Culture Focus: Acadia, Acadian People

Nova Scotia sign announcing Acadian World Congress and Thibodeau Family Reunion, August, 2004
Nova Scotia sign announcing Acadian World Congress and Thibodeau Family Reunion, August, 2004

2004 marked the 400th anniversary of French settlement in North America

What Flag is that?

acadian flagIt is the Acadian Flag. The blue, white, and red refer to the Acadians’ origins in France, and the golden yellow star symbolizes the Acadian patron saint Our Lady of the Assumption. The star – Stella Maris/Star of the Sea – represents seeking the protection of Virgin Mary and it indicates hope and a guiding light for the future. This flag, created and adopted in 1884, is the official National Flag of Acadia, representing Acadians world wide.

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Where is Acadia?

photo of window box with acadian flag and word bienvenueFrom the 1630s to 1755, Acadia was a region in what is now Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and eastern Maine. Now, Acadia is anywhere Acadians live, and Acadians live throughout the world. Acadia is a nation without a border. Patrie sans frontière.

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Who are Acadians?

lamp post sign bienvenue au clareThe story of Acadians and Acadia begins in the 1630s, with immigrants from Poitou and Anjou, France settling in an area claimed by France in 1604 – what is today Canada’s maritime provinces. These families, joined by families from several other European countries, created prosperous farming settlements by dyking fertile tidal marshlands around the Bay of Fundy. Over decades, the Acadians evolved a French-speaking North American culture distinct from the European cultures left generations in the past. Living in an area called La Cadie, they became known as Acadians.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Britain and France vied for political control of Northeast North America. Britain prevailed and required Acadians to sign an oath of allegiance to Britain. Acadians, whose economy was linked with French, English and First Nations communities, refused to sign or signed provisional oaths exempting them from taking up arms, thus becoming – to the British – a potential threat.

Political tensions grew in the 18th century until Britain’s culminating act to gain control of the region resulted in the Acadians’ Grand Dérangement or Great Upheaval. Beginning in 1755, Acadians became, in effect, prisoners of war, and all who were captured were taken by ship and exiled in the British colonies along the eastern seaboard, or were sent by ship to England and France. Many died at sea. About 10,000 Acadians were uprooted – some say thousands more, with their businesses and farms burned behind them. Many fled into the interior, aided by the Mi’kmaq.

In the decades following the upheaval, Acadians made their way back to what is now Québec, and to Atlantic Canada – NL, NB, NS, and PEI – forming Acadian enclaves and communities which thrive today. They also made their way to what is now Louisiana, evolving the Cajun culture. They also developed a presence in parts of New England. One example is known as The Madawaska in northern ME and northern New Brunswick.

In the 19th century, Acadians experienced a cultural renaissance which included creating French-language secondary schools and universities, as well as adopting the symbols of Acadia: the flag, patron saint, motto, and song. Current French-language universities in Acadian Atlantic Canada include Université Sainte Anne, Church Point, NS (founded 1890), Université de Moncton, Moncton, NB (founded 1963), and newly formed Collège de l’Acadie.

Modern Acadians world-wide continue to re-weave the fabric of their family history and heritage in the context of shared Acadian history and culture. Some Acadians are well known as writers, politicians, artists, musicians, and performers. Other Acadians are connecting with their identity through North American French, or through genealogy, beginning with their last name. Who are Acadians? They are one of North America’s vibrant cultures maintaining their French language and culture in a bilingual setting.

This past Summer 2004 there were celebrations throughout Atlantic Canada and Maine commemorating 400 years of permanent French settlement in North America. Also there was the Congrès Mondial Acadien/World Congress of Acadians, which highlighted Acadian history, culture, and music for thousands of Acadians and visitors from around the world. The Congrès was held in Church Point, NS. The first World Congress of Acadians was held in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1994, followed by the second World Congress of Acadians in Louisiana in 1999.

In December 2003, the Canadian Federal Government agreed to issue a proclamation in the name of the Queen recognizing the wrongs the Acadians suffered during the exile. Beginning in 2005, on the 250th anniversary of the Grand Dérangement, the Government will set aside July 28 as a day to commemorate the Acadian exile.

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To be Acadian is to have pardon in your heart, and to look forward with hope.”
Zachary Richard, Louisiana-born Acadian singer songwriter and poet

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What are some elements of Acadian culture?

This is a picture of a sign advertising ice cream – crème glacée – and Râpure. Râpure or Rappie Pie is served at most special occasions and gatherings in NS and PE. It is a casserole of chicken or pork mixed with seasoned potatoes from which starch has been removed. Throughout Acadian communities there are many variations of this dish, some resembling a dumpling and some eaten with molasses.

