Some things are hard to explain…

… like Rappie Pie!

How does one begin to describe this quintessential Acadian comfort food? The ingredients are familiar: potatoes, chicken, onions and broth.

Explaining the process sounds long and difficult. Grate potatoes, squeeze out the liquid, replace the liquid with broth, layer the gooey mixture (maybe that’s an un-appealing word but how else can you describe it?) with chicken, onions, and pork bits. Bake for hours.

The crusty, steaming, slimy (here we go again with un-appealing words!) subtly flavoured result shouts HOME! You just want to sit and enjoy.

Église et Tipi

Recently, I had the chance to sit and enjoy Grand-Pré 2017, a festival to celebrate and re-kindle the 400 year-old friendship between the Mi’kmaq people and the Acadian people. Like all friendships, everything has not been rosy in the last 400 years but like the Grand Chief reminded us, we have survived, now we can look forward.

The last fiddle notes and drumbeats have drifted away but I, like many others who had the privilege to be there, am still processing the experience.

Like Rappie Pie, the traditional Acadien casserole type dish, the whole weekend was hard to describe but oh so worthwhile.

Here is a lasting memory of one of the many informal conversations I had throughout the weekend.

A middle-aged Mi’kmaq woman said, “What’s that?” pointing at the sign for Rappie Pie: Râpure. The subtle scent of our bubbly baked delicacy was in the air but my feeble attempts at making it sound appealing finally culminated with me guiding her to the booth where she could see and sample the finished product.

The food tent was at the entrance of the magnificently arranged festival site. From there a line of brightly striped tents formed a colourful, informative and entertaining corridor. The sounds of music on the Main Stage drew people forward and on to the historic gardens and Memorial Church of the National Historic Site.

In the adjacent field a circle of tipi’s had been erected. Here, Mi’kmaq experts in storytelling, medicinal herbs, basket making, sacred fires, wigwam construction, and hide tanning shared their knowledge with people from many different backgrounds. Planked salmon cooking on open fires perfumed the air. Everyone seemed eager to learn about our provinces indigenous people, even on a rainy Saturday.

At the side of this circle of tipi’s (symbolically not quite part of the circle but close) was the yurt housing the Rendez-vous Acadien.

For three days, this venu was packed with people hungry to understand more about the Acadian-Mi’kmaq relationship with guest Mi’kmaq, Metis and Acadian experts.

At the beginning of the first day’s rencontre there was a Smudging Ceremony reminding me of the incense used in Catholic churches. It was easy to see this as a common practice between the first French explorers and Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Membertou who was baptized in 1604. Thereafter, his people followed his example.

From 1604 to 1632 there were no French women colonists in Acadie. It didn’t take long for the obvious liasons to take place between the French men and Mi’kmaq women. Alliances and marriages were desirable and encouraged on all sides. I learned that French Governor d’Aulnay had a son with a Mi’kmaq woman in Pentaguët. The governor’s grandson became a Wabanaki Chief. That’s just one of many documented cases. Let’s not forget Charles de LaTour, my famous ancestor who had Mi’kmaq wives and children!

Once French families arrived in the 1630’s, these alliances between the French and Mi’kmaq continued and the resulting Metis were a part of Mi’kmaq or Acadian communities. All sorts of personal reasons must have determined which community was chosen.

Usually, Acadian farming communities were established along the coast. That didn’t bother the Mi’kmaq because the forest was still available. The fur trade was the main reason to maintain contact with Europeans anyway.

Because of their familiarity with both cultures, Métis descendants were often translators and guides. We learned that in 1716, Jeanne Mius d’Entremont was hired as an interpreter for the French in Louisbourg.

In 1750, a priest sending a report noted the close ties between Acadians and Mi’kmaq this way “Les deux peoples sont fondé ensemble.

Many of us in the Rendez-vous tent could recall only frosty relations between Acadians and Mi’kmaq in the last part of the 1900’s.

The burning question was obvious: “If things were good at the start but became bad. What caused the break?” As you would expect, it’s complicated, even more than Rappie Pie…. which can be a flop if you mix the wrong ingredients.

The experts spoke of the impact of the Treaty of Utrech (1713), which determined that NS would be a British territory once and for all.

The Mi’kmaq resist this declaration. The concept of land ownership is foreign to them. Their teachings say: the land doesn’t belong to us; we belong to the land.

They maintain their historical allegiance to the French.

New England sends raiders.

