Acadian deportation marked in special Remembrance Day ceremony

Jim Day
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The tragic deportation of Acadians more than 250 years ago has been getting increasing attention in just the past handful of years in P.E.I., says a local historian.

“I think more and more people are aware of that story...more and more people are aware of the impact of that deportation,’’ says Georges Arsenault, who has published extensively on Acadian history in Prince Edward Island.

On Friday, during a special ceremony marking the so-called Le Grand Dérangement (The Great Upheaval), P.E.I. Education Minister Alan McIsaac called the event “a major stain.’’

The deportation, McIsaac says, had a dramatic and traumatic effect on the Acadian population.

“It forever changed our shared history,’’ he says. “The culture of the Acadian community is grounded in that history and the survival of a people.’’

The event commemorated on a bone-chilling Friday at Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst National Historic Site is indeed a grim one.

Between Aug. 31 and Nov. 4, 1758, during the Seven Years’ War, about 3,000 men, women and children were deported from the Island to France by order of British authorities.

“During the long and perilous journey across the Atlantic,’’ reads the Acadian Day of Remembrance proclamation, “half of the unfortunate deportees perished by disease or drowning, thereby annihilating complete families.

“Let us remember,’’ the proclamation continues, “with great respect all of these pioneers of our Island, all victims of imperial conflicts, who rest at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Let us remember the Aucoins, the Benoits, the Boudreaus, the Doirons, the Guédrys, the Hachés (Gallants), the Héberts, the Landrys, the Lejeunes, the Le Princes, the Pitres, the Richards, the Thériaults and many others.’’

Arsenault says the annual ceremony, started six years ago by the Société Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin to commemorate this somber page in history, has helped make the tragic-yet-important story better known.

The ceremony Friday began with remarks and the proclamation being read, followed by a procession to the Acadian Odyssey Monument where a wreath was placed.

A plague will be erected next summer at Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst to recognize the deportation as an event of national importance.

Arsenault also credited a musical — a fictional love story based on the Acadian Expulsion — with exciting an interest in this sad history.

“With the play Evangeline at the Confederation Centre last summer I know a lot of people liked the play (and) were very touched by it,’’ he says.

“And I know that many people said ‘is that true? What is true and what is fictional?’ I know a lot of people decided to read about it. So it is a good way of bringing people to learn about a part of our history.’’

While Evangeline centres on the deportation of Acadians that started in Nova Scotia in 1755, Arsenault notes that a few thousand people escaped from the mainland and came to the Island.

“So we are very much linked to the start of the deportation in 1755,’’ he says.

McIsaac says the Acadian presence in P.E.I. today is strong and impactful.

“Acadians across the Island have passed on their values and cultural identity from generation to generation,’’ he says.

“Today, Prince Edward Island’s Acadian and Francophone community is a vibrant and integral part of the social, cultural and economic fabric of our province.’’ 

Organizations: Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst National Historic Site, Hachés, Saint-Thomas Confederation Centre

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, France, Atlantic Ocean Nova Scotia

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  • Adrien Gallant
    December 15, 2013 - 04:55

    Germ warfare (smallpox) interesting lesson on population medicine and immunology. PEI treatment of native people worst than the ethnic cleansing and expulsion of thousands of people? really? Adrien Gallant, Cambridge, Ontario

  • fed up
    December 14, 2013 - 09:24

    So now it's Harper's fault that the natives were treated bad ! As bugs bunny would say what a maroon!

  • Bill
    December 14, 2013 - 08:12

    The expulsion of Acadians may have not have been a nice thing, however; it is not (as said on the news) "the darkest period of Island history"... Hmmm, has anybody actually read the history of the treatment of First Nation's people? And before we say, but that was hundreds of years ago, go do some more reading, like Residential schools right up until 1996, this was forcefully kidnapping children and treating like "savage" why do they not get the equality that people of color get in today's society? They were run off their land, murdered, raped, tortured, attacked with germ warfare(smallpox), need I go on? And yet Harper says that he is very proud robe from a country with no history of colonization, I guess he never read the history either!

  • cromwell
    December 14, 2013 - 07:53

    It continues to amaze me that a small group of Francophones continue to hold a visible allegiance to a country who lost a war (and a continent) 250 years ago, and whose military forces then ran away, with their collective tails between their legs. If these settlers in the now long-lost Acadia were so important to the French, why didn't the French themselves relocate them? This was certainly the case with the population of Louisburg in 1763. The other French settlers had the opportunity to remain if they swore allegiance to the British crown. They chose not to do so, and continued to harry the British military forces and settlers, band so were removed - it is interesting to note that the French had earlier done the same in Eastern Newfoundland. Some of the descendants of those who were not exiled then provided support to the American invaders during their ill-fated expedition in 1812-1814. Surely, after 250 years of grieving for a truly lost cause, these few Francophiles who continue to pay homage to the French flag, should seriously consider moving to France (St. Pierre and Miquelon are pretty convenient)

  • Garth Staples
    December 13, 2013 - 21:53

    The situation surrounding the deportation was not as simple as the article would have one to believe. History must always be put in perspective relative the era. The French in Quebec should bear the blame for the plight of the Acadians who were and are fine sensible people. Please no more blaming the English without exposing the actions of Quebec and Paris officials.

    • don
      December 13, 2013 - 22:29

      agree the kids today learn what the was told years ago but they need to go way back in history. thats one reason why the hate between the 2 and will stay that way till the TROUBLE makers are booted out.

  • don
    December 13, 2013 - 17:08

    sorry the biggest in island history was the ghiz government, and the island being controlled by the french they speak the government jumps, and the french never really left PEI they went to leniox island and rustico. and i think in history those are still a part of PEI? so has anyone got a shovel? i think they need to recheck the history not there history books but he real books.