A series of official cultural symbols were chosen during the Acadian renaissance. Delegates to the National Convention held at Memramcook, NB in 1881, chose a national feast day. At the 1884 National Convention held at Miscouche, Prince Edward Island Acadians chose a flag, a motto, a national anthem and some insignia.

Motto: “L’union fait la force” / “Strength through unity”

Acadian Flag; tri-color blue, white and red with a golden yellow star in the blue field

National Anthem
: Ave Maris Stella

Patron Saint:
Our Lady of the Assumption

National Feast Day
: August 15

: North American French interspersed with words from Mi’kmaq and English

Cultural Characteristics:

  • Spirit of cooperation; some Acadians say its from cooperatively building and maintaining miles of dykes; others say it is evident in the number of successful fishing, farming and other economic Co-ops
  • Adapting to and thriving in new circumstances, as evidenced by the maintenance and evolution of Acadian culture in all areas of the world where Acadians live
  • Joyful pleasure in family gatherings and festivities, as evidenced by vibrant music and performances, and by summer family reunions attended by thousands of relatives

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Acadian Time Line – selected highlights of 400 years

1604 – French presence established in North America with a settlement on St. Croix island (located between ME and NB)
1605 – Settlement relocated to Port Royal (near what is now Annapolis Royal, NS)
1630s-1650s – European settlers primarily from Poitou and Anjou France settle in what is now NS and NB
1671 – First Acadian Census; taken in Port Royal; about 400 Acadians
1680s-1690s – Acadians expanded out from Port Royal, settling in other coastal areas
1713 – Treaty of Utrecht ended the War of Spanish Succession; Acadians in present-day Nova Scotia become British subjects, while Acadians on Ile Royale (Cape Breton) and Ile Saint-Jean (PEI) remain French
1719 – Beginning of Fortress Louisbourg, a walled city to become one of the busiest ports in North America
1730 – Acadians required to sign oath of allegiance to Britain; they signed a provisional oath exempting them from taking up arms against French or First Nations
1750 – Acadian population is about 10,000
1754 – Beginning of French and Indian War
1755 – British Governor Charles Lawrence and the Nova Scotia Council decided to deport Acadians; deportation began at Fort Beauséjour and removed Acadians from every Acadian community
1764 – Acadians allowed to return to NS but required to settle in new areas and to sign oaths of allegiance [see photo of an oath from 1768]
1765 – 1785 – Acadians settle in Louisiana, maintaining their French language evolving the Cajun culture
1847 – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes poem Evangeline; based on a legend related to the events surrounding the 1755 deportation, the poem brings the story of Acadia to the world
1864 – St. Joseph’s College founded in Memramcook, NB, becoming the first institution of higher education in Acadia
1867 – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec united by the British North America Act.
1873 – Prince Edward Island joins Canada
1881 – 1st Acadian Convention; August 15 established as National Acadian Day
1884 – 2nd Acadian Convention; Acadian flag, National anthem were adopted
1890 – St. Anne’s College – now called Université St. Anne – established in Church Point, NS
1960 – First Acadian Premier elected in New Brunswick
1963 – Université de Moncton founded in Moncton, NB
1969 – Official Languages Act makes New Brunswick the first bilingual province in Canada
1994 – First Acadian World Congress in Moncton, NB
1999 – World Congress held in Lafayette, LA
2003 – The Federal Government agreed to issue a proclamation in the name of the Queen recognizing the wrongs suffered by Acadians, and to set aside July 28 as a day to commemorate the Acadian exile, beginning in 2005 on the 250th anniversary of the grand dérangement.
2004 – Commemorations for 400 years of continuous French settlement in North America
2004 – World Acadian Congress held in Church Point, NS
2005 – 250th anniversary of Acadian deportation

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Acadian Surnames at the Time of Deportation, 1755

