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Acadia, name given to the first permanent French colony in North America. The name originated with Giovanni da VERRAZZANO, an Italian explorer serving the king of France. In 1524 Verrazzano made his first trip to the New World and gave the name Arcadie to a region stretching along the Atlantic coast near Delaware, explaining the choice in his diary with a reference to "the beauty of its trees." In ancient Greece this name referred to a Peloponnesian plain which was thought of as a sort of earthly paradise.  Sixteenth-century cartographers mistakenly gave the name Arcadia to the region of the Maritime provinces of Canada.  The letter "r" eventually disappeared, leaving the present name of Acadia.

History of Acadia

The French Regime (1534-1763)

Although it had been visited before the 17th century, notably by Jacques CARTIER in 1534, the first French
colonists did not arrive until 1604, under the leadership of Pierre du Gua de MONTS and Samuel de CHAMPLAIN. De Monts settled the 80-odd colonists at île Sainte-Croix on the ST CROIX RIVER, but scurvy killed 36 of them during the winter of 1604-05. The next year the colony looked for a new site and chose PORT-ROYAL. When some French privateers (ship owners) challenged his commercial monopoly, de Monts took everyone back to France in 1607; French colonists did not return to Port-Royal and Acadia until 1610.

But the territory was also being claimed by England. In 1613 Samuel Argall, an adventurer from Virginia, seized Acadia and chased out most of its settlers. In 1621 the English government changed Acadia's name to Nova Scotia and moved in Scottish settlers in 1629. It was not until 1632 that France, through the Treaty of SAINT-GERMAIN- en- Laye, regained Acadia.

Renewed settlement

took place under Governor Isaac de Razilly, who moved the capital from Port-Royal to La Hève, on the south shore of present-day Nova Scotia. He arrived in 1632, with "300 gentlemen of quality." Razilly died in 1635, leaving Charles de MENOU D'AULNAY and Charles LA TOUR to quarrel over his succession. The colonists were brought back to Port-Royal, which once again became the capital. The first official census, held in 1671, registered an Acadian population of more than 400 people. In 1701 there were c 1400; in 1750, over 10,000; in 1755, over 13,000 (Louisbourg excluded). It must be noted, though, that the precise number of the Acadian population during the French regime is unknown due to the incomplete enumeration of the various censuses  and to the loss of documents in the 18th century.

French-English enmity once again affected Acadia's fate, causing it to pass to the English in 1654 and back to France through the Treaty of BREDA (1667). It was taken by the New England adventurer Sir William PHIPS in 1690 and returned to France again through the Treaty of RYSWICK (1697).

In both 1670 and 1680, colonists left Port-Royal to found other centres, the most important being Beaubassin (Amherst, NS) and Grand-Pré (near Wolfville, NS). The population, which numbered some 2500 people around 1711, was primarily descended from natives of the south of the Loire in France, especially Poitou, according to French linguist Geneviève Massignon, but there is yet no absolute proof of that. Most of these French colonists arrived in the 1630s, 1640s and 1670s. These highly self-reliant Acadians farmed and raised livestock, and hunted, fished and trapped as well; they even had commercial ties with the English colonists in America, usually against the wishes of the French authorities.

Into the Hands of the English

During the WAR OF THE SPANISH SUCCESSION (1701- 13), Acadia passed several more times into the hands of the English ­ definitively in 1713. Through the Treaty of UTRECHT, the territory which was ceded consisted of "Acadia according to its ancient boundaries," but France and England failed to agree on a definition of those boundaries. For the French, the territory included only the present peninsular Nova
Scotia, but the English claimed, in addition, what is today New Brunswick, the Gaspé and Maine.

Following the Loss of "Ancient Acadia,"

France concentrated on developing île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) and île Royale (Cape Breton), 2 largely ignored regions until that time. On île St Jean, France had tried to abolish agricultural centres, fishing in
particular, while it gave île Royale a military role. With the construction of the fortress of LOUISBOURG in 1713, France attempted to protect the entranceway to New France.

