Acadians pause to remember the Expulsion

CanadaEast News Service
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By Polly Leger

New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal

SAINT JOHN, N.B. - At 5:55 p.m. local time Thursday, church bells will ring out across the Maritimes to commemorate the Expulsion of the Acadians.

On July 28, 1755, the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia ordered a roundup of Acadians who had refused to pledge allegiance to the King of England.

From that date into the early 1760s, nearly 6,500 Acadians were forced onto crowded ships and transported to Louisiana or back to France. Families were torn apart - with people placed onto disease-plagued the ships and hundreds lost at sea.

Thousands of Acadians who escaped deportation went into hiding, while others were forced to watch their homes and crops burned.

Amely Friolet-O'Neil, 22, is the vice-president of the Societe Nationale de l'Acadie. As a young Acadian, she said it's important to her to remember the expulsion, a "founding" moment for the Acadian community.

"It's always been important for me to know where you come from in order to know who you are, and where you want to go," she said.

"An Acadian doesn't have to be someone whose family was deported," Friolet-O'Neil said. "It's no longer white and black."

"It's an important part of the story," she said, "But l'Acadie isn't just that."

The Grand Derangement, as it is called in French, is seen as the cataclysmic event at the root of Acadian culture.

For the past six years, July 28 has been an official day of remembrance, a solemn counterbalance to the celebrations of Aug. 15, the national day of Acadians.

The brutality of the expulsion has been memorialized and mythologized, from Longfellow's heavily fictionalized poem, Evangeline, to the songs of the band 1755.

There is a tension for a generation of urban Acadian artists when it comes to embracing the history of the expulsion.

At one point, Gabriel Louis Bernard Malenfant had a picture of houses being burned in Grand Pre tacked up in his bathroom. But the member of the Polaris Prize-nominated rap group Radio Radio said it wasn't something that angered him - "Not much anyway."

"Tragedy is a uniting factor and overcoming it is an even more uniting (a) factor," Malenfant said. He said that's why the deportation is such an "integral" part of the Acadian identity.

Mario Doucette's colourful paintings depict deportation and war of all kinds, not just against the Acadian people.

"You can't talk of Acadians without thinking of the deportation," said the 2008 Sobey Art Award finalist. "That's a heavy identity."

"Every culture has a story that resembles ours," Doucette said, making the history of the expulsion one that crosses cultural borders.

But Dano LeBlanc, the creator of Acadieman, the first Acadian superhero, said that, although it was an important event, too much focus on the past is unhealthy.

"It's really far away," he said of the deportation.

"It just doesn't seem part of my immediate reality."

Although LeBlanc said he sees himself as Acadian first and Canadian second, he feels closer to a "universal headspace" than the traditional Acadian culture of folklore and La Sagouine.

When asked if the expulsion influences his writing, Paul Bosse paused. "Yes and no," the poet and filmmaker answered.

When he started writing, Bosse said the Grand Derangement was "omnipresent" and "overdone." Not mentioning it was a form of "rebellion" in the face of the 1970s Acadian Renaissance.

"Maybe the next generation will look at the facts, away from the aura of the story," he said.

It's a frustration Malenfant understands.

"Everything that we'd seen associated with the (Acadian) flag was associated with yesterday," he said.

But Malenfant said his Acadian roots have only strengthened his music. History, it seems, simmers under the surface.

Organizations: Societe Nationale

Geographic location: SAINT JOHN, Nova Scotia, Louisiana France Grand Pre

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