17th and 18th century Acadians can be clannish and don’t always encourage intermarriage between themselves and indigenous people.

The Acadian bourgeoisie stay close to the capital.

The Metis feel threatened and move east, away from Port Royal, to Pisiquit and Cobequit.

The Acadians (and Métis living in Acadian communities) take great pains to emphasize their position of Neutrality for the security of their families and lands throughout Acadie.

Eventually, the Mi’kmaq sign a peace treaty with the British in 1752.

Neutrality doesn’t work for any of the Acadians. The Deportation of 1755 clears out most of the population (including the mixed-blood Metis who were a part of Acadian communities and the bourgeoisie.)

After 1763, Acadians slowly return in small numbers and greatly depleted. It is hard to find good news in Acadian history for a hundred years after that.

The Confederation of Canada is proclaimed in 1867.

Nine years later, Reserves to control land and people are established by the Indian Act of 1876 and Residential Schools are established to assimilate “Indians” into society from the 1870’s to the 1990’s.

We heard that from 1800-1950 the Federal government sends only Anglophone teachers into aboriginal communities. Cultural impressions are propagated through language and literature. The message is clear: “You can’t trust the French and Indians”.

Here, it’s good to remember that Acadian history’s pivotal motivation has been the importance of family and independence. In the face of these examples, is it any wonder that, as one of the presenters stated, the Acadian position was: “Whatever we are, we’re not them”.

A stark example of this is, in the 1860’s the so-called Acadian Élite deny the obvious, propagating the Evangeline Myth to build a pure Acadian National Identity.

Yes, there is work to do but unlike other groups, the Mi’kmaq and Acadian people have a common foundation of peace and friendship to build upon, that’s a great place to start.

In 2017 the first Rassemblement de paix et d’amitié du people mi’kmaq et du people acadien was held from August 10-13. There were corporate sponsors including many government agencies, media and community partners. The historic site was buzzing with activity and positive energy.

Like I said, it’s complicated and hard to explain but like Rappie Pie, this first rencontre was worth the time and effort.

Many people expressed a desire for more of these gatherings for peace, friendship and reconciliation.

We can’t wait another 400 years!

Panorama tipi

 

Advertisements

Acadian Reflections on Canada 150 PLUS

Pins

As I drove home from Grand-Pré National Historic Site on July 1st, I caught a glimpse of a sign at one of our local farm markets. It seemed appropriate.

Canada 150 PLUS

Although festivities were destined to be soggy in Nova Scotia, and many other parts of the country according to CBC, everyone seemed determined to ignore the unwelcomed forecast. It was an important day after all. A National Holiday, a festival of red, white and maple leaves.

Canada 150 PLUS. I like the PLUS.

Au depart, j’ai été ambivalente sur le sujèt de les celebrations du 150ième anniversaire du Canada, principalement parce que l’histoire qui m’interesse comprends un temps longtemps avant 1867.

My historical interests go back a few hundred years before the milestone we are celebrating this year so this anniversary has seemed like a nice party, an important date to mark but a relatively modern event.

I know the Mi’kmaq have made the same point but in their case, history goes back 13,000 years before 1867.

In fact, many other groups of people had already made this land their new home well before independence was negotiated and the British North America Act was proclaimed in London.

You could say we make up the foundation of Canada, as diverse as the rocks, hand-forged iron nails and shards of pottery regularly uncovered by archaeologists.

The whole thing has caused me to reflect on my Acadian-Canadian history. In my years as an interpreter at Grand-Pré NHS I gradually came to realize how some aspects of the Acadian story could be seen as a foreshadowing of the Canada we have today.

Déraciné
DÈRACINÉ a work by Frankie Macaulay

Too often, we automatically think of the deportation of 1755 when Acadian history comes up but there was so much more to it.

Historians tell us that from the beginning, we were eager to establish relations with our new neighbours even though we didn’t share a common language or beliefs. As anyone who has travelled knows, having someone at your destination show you around is the best determination of success. Our new neighbours, the Mi’kmaq, showed us how to negotiate the weather, the terrain and taught us about the society they had built for themselves.

Our neighbours to the south, England’s North American Colonies, had huge populations and lots of influence by comparison. (Population #’s: Massachussetts 20,000 in 1654, Acadie 300 in 1650).

Living next to this “elephant” demanded all our skills of compromise and conciliation. When I watch the news today, I still see those strategies at play.

