Maria Bernard of Mount Carmel is impressed with the plaque unveiled Monday at Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst National Historic Site to commemorate the tragic deportation of French and Acadian inhabitants of Ile Saint-Jean (now P.E.I.) in 1758 as an event of national historic significance. FULL TEXT OF PLAQUE HERE
Plenty of emotion was stirring as Maria Bernard sat quietly through the ceremony.
The Canadian anthem was sung, speeches were made and a plaque was unveiled.
Bernard took it all in. She was particularly struck by the bronze plaque, clearly meant as the centre of attraction Monday at Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst National Historic Site.
The plaque commemorates as an event of national historic significance the tragic deportation of French and Acadian inhabitants from this island in 1758.
A lengthy bilingual inscription details one of the largest and deadliest of the Acadian deportations that took place between 1755 and 1762.
“It’s very well done,’’ Bernard says of the plaque. “It explains what happened and also explains that today the Acadian culture is very alive and functioning very well since the (Seven Years’ War).’’
Bernard, a former principal and history teacher who is greatly aware of Acadian culture, says little was done until recent years to educate Islanders including Acadians about the 1758 expulsion.
That year, more than 3,000 settlers were deported to France. During the crossing and in the first months after arriving in France, approximately half of the deportees perished. Most died while at sea, either by sickness or drowning.
“It’s a big tragedy,’’ says Bernard.
“I think if you want to be proud of who you are, you need to know your history. You need to know who you are, where you came from, what our ancestors went through so that today we can be here and we can be proud of who we are.’’
An estimated 1,400 to 1,500 Islanders were able to evade the deportation and forced to go into hiding for their own protection.
Some hid on the Island, and many others found refuge elsewhere. Once peace returned to the Island, many deportees returned to start over, joining those who were able to escape deportation and who were already re-establishing themselves.
The ancestors of Bernard, who was born and raised in Mount-Carmel, came from France. They settled in Saint John, N.B..
During deportation, they went to Miramichi, then came to P.E.I. and settled in Malpeque with some going to Tignish and others to the Evangeline area.
The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque unveiled Monday will be on display at Port-La-Joye-Fort Amherst, which played an integral role in the settlement of P.E.I. in the 18th and 19th century and was the port of exile during the deportation of 1758.
Georges Arsenault is president of le Comité historique Soeur-Anoinette-Desroches, the proponent for the successful application to the Board to have the deportation recognized as an event of national historic significance.
“Despite the tragedy suffered as a result of the deportation, the determination, perseverance and resolve of the Acadian people has endured and strengthened over the years,’’ says Arsenault.
“Today, the Acadian community on Prince Edward Island is vibrant, characterized by music, language and a passionate connection to their heritage and the Island.’’
Here is the full English text of the bilingual inscription on a plaque unveiled Monday to commemorate the 1758 deportation as an event of national historic significance:
“Undertaken here in 1758, this expulsion was one of the largest and the deadliest of the Acadian deportations that took place between 1755 and 1762. As part of a strategy to dismantle the French colony of Ile Saint-Jean during the Seven Years’ War, the British forcibly transported more than 3,000 inhabitants to France. Over half died due to shipwreck or disease. Around 1,100 inhabitants evaded deportation, a few going into hiding on the island and many more finding refuge in nearby French territory. Today, Prince Edward Island’s Acadian culture and French language testify to the resolve of all Acadians who settled here after the war.’’