Acadian History & Attractions in Canada

In the early 17th century, a group of French colonists ventured from France to the northern coastal regions of North America. The group first established a fort in 1604 at Île-Ste-Croix at the mouth of the St. Croix River, but after a harsh winter, moved across the bay to establish the first permanent French settlement in North America at Port-Royal, in present-day Nova Scotia. The area eventually became known as Acadia, and the people and their decedents known as Acadians (or Acadiens in French).

These first settlers quickly became sociable with the Micmaq (the local First Nations group), and learned their hunting and fishing techniques. The Acadians farmed land along the coast and lived a largely peaceful life; however, they were often caught in the middle of conflicts between the British and French as they inhabited land on the frontier of the two powers' territory and often got passed back and forth between the countries. No matter the outcome of a conflict, the Acadians always insisted on remaining neutral when dealing with Britain and France.

Village Historique Acadien
Village Historique Acadien1

In 1713, France ceded land populated by the Acadians to England for the final time and within a few decades the British insisted that the neutral Acadians swear an oath of allegiance to the British monarch. The oath included taking up arms to defend Britain's interests when necessary. The Acadians refused, fearing the oath would someday force them into battle against fellow Frenchmen and the Micmaq people with whom they had established friendly relations. As a result in 1755, the British forcefully evicted the Acadians from their territory and seized their land and homes in an act known as the Great Expulsion (also called the Great Upheaval, The Deportation and the Acadian Expulsion).

Twelve thousand Acadians were expelled from the region. Some fled deeper into the province while others resettled in other areas of the country such as Quebec and New Brunswick. Many returned to France and others headed south, eventually ending up in the U.S. in the state of Louisiana, where they intermarried with the local population and became known as Cajuns.

Today over 70,000 Canadians identify themselves as being of Acadian descent. This group is primarily French-speaking (or Francophone) and are fiercely proud of their roots and culture. These ancestors of the Acadians who established settlements elsewhere in Canada after the Great Expulsion work to preserve their heritage, and as a result there are a number of historic sites, museums and other attractions in Atlantic Canada and Quebec where visitors have the opportunity to experience, learn about and appreciate this unique, lively and friendly cultural group.

Celebrate With Locals at One of Canada's Many Acadian Festivals
Celebrate With Locals at One of Canada's Many Acadian Festivals2

QUEBEC

Despite being considered Francophone like all other French-speaking Quebecers, most Acadians originally came from different areas of France and settled seperate regions than fellow Frenchmen and, consequently, have a culture that is distinct from the rest of the province's French population.

Over 17,000 residents in Quebec classify themselves as being of Acadian lineage, and their presence, as well as the presence of their ancestors, is still felt in a number of areas throughout the province. Visitors hoping to experience some Acadian culture, history and hospitality while in Quebec will find what they are looking for in the Îles de la Madeleine (Magdalen Islands).

Visit the Musée de la Mer of the Îles de la Madeleine, which features permanent exhibits relating to the earliest explorations and settlers on the islands, including the hundreds of Acadians who headed to the area in the years after the Great Expulsion. Mid-August is a great time to head to Îles de la Madeleine as islanders celebrate all things Acadian during the Acadian Festival. The lively event includes a parade and a boat-building competition. Festivities conclude on August 15, which is the day of the Feast of the Assumption celebrating the Virgin Mary's ascension into heaven. Queen Elizabeth II of England has declared August 15 as a day to commemorate the Great Expulsion. This national Acadian holiday is traditionally celebrated with a festive noise-making known as Tintamarre.

The town of Bonaventure in the South St. Lawrence region of Quebec boasts the Acadien Museum of Quebec at Bonaventure. The museum chronicles the lives and times of those who fled deportation and subsequently founded the town in 1760. Temporary and permanent exhibitions tell the stories of the town and its past residents.

NOVA SCOTIA

Port Royal, the first Acadian settlement established in 1604, was a colonial outpost located close to the modern-day town of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. The original Acadian inhabitants spent over 150 years spreading out and founding communities along the coast. While most of the population fled during the Great Expulsion, many Acadians headed deeper inland, and eventually the British allowed some of the French-speakers to re-establish small settlements around the province.