Allain, Allard, Amirau, Arostegny, Arsenault, Aubin, Aucoin;
Babin, Babineau, Baguette, Baptiste, Barrios, Barnabe, Bastarache, Beaudoin, Beaulieu, Beaumont, Beauregard, Bellefontaine, Bellineau, Belliveau, Benoit, Bergeron, Bernard, Berthelot, Bertrand, Bideau, Bisson, Blanchard, Blondin, Blou, Bodart, Boisseau, Bodin, Bonneville, Bonvillain, Bourque, Bouche, Boudrot, Bourg. Bourgeois, Boutin, Boye, Brasseaux, Breau, Broussard, Brun, Bugeau;
Cadet, Cahouet, Cailler, Carre, Cathary, Celestin, Chamagne, Chauvert, Chiasson, Clmenceau, Cochu, Colars, Comeau, Cormier, Caperon, Cotard; Coussan, Crosse;
Daigle, Darbone, Darois, David, De Bellisle, De Foret, De La Tou, Denis, D’Entremont, Deraye, De Saulniers, Deslauriers, Deveau, Donat, Douaron, Doucet, Druce, Dubois, Dubreuil, Dugas, Duon, Dumont, Dupont, Dupuis, Durocher;
Emmanuel, Estevin;
Fardel. Forest, Foret;
Galant, Garreau, Garso, Gaudet, Gauthereau, Gentil, Giasson, Gicheau, Gilbert, Girouard, Godin, Goudeau, Gousille, Granger, Gravois, Gros, Guerin, Guidry, Guilbeau, Guillot;
Hache, Hamon, Hebert, Henry, Heon, Herpin, Houel, Hugon;
Jasmin, Jeansonne;
Labarre, Labasque, Labauve, Lacroix. Lafont, Lagosse, Lalonde, Laliberte, Lamarquis, Lambert, Lamontagne, Landry, Langlois, Lanoue. Languepee, Laperriere, Lapierre, Lariche, Laurier, Laurent, Lavallee, Lavergne, Lavoye, LeBlanc, Lebreton, Lefranc, Leger, Lejeune, Lemaistre, Leonard, Leprince, Lesperance, Lessoile, Levron, Lort, Lounais;
Maillard, Maillet, Maisonnat, Marceau, Martel, Martin, Mathieu, Maurice, Mayer, Melanson, Mercier, Michel, Mignault, Mirande, Mire, Monnier, Morvant, Morin, Mouton, Moyse;
Ondy, Olivier;
Parisien, Pellerin, Perinne, Petitpas, Pinet, Pitre, Poirier, Poitier, Pothier. Prejean, Primeau, Prince, Provencal;
Raymond, Rembaud, Richard, Rivet, Robichaud, Rosette, Roy;
Saint-Scene, Saint-Martin, Samson, Saulnier, Sauvage, Savary, Savoye, Sendou, Simon, Sire, Surette, Surot;
Theriot, Thibeau, Thibodeau, Tournageau, Toussain, Trahan;
Veco, Vigneau, Villatte, Vincent, Voyer;

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Acadian Who’s Who – a selected list with a few in each category

POLITICIANS – who have contributed to the survival of the French language and the cultural life of Acadians today:
Former Premier Louis J. Robichaud – his government established the Université de Moncton
Former Premier Richard Hatfield – made New Brunswick Canada’s only officially bilingual province
Former Nova Scotia M.L.A., Benoit Comeau – helped to keep the institution now known as Université Sainte Anne in Church Point.

Édith Butler
Grand Dérangement
Zachary Richard

Herménégilde Chiasson
Clive Doucet
Melvin Gallant
Antonine Maillet

Claude Roussel, sculptor
Léonard Forest, film maker
Yvon Gallant, painter

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Curriculum Connections

  • Enduring Understandings
    Cultures in contact affect one another.
    Humans are affected by their beliefs.
    Acadia is evolving.
  • Essential Questions – Geography:
    What factors contribute to the movements of people?
    How did interacting with the environment affect the way Acadians lived their lives?
    How does interacting with the environment affect the way modern Acadians live their lives?
    What does a culture need to be successful?
    How do Acadians maintain their culture?
    What does it mean to be an Acadian today?
  • Essential Questions – History/Social Studies
    How does one examine an event in terms of its causes and effects on society?
    How did historical events shape the Acadian culture?
    How did coexisting with other cultural groups shape Acadian culture?
    How did conflict with other cultural groups shape Acadian culture?
    How is Acadia today influenced by its past?
    How are Acadians today influenced by their past?
    How and why do cultures develop and change?
    How and why does the Acadian culture develop and change?
  • From: Looking at Acadian History and Culture through the Six Essential Elements of the National Geography Standards – an Advanced Geography Teachers Institute Curriculum Project, June, 2001. (photocopies available from the Canadian-American Center, 154 College Ave. Orono, ME 04473)
    • 1) The World in Spatial Terms: How did the French settlers choose a location for their settlements?
    • 2) Places and Regions: What do we understand about Acadian culture from examining the changes in their use of the marshlands over time?
    • 3) Physical Systems: What was the physical environment of the French settlers who became Acadians?
    • 4) Human Systems: What was the relationship between the English and the French settlements in North America in relation to salt marshes?
    • 5) Environment and Society: How did Acadians change the environment of Acadia?
    • 6) Uses of Geography: How does knowing about the past help modern Acadians plan for the future?

