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P.E.I. Acadians celebrate 300th anniversary of settlement with celebrations at Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst

Clem Gallant and Yvonne Doucette acting as Michel Haché-Gallant and Anne Cormier, the first Acadian settlers on P.E.I. They both laugh as Doucette tries to remember the names of all the Haché-Gallant children.
Clem Gallant and Yvonne Doucette acting as Michel Haché-Gallant and Anne Cormier, the first Acadian settlers on P.E.I., laugh as Doucette tries to remember the names of all the Haché-Gallant children. - Michael Robar
ROCKY POINT, P.E.I. —

 With modern Charlottetown glistening in the sun behind him across the harbour, it was hard to imagine the scene Georges Arsenault described.

He had reached the part of the story where the British burned down the settlement at what was known as Port-la-Joye.

Arsenault was telling the history of the Acadian people as part of the 300th year celebration of their settlement of P.E.I. Sunday at the Parks Canada site that is now called Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst.

“This is special because of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Fort-la-Joye and the colony of Isle Saint-Jean, which was the name of P.E.I.,” he said. “So I thought it would be important to have something since all our big celebrations had been cancelled by COVID, of course.”

As president of the Sister Antoinette DesRoches Historical Committee, Arsenault co-ordinated the day, which included two tours of the site — French in the morning, English in the afternoon — and a 30-minute video detailing the history of the Acadians.

Georges Arsenault, president of the Sister Antoinette DesRoches Historical Committee, tells the history of Michel Haché-Gallant and his wife Anne Cormier, the first Acadians to settle on P.E.I., during Sunday's celebrations marking their 300th anniversary. - Michael Robar
Georges Arsenault, president of the Sister Antoinette DesRoches Historical Committee, tells the history of Michel Haché-Gallant and his wife Anne Cormier, the first Acadians to settle on P.E.I., during Sunday's celebrations marking their 300th anniversary. - Michael Robar

Reclaiming roots

Arsenault had enlisted the help of Yvonne Doucette and Clem Gallant to play the roles Anne Cormier and Michel Haché-Gallant, the original Acadian settlers to Fort-la-Joye.

The real-life couple were glad to help Arsenault, especially on a day that is so significant to their own histories, said Gallant.

“For me, (Sunday) represents a reclamation of our Acadian roots and our culture.”

Though both grew up speaking French, it wasn’t always the case Island Acadians were able to hold onto their language. Doucette and Gallant were fortunate enough to attend French schools in Quebec.

Gallant is glad to have French schools on the Island now.

“We were losing the French language quite fast, but now there’s a revision of it for a number of reasons, I guess.”

For Doucette, those reasons are pretty simple, she said.

“I think Acadians are more proud now to show their pride in their heritage and their culture … we feel more accepted, I think.”

Gary Gallant plays a song before Sunday afternoon's tour started. It detailed the history of Michel Haché-Gallant, including the deportation of the French by the British.
Gary Gallant plays a song before Sunday afternoon's tour started. It detailed the history of Michel Haché-Gallant, including the deportation of the French by the British.

More than Acadian

The morning and afternoon tours were each fully booked at 50 people and attracted Acadians from New Brunswick as well as other parts of the Island — though not everyone was there to learn about their own history.

Paul-André Dumas, a retired teacher who has lived on the Island for almost 25 years, has also been curious about Acadian history, partly due to his own French heritage.

He thinks everyone should learn the history of the mistreatment of the French at the hands of the British, he said.

“In a nutshell, it’s important not to forget our history and background, so we can know where we’re going.”

For Arsenault, while the history is specifically Acadian, it means a lot more than that.

“It’s the history of P.E.I. It’s hard to say how many, but probably at least a quarter, maybe more, have French blood, Acadian blood.”

michael.robar@theguardian.pe.ca

@MichaelRobar

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