As a result of the amount of Acadian history that unfolded in Nova Scotia, the province is full of sites and events that illustrate the group's importance in shaping the area. Travellers looking for a good place to start their explorations might want to begin in some of the small villages that dot the Nova Scotian landscape.

Cheticamp is located on the western coast of Cape Breton Island. The small community, which boasts approximately 4000 residents, was one of a number of locales fled to by Acadians after The Deportation. Today, many of the town's inhabitants speak French and identify themselves as Acadian or as having Acadian ancestry.

Acadian Homestead in Nova Scotia
Acadian Homestead in Nova Scotia3

A number of attractions that relate to this history and culture exist in the town making it a great place to stop during a tour of the island. The Acadian Museum displays local artifacts and offers demonstrations of traditional crafts such as spinning, weaving and rug hooking. Visitors can even sample Acadian-style food. La Pirogue Fisheries Museum features, among other attractions, an Acadian homestead, while Les Trois Pignons: Museum of the Hooked Rug and Home Life is a visitor centre offering information on Acadian culture and genealogy. In addition, a number of local lodgings and restaurants offer Acadian-style hospitality and charm.

The pretty seaside town of Clare is located in western Nova Scotia, a region which is largely known for its Acadian population. Visitors who make the community part of their trip to the province can learn about its past by participating in a guided tour provided by Histoires de la Baie. The walking tours, which take place from the beginning of June to the beginning of October, offer information on local Acadian history and culture.

Major Point Beach, located on the edge of town, is known for being the spot of the first Acadian cemetery and travellers can visit the graveyard as well as the small church located onsite. Visitors who are in town for the Festival Acadian de Clare will have the opportunity to kick up their heals and party with the locals while commemorating the deportation of Acadians during the Great Expulsion. The festival began in 1955 as a family reunion and has become a popular annual event that includes a parade, fireworks, live music and dance performances and much more.

The little village of Church Point, located on Saint Mary's Bay in the District of Clare, is home to Université Sainte-Anne, an institution devoted to promoting Acadian culture. The university includes the Acadian Centre Archives, where visitors will find photographs, books, newspapers and more that offer historical and genealogical information on the province's Acadian past.

Currently inhabited by a large number of artisans, the town of Grand Pré was settled by Acadians who moved east from the original settlement at Port Royal. The town is home to the Grand Pré National Historic Site, which commemorates The Deportation in 1755. Open from May to October, facilities at the site include an interpretation centre with a theatre, exhibition hall and gift shop. While in town, visitors can also see the Acadian Cross Historic Site. A cross originally erected near the end of the 18th century stands here as a memorial to those forced from their homes as part of the Great Expulsion. The site also includes interpretive signs and displays.

Settled in 1653, the town of Pubnico is the oldest Acadian community still inhabited mostly by Acadians, and is the place where visitors can find Le Village Historique Acadien. Discover the lives of villagers and learn how they survived deportation at the site, which overlooks the harbour and includes a cemetery and a number of original, restored Acadian buildings including a fishing shed and a blacksmith shop.

The Acadian Tricolour Flag Pointed on a Maritime Home
The Acadian Tricolour Flag Painted on a Maritime Home4

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

Only a few thousand residents of Prince Edward Island identify themselves as Acadians, but nonetheless the province offers a few interesting sites for travellers looking to add some Acadian education to their visit. Tiny Abram-Village throws the Evangeline Agricultural Exhibition & Acadian Festival each year. The event, which shares its name with the fictional namesake heroine in Henry Wandsworth Longfellow's poem based on the events surrounding The Deportation in 1755, celebrates PEI's Acadian history and includes Acadian music and dancing shows.

Mont Carmel is home to the Acadia Pioneer Village. Open to the public from the beginning of June until mid-September, the attraction re-creates a traditional Acadian village from 1820, and gives visitors the chance to experience a slice of Acadian life in the early 19th century. The town of Miscouche in western PEI is worth the short side trip from Summerside as its Acadia Museum uses displays and audio-visual presentations to highlight local Acadian heritage from 1720 onwards.