Contrary to popular belief, the villages we eventually established were not closed-in on themselves. Although there were political and policy changes that caused restrictions to immigration, a quick look at the founding family names will debunk the notion of an insular population.

Many Acadians can point to at least one indigenous ancestor in their family tree. Check the list of Acadian family names, some of them are still common in Ireland, The Netherlands, Spain and England. For proof that integration with the French colonists was happening you will still find numbers of Acadian descendants still bearing those names.

Adapting and Welcoming are in our DNA.

Early Acadians could not have been successful without strong community supports. Projects like dyking the highest tides in the world to reclaim fertile farmlands cannot be completed single-handedly. Today’s volunteer firefighters, and the communities that support them know all about community support.

Early visitors even marveled at the overall egalitarian nature of our communities, though if you lived in those communities you would know that certain family groups were more heavily represented in the upper echelons. What was noteworthy was the overall mutual support.

Today we have Universal Healthcare and a variety of social agencies to help citizens. We regularly hear of fundraising activities for worthy causes. The wealthy make sizeable contributions and the least wealthy parts of the country step up to help, every time.

Everyone knows that everything was not always rosy for the early Acadians, even though Longfellow tried to indicate it was an idyllic time. Things are not perfect now either. That is reality.

When early Acadians had disputes, their last resort was the courts-most notably in Port Royal where documents still survive to illustrate the point.

Today our courts are still the ones who have the last word.

Many people don’t know that Acadians elected Deputies from each region to represent them to the authorities. These men were chosen by their peers and served limited terms. This didn’t happen in other new colonies but it worked here. Sound familiar? It could be a blueprint for our present-day MLA’s and MP’s.

Prosperity depended on exploiting natural resources. In the Acadian example it was the transformation of salt marshes into highly productive farms using the adapted technological systems of dykes and aboiteau.

Our Canadian prosperity is still linked to our resources, hard work and ingenuity.

What eventually became our Acadian Nation was a trading entity. Ships from New England and those who plied the triangular trade routes from the Caribbean stopped to load cargo and deposit goods at our wharves and warehouses.

Today’s Canada still views trade as a priority.

When I spoke to visitors at the National Historic Site I often heard about their family’s personal journeys and the similarities to the Acadian deportation. I came to see how the Acadian story could be a model for them, especially new Canadians.

In spite of terrible events in our past, determination and hard work have paid off. In general, Acadians are doing well the Canada of 2017.

If we can share our story, we can be an inspiration.

Happy Canada 150 …. PLUS.

Cake

 

Marie Thérèsa of Austria

Our flight into Amsterdam provided breathtaking views of neat lime green dykeland farms reminding me of the Annapolis Valley farms of Nova Scotia. However, there were so many more of them and they had no North and South Mountains for protection against the wind.

It made me think of my neighbours who immigrated from the Netherlands and now farm our dykelands. Even with hectares under production, their New World farms must have seemed small to them at first, compared to those spreading in regular patterns below our aircraft.

The next afternoon, our ship left Amsterdam bound for Budapest. We had seen canals with sluce gates (aboiteau to me) and now acres of flat farmlands with the occasional herd of sheep or cattle provided familiar scenery.

Brochures and positive reviews from past River Cruisers promised an unforgettable experience. Our itinerary listed the Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. It seemed clear that we had seen the end of any relevant Acadian, or even Nova Scotia history.

Spectacular scenery revealed itself to us on a regular basis right from the start. IMG_2927There were mountainous gorges with towering castle ruins reminding us of the power of the nobles over the inhabitants of riverside villages lining the narrow waterways our ship navigated. Terraced vinyards wound like ribbons on the mountainsides and amazingly produced some of the world’s finest wines.

IMG_3023
Miltenberg

Our visits to picturesque villages with half-timbered buildings and opulent Bishop’s Residences spoke of the disparity between the working classes versus the rich and powerful.

Occasionally, there were hints of a powerful monarchy with references to their summer palaces and occasional residences but it wasn’t until we visited the 900-year-old Benedictine Abbey in Melk, Austria that I made the Acadian connection. It wasn’t the ornate gold leaf walls, fresco ceilings, library lined with ancient texts or the baroque architecture that did it though!

IMG_3306
Meeting Maria Thérèsa in Melk

It was the focus on Queen Maria Thérèsa of Austria, the object of the War of the Austrian Succession.

