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.’’