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Units On-Line

We Have Come to Stay-A Story of the Acadian People. Five-part fictional story of a girl with Acadian ancestry; accompanied by glossary of French terms and discussion questions. /canam/acadianstory/acadianstory.htm

The Acadians – a sixth grade level social studies and language arts culture study unit.

History of the Acadians (for grades 1&2) – based on the book Magic Rug of Grand Pré

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Acadian French – selected words/phrases

dejeuner, diner, and souper – The three meals of the day are in the morning, at midday, and in the evening

boucane: smoke, steam

espérer: to wait

fricot: traditional Acadian stew prepared with chicken, potatoes, onions, carrots, lumps of dough, and seasoned with savoury

grillades: pork fat trimmings

pet-de-soeur: a type of Acadian pastry made with pie dough, butter and brown sugar

ploye: buckwheat pancake

pomme de pré: cranberry

tête de violon: ostrich fern

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Theme song – selected for Acadian World Congress, 2004

“Je reviens au berceau de l’Acadie”

(English translation)

Like a ship in full sail I leave joyfully.
Like a night sky pierced with stars I wait for the morning sun.
Offshore, the ships call out to me and the wind calls me back to my country
I return to the cradle of Acadie.

I miss the storms of past winters, I miss the colours of my youth.
Port Royal calls out to its children, I hear the bells of Grand-Pré
Like a bird carrying a message of a beautiful spring
Like a river freed from dams and glaciers
I return to the cradle of Acadie.

From the Baie des Chaleurs to the land of the bayou, in the ports of New England
From Belle-Île-en-Mer, in the fields of Poitou
Everywhere, you can hear Acadie.

From all over the world I see my friends returning. Some will want to speak of harder times.
But I want to see my country reborn. A land without borders, my father’s garden,
A country re-energized by a torrent of pride
I return to the cradle of Acadie.

My blood needs the salt air, my heart beats to the rhythm of the fiddle.
I hear thunder in a quiet sky, I smell all the scents of the seasons.
I’ve decided to return to the land of my forefathers with memories of friendship and separation
I return to the cradle of Acadie

From the Baie des Chaleurs to the land of the bayou, in the ports of New England
From Belle-Île-en-Mer, in the fields of Poitou
Everywhere, you can hear Acadie

I am coming home, I want to renew the ties, I want to see my country
I return to the cradle of Acadie

Overjoyed I return with a peaceful heart I want to see my country
I return to the cradle of Acadie.

Words and music by Grand Dérangement, (c) 2004

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Selected Websites

Explanatory Map of Acadia: Acadian Deportation, Migration, & Resettlement
Much like how the waters of the St. John River craft the landscape of northern Maine’s “The Valley”, the Voici the Valley Audio Story is about influences that shape, shift, divide, and mark a place and a culture.
Short illustrated essays from the Nova Scotia Museum discussing early Acadian settlements, farming, home life
Acadian Odyssey website; easily accessible by students
Well organized, thorough collection of history, primary documents, and genealogy. Site author Tim Hebert created the site because he thinks it’s important for Acadian descendants to learn about and connect with their Acadian-Cajun heritage.
Contains genealogy, research, history; also, data relating to the Acadian deportation: lists of exiles, lists of prisoners, census records, family genealogies. Site author is genealogist Lucie LeBlanc
On-line book with hyperlinks, History of Nova Scotia, written by Nova Scotia lawyer and historian Peter Landry.
Official site of Congrès mondial acadien 2004
Acadie 2003 – 2005 website
Acadian Cultural Society; contains well organized links under history, genealogy, and culture
On-line Acadian cookbook

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Books selected titles


The Latch – An Acadian Adventure by Joyce Grant-Smith. Nova Scotia: Brun Creek Books, 2003. Brun Creek Books
Box 1082B, RR #1, Granville Ferry, N.S., Canada, B0S 1K0. ISBN: 0973530502. Nineteen chapters in 96 pages.
Ami is sullen as her parents drive up to the new house site near Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. She and her parents will be moving from urban Halifax to this “boring” rural area. As she walks around the property, she finds a rusty door latch and idly picks it up. But, by doing so, she is transported back in time 350 years to an Acadian community and to the house of Marc and Marie Brun. What will she learn about 17th century Acadian life, and how will she get back to her own time? The author is an Annapolis Royal middle school teacher.