England did not make any great effort to establish a presence in "ancient Acadia," once again known as Nova
Scotia. It kept a garrison at Port-Royal (renamed Annapolis Royal), but made virtually no other attempt at colonization, with the result that Acadians were in the majority until 1749. England demanded of its conquered subjects an oath of unconditional loyalty, but the Acadians agreed only to an oath of neutrality, promising that they would take up arms against neither France nor England. Unable to impose the unconditional oath, Governor Richard PHILIPPS in 1729-30 gave his verbal agreement to this semi-allegiance. He has been accused of not having informed the authorities of this compromise.

In 1745 Louisbourg fell to an English expeditionary force whose land army was largely composed of New England colonists. However, France regained the fortress through the Treaty of Aix- la-Chapelle in 1748, to the great displeasure of the New England colonies. It was in this context that England decided to make the Nova Scotian territory British.

The Capital

In 1749 the capital was moved from Annapolis Royal to HALIFAX, which was a better seaport and was far from the Acadian population centres. At the same time, Halifax was closer both to Europe and to Boston. Finally, England took steps to bring British colonists into the colony. They came primarily from New England and from German territories with British connections (Hanover, Brunswick, etc). From 1750 to 1760, an estimated 7000 British colonists arrived to settle in Nova Scotia.

The French authorities reacted by building FORT BEAUSÉJOUR in 1750 (near Sackville, NB) to keep the English from crossing the Isthmus of Chignectou, which separates the present provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The English that same year began building Fort Lawrence less than 3 km east of Beauséjour. Finally, in 1755, England decided to settle the problem once and for all: under the pretext of a new refusal by the Acadians to swear an oath of unconditional loyalty, British authorities decided to deport them. English troops first took Fort Beauséjour ­ in peacetime, but England claimed this land as well ­ and undertook to make prisoners of the entire Acadian population from Fort Beauséjour to Annapolis Royal. These Acadians were thus the first to be uprooted in a process which lasted until 1762. The settlers were put into ships and deported to English colonies and to England. Others managed to flee to Québec or to hide in the woods.

In 1756 the SEVEN YEARS' WAR broke out between France and England. The 2 French colonies, île Royale and île Saint-Jean, fell in 1758 and their settlers were repatriated to France. It is estimated that three-quarters of the total Acadian population of some 13,000 were deported; the rest avoided this fate through flight. An unknown number of Acadians perished from hunger, disease and misery; a few ships full of exiles sank on the high seas with their human cargo. Through the Treaty of PARIS (1763) , France ceded to England the entire region of the Maritimes and all of New France.

The Founding of a New Acadia (1763-1880)

After 1763 the Maritimes took on a decidedly English face. English names replaced French or Micmac ones almost everywhere. The English at first reorganized the territory into a single province, Nova Scotia. In 1769, however, they detached the former île Saint-Jean, which became a separate province under the name of Saint John's Island; it received its present name of Prince Edward Island in 1799. In 1784 present-day New Brunswick was in turn separated from Nova Scotia, following the arrival of thousands of American LOYALISTS who demanded their own colonial administration.

As for the Acadians, they began the long and painful process of resettling themselves in their native land. England gave them permission once they finally agreed to take the contentious oath of allegiance. Some returned from exile, but the resettlement was largely the work of fugitives who had escaped deportation and of the prisoners of Beauséjour, Pigiguit, Port-Royal and Halifax who were finally set free. They headed for Cape Breton, the tips of the Nova Scotian peninsula and of PEI, along the eastern and northern shores of New Brunswick up to Madawaska and along the Saint John River. Basically, the geography of 20th- century Acadia is that of the early 19th century, minus the hinterland that was settled subsequently.

The English authorities sought to scatter the Acadians in small groups along the shores of the Atlantic and the Gulf of St Lawrence. These Acadians found themselves on infertile land, and so these former farmers became fishermen, cultivating their land only for subsistence. As fishermen, they were exploited and subjected to great dependence and poverty, especially by companies from the Isle of Jersey. It was only with the arrival of the CO-OPERATIVE MOVEMENT in the 1930s that the Acadian fishermen became less economically disadvantaged.

