The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely… One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders.
If you’re a fan of Asterix, the comic strip created by French duo Goscinny and Uderzo, you’re no doubt familiar with this passage, which sets the scene for the adventures of the inhabitants of a little Gaulish village fighting against Roman invaders.
A great many things have happened since 50 BC. But what remains—and what Acadians know all too well—is the constant struggle to preserve an identity threatened by Anglo-Saxon “invaders.” In this regard, Acadia isn’t very different from the Gaul of the Asterix comics. But how did this come to be, and more importantly, what is Acadia?
Our story begins in 1604 when French explorers chose Saint Croix Island as a base. After a very difficult first winter, the original French settlers established Port Royal in what is now known as Nova Scotia. Port Royal was the first permanent settlement in North America and thus represented the first milestone in founding what would become Canada.
The colony developed slowly, primarily along the Baie Française (known today as the Bay of Fundy), giving rise to a proud, resilient and courageous people: the Acadian people. But none of this would have been possible without the help of the Wabanaki Confederacy—the Passamaquoddy, the Abenaki, the Mi’kmaq, the Penobscot and the Maliseet—who had occupied the area long before the French arrived.
In 1713, France officially ceded Acadia to England by the Treaty of Utrecht. According to Michel Bastarache, former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, since England conquered Acadia, the existing private law—that is, the law in place under the French regime—should have been upheld until it was legally changed. But that’s not what happened. Acadia was considered an uninhabited territory, and English rule was established in 1719, despite a letter from Queen Anne promising the Acadians that they would be allowed to keep their properties and practise Catholicism.
In a concerted effort, succeeding governors continually coerced the Acadians, breaking the promises made by Queen Anne. They demanded that the Acadians take an oath of allegiance, prevented them from holding government positions, confiscated their possessions and denied them the right to vote. They imposed state religion and prohibited priests from holding positions of leadership in schools.
Despite these measures, the colony continued to grow. Between 1710 and 1755, the Acadian population doubled every 15 years. An estimated 15,000 to 18,000 Acadians populated the region that would later become Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. This growth, however, would come to a screeching halt.
As the new CEO of NAV CANADA, I am honored to say on behalf of all our employees, how proud we are to once again partner with the Canadian Foundation for Cross-Cultural Dialogue in support of the 23rd edition of Les Rendez-vous de la Francophonie 2021.
As Canada’s sole provider of air navigation services, we know linguistic duality is integral to collaborating across the country domestically and across borders internationally with diverse leaders, customers and stakeholders. NAV CANADA remains committed to the language rights of its employees, customers, and all those with whom we do business as we serve a world in motion.
Recognizing that bilingualism is fundamental to our Canadian identity, we are privileged to join with Les Rendez-vous de la Francophonie in celebrating the French language in our culture as reflected in this year’s theme, “Acadia, at the heart of my country! “ honouring Acadia and its people, whose Francophone culture has survived, strong and proud, through the years.
In 1755, the British authorities, in collusion with the governors of New England, plotted to deport the Acadians in order to seize their land and bring in Protestant settlers. Under the pretext that they refused to take the oath of allegiance, thousands of Acadians were captured, their land and possessions were burned and their families were separated. Michel Bastarache further indicates that the deportation order was also illegal because it was carried out without the consent of the legislative authority.
Of the 18,000 Acadians living in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, St. John’s Island (now Prince Edward Island) and Île Royale (Cape Breton Island), it is estimated that 12,000 were deported between 1755 and 1763. The majority fell victim to epidemics, the cold, hardship, malnutrition or shipwrecks. The Acadians who managed to escape deportation didn’t fare much better: they were hunted down and killed or imprisoned. Some of the captured Acadians were spared so they could restore the tide gates used to drain the farmlands given to the protestant settlers. Others were imprisoned while waiting to be deported to George Island (in Halifax Harbour) and left to battle the elements, whereas all the other prisoners were given food rations and shelter.
Starting in 1763, some Acadians chose to return to the former Acadia. They settled Baie Sainte-Marie, Par-en-Bas, Isle Madame, Chéticamp and other areas of Nova Scotia; the Evangeline Region of Prince Edward Island; Madawaska and the east and north coasts of New Brunswick. Other Acadians settled in Louisiana or Quebec.
This great tragedy, which some called the Great Upheaval, cemented the identity of the Acadian people. Yes, the Acadians are a people in their own right—a people whose history and origins distinguish them from Francophones in Quebec and the rest of Canada.
Many things have transpired since 1604. The first permanent settlement in Port Royal has gone from being a small village to having an international presence. Today, there are at least 3.8 million Acadian descendants in the world: 500,000 in the Atlantic provinces, 1 million in Louisiana, 1 million in New England, 1 million in Quebec, thousands in other Canadian provinces and territories (see associations) and about 300,000 in France.
So, in the end, we can say that, like the characters created by Goscinny and Uderzo, indomitable Acadians will continue to hold out now and always.