The CongrÃ¨s mondial acadien is a fantastic party. So much so that it’s giving Acadians of a certain vintage — myself, for example — some trouble adjusting to being a cultural hot commodity after centuries of being more or less told to disappear.
Splashy media coverage, a general bursting out into song, flags and banners, people coming from all over to rediscover lost connections, apparent acknowledgement by the general population that the Deportation of 1755 was a lousy thing, even big French signs on the highway! All of it is amazing, in fact nearly unbelievable from the point of view of the small and enclosed villages the mid-to-older generation grew up in, wary of speaking our language out loud and of any display of identity at all if we wandered beyond our confines into a wider society that expected us to know our place.
In a sense, the family reunions fit in with a search for roots in the broader Western world. But in this case, the discovered bond is especially compelling. Every family has a dramatic story of flight and/or bare survival from the destruction of Acadia.
Finding these roots is a rediscovery because the direct memory of the Deportation was, for the most part, not handed down among the common people. All that mattered, as with all victims of trauma, was looking ahead, not looking back. Besides, you didn’t want to be spreading stories that might provoke the authorities. Until at least the 1830s, the fear was that they might do it again.
When I learned my own story — at the first CongrÃ¨s in New Brunswick in 1994 — it was an eye-popper. My direct ancestor, Pierre Surette II, was a leader of the resistance up the Peticodiac River along with the fabled Beausoleil Broussard. It was a four-year guerrilla-type resistance against overwhelming odds. But the time gained would permit at least some to stay in Nova Scotia. Amid the vagaries of fortune, it’s one of the reasons I’m here myself. (My mother’s people, from Pubnico, were deported to Massachusetts and came back.)
The resistance ended when Quebec fell in 1759 and their supplies were cut off. Broussard and 190 partisans surrendered at Fort Cumberland on November 16, 1759. Pierre II, with 700 followers, surrendered on November 18. They were placed in captivity on Georges Island in Halifax Harbour, where they were kept for several years. (There’s a crisp account of all this in a recent book, Georges Island: The Keep of Halifax Harbour, by Dianne Marshall, in a chapter entitled “Acadian Prison Camp.”)
Broussard eventually took his family to the West Indies and on to Louisiana. Pierre II (whose son Pierre III was my grandfather’s grandfather), perhaps ailing or perhaps just determined to remain in his beloved land regardless of whatever humiliating oath he had to sign, stayed put. His extended family lived for a few years between Chezzetcook and Eastern Passage on Nova Scotiaâe(TM)s Eastern Shore. In 1767, they were assigned land, although without title for decades, in what is now Argyle municipality in the southwest of the province. He and his sons are the originators of the Surette name in Nova Scotia; and a Pottier, a Babin and a Bourque, married to his three daughters, are the originators of all those names in Yarmouth County.
Throughout all this, the British government, increasingly annoyed with its governors in Nova Scotia, kept urging moderation. To no avail. By now, the consequences of their actions had made them paranoid. Jonathan Belcher (who, according to Marshall, had fantasies about the prisoners escaping Georges Island and strangling him in his bed) succeeded Charles Lawrence, who had authorized the Deportation, but was removed after he defied London and shipped five boatloads of Acadians, presumably including my ancestors, to Boston — where the shipment was refused and they had to return to Halifax. But his successor, Montague Wilmot, being ordered to let the remaining Acadians stay, had one more little trick to play. They would stay, but he would disperse them in little groups as far as possible from each other.
That has been the reality since: small groups, mostly out of touch with each other — many having disappeared as Acadian-speaking villages, and still gradually disappearing. The spirit of the CongrÃ¨s, however, is to connect what remains, and in rather grand fashion. The lethal work of Charles Lawrence can’t be undone, but by connecting the dispersed, perhaps, at least, the curse of Governor Wilmot can be put to rest.
Support rabble today!
We’re so glad you stopped by! Thanks for consuming rabble content this year.
rabble.ca is 100% reader and donor funded, so as an avid reader of our content, we hope you will consider gifting rabble with a donation during our summer fundraiser today.
Whether it be a one-time donation or a small monthly contribution, your support is critical to keep rabble writers producing the work you’ve come to rely on as a part of a healthy media diet.
Nick Seebruch, editor