As an Acadian who calls Summerside "home" I feel compelled to comment on Georges Arsenault's latest publication, "Les Acadiens de Summerside/The Acadians of Summerside," launched in Summerside several weeks ago.
As indicated by its title, the book is published in both French and English. It is informative, well researched and easy to read; in addition, it contains a large number of pictures, many of persons still living. I took great delight in reading it.
What Mr. Arsenault has succeeded in accomplishing is to provide the reader with a snapshot of a period of time important in the evolution of the Acadian community of Summerside and of the French language in Prince Edward Island.
Before calling Summerside home, home for me was Mont-Carmel, some 25 kilometres west. I moved from there to Summerside in 1952 as a nine-year-old. I recall clearly some of the adjustments resulting from that move; the more obvious included paved streets with sidewalks compared to gravel roads, electricity compared to oil lamps, running water compared to a hand pump, and of course the indoor toilet instead of the outhouse.
Among the numerous adjustments of the social and psychological spheres, the one that stands out more boldly is that of 'Don't speak French'! That was the conventional wisdom of the time, and it would be a long time before I understood some of the forces behind that reality. Indeed, it would be some 30 to 40 years before I realized that most of my nieghbours in the vicinity of Cedar/Convent Streets where I grew up were indeed Acadians, most of whom could still speak French at the time!
The situation of the 1950s with reference to speaking French in Summerside described above as marked by silence (and the ensuing confusion) has evolved to one of greater openness and acceptance. As proof of this we have only to examine the history of French-language immersion in the city's public schools and, more significantly, the birth of the city's own French-language school, École-sur-Mer.
This evolution represents a tremendous shift in popular thinking, and Mr. Arsenault's portrayal of this transition is painted with genorosity and optimism. We are indeed indebted to the author and the translator Sally Ross, as well as to La Belle-Alliance, the Summerside-Miscouche branch of the Société Saint-Thomas-d'Aquin, for proposing and supporting the project.
In closing, I believe "Les Acadiens de Summerside/The Acadians of Summerside" will find its place on the shelves of Canadians interested in the study of the French-language communities in our country. Also, it would make an excellent reader, not only for Summerside and area students, but for students throughout the province, francophones and anglophones.
Louis J. Richard,
Retired professor of social work,