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Ontario woman forms connection with Islanders through Acadian traditions


Published on August 9, 2017

Dance in Cap-Egmont.

©Submitted photo/Marguerite Gallant

It’s an honour Meghan Forsyth wasn’t expecting; she just wanted to share the stories she’s accumulated over the years.

Meghan Forsyth
Submitted photo/Meghan Forsyth

“Islanders welcomed me into their world sharing their stories about traditional Acadian music, I saw this as a way to give back to the community it means so much to,” said Forsyth of her PhD work that involved chatting with locals about the evolution of Acadian music.

Forsyth, an Ontario native who currently resides in St. John’s, N.L., is an ethnomusicologist, someone who studies music and its relation to culture and society.

While working on her PhD on Acadian instrumental music, for the University of Toronto, Forsyth heard numerous stories of step and set dancing.

“I spoke with generations of Islanders about music, and quickly it was apparent that music and dance go hand in hand.”

On Tuesday, Forsyth was presented the Prix Gilbert Buote award from the Acadian Museum in Miscouche.

“It’s really something to be affiliated with someone who holds so much prestige in the community,” said Forsyth.

Upon completing her dissertation, Forsyth contacted some locals and from there the group collaborated to put together “Dansez: Acadian Dance Traditions on P.E.I. Past and Present.”

“I had this strong feeling that everyone should be able to see these videos and hear these stories. The only way I was able to was because of the research I was doing.”

Arcade Arsenault of Baie-Egmont.
Submitted photo/Elva Arsenault

So, Forsyth approached the Acadian Museum with her idea of a multi-media exhibition. The museum’s director of the time, Cécile Gallant, welcomed the project.

It describes the traditions of step dancing and set dancing. Step dancing refers to a percussive, fast paced dance featuring intricate footwork in a routine close to the floor and is performed with traditional fiddle, accordion, harmonica and vocals. Set dancing was a party often held in the kitchen, as it was the largest room in the house. Dancing would start after supper and last until dawn accompanied by a fiddler and harmonica.

Forsyth went to work to find the necessary grants to fund the research and production, not only of a muti-media exposition, but also of a website. To help with the research, she reached out to many collaborators on and off the Island.

Albénie Arsenault of Saint-Gilbert, 1965.
Submitted photo/Yvonne Gallant

Finally she called upon her husband, Wilco Van Eikeren, a professional graphic designer, to design both the bilingual exhibition and website.

The exhibit opened at the Acadian Museum in June.

“I hope everyone had a chance to see the exhibit. We tried to make it as interactive as possible. There are videos and iPads that are set up to provide instruction for the various dances.

“There are also short essays and old photographs that really capture the memories and joy behind the traditions. It’s really something to celebrate and remember.”

Some of Forsyth’s favourite moments include seeing the expressions on faces as people told their stories and the emotions expressed in old photographs.

“There’s one with an older gentleman step dancing on a float. The look on his face has always stuck with me.”

For more information on the exhibit go to http://danseacadienne.ca.

millicent.mckay@journalpioneer.com