Bless This House – Our Canadian Girl: Elizabeth Book One – by Anne Laurel Carter. Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 2002. ISBN: 0141002514. Ten chapters in 86 pages.
In 1762 Elizabeth and her family move to Nova Scotia, taking over a farm that once belonged to Acadians deported by the British. Elizabeth is deeply unhappy about leaving her home in New England but the beauty of the Annapolis Valley soon wins her over. Her misgivings return, however, when she discovers that someone is stealing eggs and milk from the farm and, much worse, that Acadians are imprisoned in barracks nearby. Will she be able to fight injustice?

To Pirate Island – Our Canadian Girl: Elizabeth Book Two – by Anne Laurel Carter. Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 2004. ISBN: 014301482. Eleven chapters in 90 pages.
In this sequel, Elizabeth has two friends – who don’t much like each other – Sarah, who moved with her family from New England when Elizabeth’s family did, and Mathilde, an Acadian girl, whose family remains after the deportation. Can Elizabeth help her two friends become better friends with an adventure to explore Pirate Island?

A Song for Acadia [first published as A Proper Acadian, Kids Can Press, 1980] by Mary Allice Downie and George Rawlyk. Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 2004
ISBN 1-55109-474-6. 60 pages.
When his father falls ill, Timothy Parsons of Boston travels with his brother-in-law by boat to live with his Acadian mother’s relatives, his cousins, in Minas, NS. While learning a new language and skills, he discovers the joy of rural life and the camaraderie of friends and relatives. However, Acadia is on the eve of an upheaval. When the governor signs the deportation order, Timothy must decide: should he face the uncertain future with his newly found family or return to his old ways in Boston?

The Magic Rug of Grand-Pré by Réjean Aucoin and Jean-Claude Tremblay. Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 1989. ISBN: 292301605X
A fantasy adventure where fact and fiction are hooked together on Christmas Eve as twins Rose-Marie and Constant learn about their Acadian heritage along a trail of modern Acadian communities as they look for twelve strands of wool to finish Grannie Henriette’s magic rug of Grand Pré. Retelling this story – particularly at Christmas – has become imbedded into modern Acadian traditions.

Non Fiction

A Taste of Acadie cookbook by Marielle Cormier-Boudreau and Melvin Gallant. Fredericton, New Brunswick: Goose Lane Editions, 1991. ISBN: 0864921098.
An annotated cookbook which is the result of research conducted in the Acadian regions of Maritime Canada. Survey participants were asked to identify more than 180 recipes of Acadian origin, and were asked for information about early Acadians – their culture, eating habits, cooking methods, fishing and hunting practices and culinary traditions. Each recipe contains information from this research.

Life in Acadia – by Rosemary Neering. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1994. ISBN: 0889021805.
A 4th-6th grade level paperback text, with chapters covering traders from New England, Acadian names, wedding at Port Royal, Acadian food, the census of 1687, trip to Les Mines, dyking the marshes, fishing in Acadia, the English attack, birth and baptism, the French return to Port Royal, conquest and deportation. Each illustrated chapter ends with three or more study/review questions. One of the Growth of a Nation series.

Looking into Acadie, three illustrated studies – Curatorial Report Number 87 – Edited by Margaret Conrad, Nova Scotia Museum, 1999. Nova Scotia Museum Books, 1747 Summer St., Halifax, N.S., B3H 3A6, E-mail:
The three studies bring to life facets of the Acadian experience through a skillful interweaving of text and illustration; richly illustrated with b&w images. In An Archaeologist Discovers Early Acadia, the author uproots the soil searching for remnants of material culture and through them outlines aspects of early life. In Lives of Women in Ancienne Acadie, the author examines a range of sources to describe the character of Acadian society, in particular the roles of women before the Deportation (1755-1763). In Rebuilding a Society: the challenges faced by the Acadian minority in Nova Scotia during the First Century after the Deportation, 1764-1867, the author uses photographs to illumine the experiences of the Acadians who struggled to re-establish themselves in Nova Scotia.

The Melanson StoryAcadian Family, Acadian Times by Margaret Melanson. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2003. ISBN: 0969121911.
Well researched, engaging, historiography of Melanson family in narrative form and liberally illustrated with primary source documents and evidence. Examples: handwriting samples, census data, paintings, photos of artifacts, letters, maps. From the preface: The author draws this story from a large variety of documents, most of which she reproduces in facsimile. Not only does the author inform the reader of the importance of these records, but she also places them before the reader in their original form so they may be fully examined. Useful for case studies, biographies, and document-based research.

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For more information to teach about Acadians and Acadia, contact Betsy Arntzen