These Acadians were first stripped of civil and political rights; because they were Catholics, they could neither vote nor be members of the legislature. From 1758 to 1763, they could not even legally own land. Nova Scotian Acadians gained the right to vote in 1789; those in New Brunswick in 1810; in Prince Edward Island in 1830. After 1830 Acadians of all 3 colonies could sit in the legislature.

Seeds of a New Acadia

In general, Acadians at the start of the 19th century aspired only to immediate and basic objectives. Their only
ambition was survival: their lifestyle was one of subsistence. They had virtually no institutions of their own: the Catholic clergy came either from Québec or France, and the church was the only French institution in all the
Maritimes. There were few francophone schools and the teachers, for the most part, were simple "travelling
masters" who spread their knowledge from village to village.  There was no French newspaper. Nor were there any lawyers or doctors. In fact, there was as yet no Acadian middle class and, overall, it is highly probable that the people were much poorer than they had been during the French regime.  Yet, whether they were conscious of it or not, these Acadians sowed the seeds of a new Acadia in the soil, without any help from the state.

At the start of the 19th century, there were 4000 Acadians in Nova Scotia, 700 in PEI and 3800 in New Brunswick. Their establishment and growth during that century was remarkable: they counted some 87,000 at the time of Confederation in 1867, 140,000 at the turn of the century, and continued to grow for the first half of the 20th century. In 1961 there were 331,000 in the Maritime provinces. The 251,000 New Brunswick Acadians of 1981 comprised 36% of the population of the province; in PEI, the 15,000 Acadians formed 12.5% of the island population.

A Collective People

The Acadians began to express themselves as a people during the 1830s. They elected their first member to the
legislature of Nova Scotia and the 2 other provinces in the 1840s and 1850s. The poem EVANGELINE (1847) of American poet H.W. Longfellow went through several French translations and had undeniable impact. In France historian Edmé Rameau de Saint-Père brought out in 1859 the first French-language historical study which dealt with Acadians. Moreover, Rameau carried on a voluminous correspondence with the Acadian leaders of the day. In Acadia itself, a pastor born in Québec, Abbé F.X. Lafrance, in 1854 opened the first French-language institution of higher learning, the Saint-Thomas seminary in Saint-Joseph; it was directed from 1864 on by Québec priests of the congregation of the Holy Cross under the name of Collège (later Université Saint-Joseph). Then, in 1867, another Québécois, Israel Landry, started the first French-language paper in the Maritimes, called 'Le Moniteur Acadien', in Shédiac (NB).

The Nationalist Age (1881-1955)

As of the 1860s, an Acadian middle class had begun to take shape. Its leadership emerged from Collège Saint-Joseph and began to organize, from 1881 on, huge meetings to discuss the future of Acadians. They founded a Société Nationale de l'Acadie whose purpose was to promote the French fact. National symbols were chosen: a flag (the French tricolour with a yellow star in the blue stripe), a national holiday (the Feast of the Assumption, celebrated on August 15), a slogan ("L'union fait la force") and a national anthem (Ave
Maris Stella). Programs of action were set up: the promotion of French schooling; the battle against emigration to the US; more attention to agriculture and settling the land; the founding of new papers and colleges; the Acadianizing of the Catholic hierarchy. An Acadian priest became bishop in 1912.  Acadian priests and laymen worked closely together through all these steps.

The themes identified during the 1880s remained virtually unchanged until about 1955. But as of the 1920s and 30s, individual characteristics began to appear in the Acadian communities of each of the Maritime provinces. The New Brunswick Acadians, thanks to their numbers and confidence, took the lead in speaking for Acadians as a whole. They could elect one-third the members of the provincial legislature. They had the best cultural and French-language infrastructure. In fact, the province today has a network of schools through the secondary level; a university (UNIVERSITÉ DE MONCTON); hospitals; one daily paper; several weeklies; 6 radio stations and one TV station (Radio-Canada). The Acadian communities of PEI and Nova Scotia have French schools (though some have English-language texts) and one French weekly each. There is a French-language university in Nova Scotia: the Université Sainte-Anne (Point-de- l'Église, in southwest NS). These communities receive radio and TV programming from the Radio- Canada station in Moncton.

