petition effort in 1990 to demand a formal apology
from Britain, but made no demands for compensation. The effort led to a
conciliatory proclamation by Queen Elizabeth last December calling the
expulsion a tragedy.

There are an estimated 300,000 Acadians living in the Atlantic provinces,
and 600,000 in the United States.

The sparks of Acadian pride were kept alive by Longfellow's poem about a
woman named Evangeline and her lifelong quest to reunite with her beloved
Gabriel with whom she was separated during the deportation.

After just missing him in the bayous of Louisiana, Evangeline finally
found Gabriel on his deathbed in a Philadelphia hospital during a smallpox
epidemic. Heartbroken, she followed him to the grave.

"Side by side, in their nameless graves, the lovers are sleeping,"
Longfellow wrote in the poem, published in 1847. "Thousands of weary feet,
where theirs have completed their journey!"

Longfellow's poem captivated millions of American and Canadian readers,
and the fictional Evangeline became a hero Acadians could rally around. To
this day they find in her a role model representing faithfulness,
fortitude and courage.

Her statue now stands before Grand Pre's memorial church, the paramount
monument for Acadians since it is built near the colonial church where the
British announced that the Acadians would lose their property and be
forced to leave their homeland.

As Acadians from around the world have come to visit the church this week,
it has become the scene of reflection and unexpected tears.

Richard Renaud, a 57-year-old retired firefighter from Ottawa, lost his
composure after fingering through a copy of an inventory taken of the
Acadians' hogs, cattle and other belongings immediately before their
expulsion. He was looking for the family name of his ancestors.

"I should be tough given what I've seen in my days, but I'm blubbering,"
Mr. Renaud said, momentarily clutching his wife's arm for support. "It had
nothing to do with me, the great expulsion, but it was my mother's family.
It's hard to describe. It's like coming home."

Canadians and Americans alike gathered in the center of the church around
a display of the proclamation by Queen Elizabeth, recognizing that the
deportation "had tragic consequences including the deaths of many
thousands of Acadians." Many wished it included a more explicit apology.

"I don't want money but I want a lot more than that," said Roland Allard,
a 55-year-old businessman from northern Quebec, who thumbed his nose at
the document while onlookers laughed. "This is their punishment: we've
come back."

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list