Chapter 1

O? est l’Acadie? / Where is Acadia?

Bonjour! Hello! Je m’appelle Josephine Picard. I am Acadian, or at least, that’s what my family tells me. I’ve never really understood what it meant to be Acadian. Sure, I knew we spoke French, and that we ate some traditionally French food that my other friends at school didn’t eat, but all families are unique.

Well, I’m taking French this year at school, and wow, am I learning a lot. I thought it would be an easy class, since I speak some French with my family at home and I mostly understand Mémère, Pépère and Mémé et Pépé when they talk, but it is really hard! The French we’re learning at school is different from what I hear from my grandparents and what I speak with my family. It’s weird. I thought it would all be the same.

At first, I was really quiet in class and didn’t participate much. I was afraid I might say something wrong and then the teacher would yell at me.  But recently, we began to study Canada and Quebec. For the first time in school, I heard the word “Acadia.” My teacher said that in 1755, people known as “Acadians” were deported from Acadia. My ears tingled after hearing this, I mean, that’s me! Those are my ancestors she’s talking about! But I still didn’t dare to ask any questions. I waited for her to say more about Acadia, but she never did. I decided that I’d have to find out more on my own.

When most people hear the word “Acadia”, they think of Acadia National Park, located off the coast of Maine. But if the park is the only place known as Acadia, why are there people who call themselves “Acadian?” I looked up Acadia in the encyclopedia at school. It’s a Greek word which means country of happiness and serenity. It turns out that an explorer from Europe, Giovanni da Verrazano, looked from his boat at the beauty of the trees along the North American coastline in 1524 and called it Arcardie. It then began to be used on maps, as “La Cadie” or “Acadie” and referred to an area of French territory which is nowadays Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and northern Maine! I looked on a map, but all I could find was Acadia National Park.

I tried the internet, and I found out that Acadia was founded in 1604 by Samuel de Champlain and Pierre du Gua Sieur de Monts. I remembered my French teacher mentioning Champlain when we talked about Canada and Quebec. Wow! I didn’t know there were French people here in North America before the Pilgrims! In school we learned about New England and the Pilgrims landing and settling in Plymouth, but before that, the French were here, with settlements in Acadia and New France (Quebec) in 1608.  This was really interesting! Have you ever noticed that there are a lot of names of French towns in Northern Maine and in Canada? And actually, there are even some French town names in other parts of the United States. I decided to talk to Mémère Comeau about Acadia. After mass, I told her I found out where Acadia was, then asked, “Mémère, why are we Acadian? We don’t live in Acadia.” She was surprised, but she seemed really excited to talk to me about my heritage.

“Ecoute, Acadia was really a border land between two worlds, the British in New England and the French in New France. Neither France nor England paid much attention to the settlements in Acadia. Though the Acadians came from France, the French government didn’t really support them. They were very self-sufficient. Throughout many wars in Europe, the country that ruled over Acadia changed several times, but in general, this didn’t effect life in Acadia much. The Acadians remained politically neutral, not choosing sides.”

“What happened to Acadia, then? Why don’t I see it on a map now? Where is it?” I interrupted. Sometimes her stories took too long, and I wasn’t sure she was really answering my question. “Patience,” began Mémère. “In 1713, the land of Acadia was taken over by the British. They wanted to “Britanize” the Acadian region. The people of Acadia were first asked to pledge an oath of allegiance to Britain, and when they refused, in July of 1755, the British began to deport the Acadians, to physically remove them from their land and send them to other Anglo-American colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia. Then, they also began to send them back to France and to other French-speaking colonies.   Some escaped and lived in the woods during this time. We call this Le Grand Dérangement. Many families were separated from each other and were sent to different places.” Mémère sighed. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard! “Mémère! C’est horrible! How could they do that?”

“Ma cherie, the British weren’t sure they could trust the Acadians. They were afraid that the Acadians might fight on the side of France and join with the forces in Quebec, New France, which was so close by. They wanted to make sure this didn’t happen. Donc, they not only deported the Acadians, but wanted to make sure they didn’t come back. The British didn’t give Acadians time to pack, but told them they could take only what they could carry. Then, they burned the Acadians’ homes. This way, the Acadians did not have a place to come back to, and could see that they would be treated badly if they stayed. Once the Acadians were gone, the British continued to “Britanize” Acadia by bringing in English-speaking people who would be loyal to Britain. They advertised throughout New England for farm families to move into the area offering free, or nearly free, fertile farmland on the old Acadian homesteads. Place names which were once French were changed to English names, and the name Acadia was replaced by Nova Scotia. That’s what you find on maps today.

“Finally, in 1763, with the Treaty of Paris signed between France and England, the Acadians were allowed to move back into the area. They had to swear allegiance to Britain and could only return to certain areas.  But British people were now living on their land. Unable to return to their former homes, the Acadian people had to find places to live and build new homes and communities. So the original settlements known as Acadia were no more, but the people never forgot their heritage, and continued to call themselves Acadian in the new areas where they settled.   C’est nous!” Mémère exclaimed, patting her chest over her heart.

Wow! So Acadia isn’t a place anymore, but there are people all over the world who call themselves Acadian, like us. Who are these people, I wondered…