The Société Nationale de l'Acadie is the body which looks after the common interests of Acadians in all 3 Maritime provinces. But each province has its own pressure group: the Société Saint-Thomas- d'Aquin (PEI), the Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse and the Société des Acadiens et Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick. All belong to the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadiennes du Canada, founded in 1975. All are financed largely by the federal government and each has a secretariat with a permanent staff.

Contemporary Acadia

All Acadians benefit from the federal OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT (see OFFICIAL LANGUAGES ACT (1988)) passed in 1969, but only in areas of federal jurisdiction. At the provincial level, Acadians in New Brunswick enjoy double legal protection: an official languages act, passed in 1969, certain of whose sections have been incorporated into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and another, passed in 1981, which
guarantees equal status to the English and French communities of the province. Under the 1981 Act, each  group has the right to its own institutions in certain fields, education in particular. The essential aspects of that Act, commonly called "Law 88," were incorporated into the Canadian Constitution in 1993. As of 1986, there is no outline law concerning Acadians in the 2 other provinces, although the governments there do maintain French schools.

Integration and Assimilation

The integration of part of the francophone population into primarily anglophone milieux brings with it the phenomenon of linguistic assimilation, which in turn weakens the Acadian community. Since the 1960s, there has been an increasing gap between the number of people of French origin and those who speak French, suggesting a loss of French in earlier generations, and another gap between those whose mother tongue is French and those who can use it daily, suggesting it is being abandoned by the present generation.

The 1982 figures are eloquent on the subject: New Brunswick Acadians benefit most from sheer numbers, demographic strength and degree of institutional organization, which explains their lower degree of assimilation. The prognosis for the maintenance of French in the 2 other Maritime provinces, as in the Canadian provinces west of Québec, however, is disturbing and efforts made to counter assimilation do not always give the desired results.

In Matters of Religion,

In 1850 there was a single priest of Acadian origins in all the Maritime provinces. Today, in New Brunswick, and in general in the 2 other provinces, each Acadian parish has its Acadian curé. In the religious hierarchy, the bishops of Edmundston and of Bathurst in NB, of Yarmouth in NS and the archbishop of the ecclesiastical province of New Brunswick (Moncton) are all Acadian.


On the other hand, agriculture no longer plays a dominant role in the contemporary life of Acadians, except in
northwestern New Brunswick, where there is intensive potato farming. There are still small farms and some cattle, but farm costs, the infertility of the soil, the low yield of the lands and the lack of machinery have all contributed to a significant decline in agriculture. The small dairy industries typically have remained at the family level.

In the past, fishing granted a scanty living to many Acadians who lived near the ocean. The cooperative movement, born in Antigonish in the 1930s, freed fishermen from the economic grasp of the companies. Thanks to this movement, the price of fish rose substantially, fishermen acquired modern boats and equipment and their trade became relatively profitable, putting some fishermen in the ranks of the richest Acadians in the Maritimes. Small- and medium-sized fish treatment plants expanded considerably after 1950, and gave a significant amount of seasonal employment to the men and women of the Acadian region.

The forest industry plays an important role under the control of the big corporations for which the Acadians work.  But growing mechanization and truck transport mean less manpower is required. Many Acadians work in the paper mills of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The coal mines of Minto (NB) provided a great deal of work in the past; those of Cape Breton still operate.

Today, the copper and zinc mines and the PEAT industry of County Gloucester (NB) provide work for many Acadians. But they too often lack the professional training needed to make them eligible for the most skilled and remunerative positions.

Acadians have made a great deal of progress since the early 20th century. An Acadian life assurance company, Assomption Compagnie mutuelle d'assurance-vie, was founded in 1903 with headquarters in Moncton. In 1986 it had assets of $186 million. The combination of a fish factory, a cooperative store and a CAISSE POPULAIRE has helped many Acadian parishes boost their economies. In New Brunswick alone,
there are 88 caisses and a federation of these with 1986 assets of $581 million and 184,500 members.

Today, a great many Acadians make their presence known in business and commerce, in provincial and federal political life and in the professions as doctors, oculists, dentists, lawyers, architects, university professors, etc.

 The 1998 Canadian Encyclopedia ©1998 by McClelland & Stewart, Inc.