Kids Get a Wagon Ride at The Village Historique Acadien
Costumed Kids Get a Wagon Ride at The Village Historique Acadien5

NEW BRUNSWICK

Of the slightly more than 70,000 Canadians who identify themselves as having Acadian heritage, over 26,000 of these live in New Brunswick, meaning the province, boasts the most residents of Acadian ancestry in Canada. The town of Caraquet on the Baie des Chaleurs was established in 1757 by Acadians who had been expelled from their homes, and to this day the community calls itself the unofficial capital of Acadie (Acadia). A number of lodgings in the town, especially B&Bs, offer 'Acadian hospitality' while guests can dine on traditional Acadian cuisine in a number of local restaurants.

The Village Historique Acadien is a re-created settlement complete with interpretive demonstrations that offers a glimpse of what the community would have been like in the 18th century. The Acadian Wax Museum, which is located at the entrance to the Village Historique, features 86 wax figures that recreate historic Acadian scenes from 1604 to 1761. The entire town of Caraquet celebrates during Le Festival Acadien, an event that began in 1963 and occurs annually in August. The festival, which takes place at various locations around the community, commemorates the tremendous influence Acadian culture has had on the town and surrounding regions, and includes a variety of activities such as live music, dance performances, theatre and more.

Founded in 1797 on the Baie des Chaleurs, over 90 per cent of the population of Petit-Rocher is Francophone and every year the residents gather for the Rendez-vous Acadien Festival. Activities for the two-day event take place around town and festivities include fireworks, live entertainment, games, exhibition booths, Acadian food and more. L'Acadie des Terres et Forêts en Fête takes place every year in the village of St. Jacques, which is located just outside Edmundston, the city with the highest percentage of French-speaking residents in the province. The event, which celebrates 400 years of Acadian history, takes place throughout the summer and consists of a musical and theatrical extravaganza featuring over 30 young performers.

A Footbridge Leads to La Pays de la Sanouine
A Footbridge Leads to La Pays de la Sagouine6

Named after the man who oversaw the Great Expulsion, Robert Monckton, the area that the city of Moncton now occupies was originally settled by Acadian farmers in 1733. Most of this population was eventually deported but descendents of those who had been expelled eventually returned to inhabit the surrounding countryside and in the early 20th century many francophone Acadians returned to the city to seek employment. Moncton is a bilingual city and approximately 30 per cent of the city's population are French-speaking Acadians.

The city's Musée acadien is located at the Université de Moncton and its goal is to give insights into the rich Acadian culture and history. Visitors can explore the many temporary and permanent exhibits, which include an Evangeline exhibit. While on campus, it is also possible to view unique Acadian art at the Galerie d'art de l'université de Moncton. Each year the city hosts the Festival international du cinema francophone en Acadie. The event aims to provide a forum where the public can access, appreciate and celebrate French-language and Acadian film.

After exploring the best that Moncton has to offer, travel 40 km (25 mi) north of the city to Bouctouche, another town with a vibrant Acadian past. Le Pays de la Sagouine, a theme park on a private island, is located here. The purpose of the park is to preserve local Acadian history, traditions and customs, and it includes an authentic Acadian village, a theatre where comedies are performed, restaurants, a gift shop and more.


PHOTOS COURTESY OF:

  1. Peter Christopher; c/o New Brunswick Government; Village Historique Acadien; Caraquet, NB, Canada
  2. c/o New Brunswick Government; Celebrate With Locals at One of Canada's Many Acadian Festivals; Bouctouche, NB, Canada
  3. Acadian Homestead in Nova Scotia; NS, Canada
  4. Barrett and MacKay; c/o New Brunswick Government; The Acadian Tricoloured Flag Painted on a Martime Home; Grande-Anse, NB, Canada
  5. André Gallant; c/o New Brunswick Government; Costumed Kids Get a Wagon Ride at The Village Historique Acadien; Caraquet, NB, Canada
  6. André Gallant; c/o New Brunswick Government; A Footbridge Leads to La Pays de la Sagouine; Bouctouche, NB, Canada
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