From then on, I learned more about this amazing woman who came to power at a time when women in charge were unknown, or at least undesired.

Like Victoria and Elizabeth, who Canadian schoolchildren and PBS watchers know, a young un-prepared woman who inherits an empire has a lot of enemies. In Maria-Thérèsa’s case it was the neighbouring leaders who forgot their promises to her father honoring the agreement they had made to accept her reign upon his death.

That’s what the War of the Austrian Succession was all about.

By now, you may be wondering what all of that has to do with Acadie. Last year I attended a workshop with a Parks Canada historian. The subject of the founding of Halifax was discussed and that’s when the historical context of the War of the Austrian Succession came up.

The dates are 1740-1748.

Now, that’s a timeline I’m familiar with…a time of relative peace in Acadie but with ominous signs on the horizon.

Although the War of the Austrian Succession mainly involved Europe, the old conflicts spilled over to North America. England was interested in supporting Maria-Thérèsa’s Austria as a counter balance against France.

France was looking west. The historian reminded us of the ill-fated Duc d’Anville expedition of June-October 1746 which had been launched by France to re-take Louisbourg, Fort Anne and even Boston.

11,000 men and 64 ships might have been successful had it not been for calm winds, lightning, scurvy and typhus.

The English got the message. The next year New England troops came up the coast and fought the Battle of Grand-Pré against French troops, native warriors and a small number of Acadian recruits…and lost!

All of this left the majority Acadian civilian population, living in Nova Scotia, nervous especially when the victorious French troops withdrew from Acadian territory. One report tells of Acadians being alarmed, disappointed and feeling abandoned to British retribution. History would prove this correct.

In 1749, seasoned soldier Edward Cornwallis founded Halifax; no more Mr. Nice Guys who sought compromises. His mission was to establish a new fortress city at the well-known Chebucto harbour. This would show King George’s domination over the territory.

Many historians have described the deterioration of relations between the British’s new hard-line administration and the Acadians…we all know how it ends…. deportations beginning in 1755.

IMG_3393
Schönbrunn Palace

So what happened to Maria Thérèsa? Though history books can get bogged down with battles, power plays and the role of smallpox in determining who survives. I have found that Maria Thérèsa grows into the job. She has many children with her beloved husband, reforms the Hapsburg Empire and has the incredible energy of dynamic leaders. Under her leadership: education, labour rules, the economy, finances and health policy are improved.

On the personal side, she liked to party, especially when she was younger. She took designated time for her children and oversaw their upbringing.

We learned that after a 1741 visit to Melk Abbey she famously said that she would regret if she had not been here. It was one of her favourite places, no wonder, we were glad to be there too.

In a way, we followed her…or she followed us… from Melk… as our journey continued. Her palaces and residences are landmarks all over Austria in particular.

IMG_3460Her era was the same as the Acadian ancestors I have been researching. Born in 1717 she was just 9 years younger than my seven times great grandmother Catherine Bro. Both women lived into their 60’s.

Maria-Thérèsa was the mother of 16 children, Catherine had 8 and while one is known as the Mother-in-Law of Europe, due to her ability to arrange advantageous marriages for her surviving children (smallpox again), the other has a more modest list of descendants.

On the other hand, one of Maria Thérèsa’s more famous daughters was Marie Antoinette. You know her, wife of King Louis sixteenth of France who met with an unfortunate end.

In all my historical research, I have not found any of my ancestors who died from the guillotine so while being part of the social class who lived in small villages in the shadow of a fortress had many challenges there were some advantages!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La jolie Rochelle

pink sunsetEn revenant de la jolie Rochelle”…the words of a song we had learned in school floated in the pale blue evening sky and drifted towards cotton-candy clouds.

The 8th of June, 2016 had been another full day at La Rochelle. First thing in the morning we visited Les Archives Départementales de La Rochelle where we were shown historical documents from Acadian times.

Previously, on the drive from La Chaussée we had discussed the dueling historical perspectives on Charles de Saint-Étienne de la Tour and Charles de Menou d’Aulnay. We  remarked that the French prefer d’Aulany’s heroics, especially in his home territory around La Chaussée.

mansion-w-side-buildings
D’Aulnay’s mansion

In Par en Bas, where I’m from and where most of us have a bit of La Tour blood in our veins, we lean towards the La Tour side of the story. Most people who have read anything on Acadian history know about their feud.

How amazing it was to see that the Archives had the original concessions given to Charles de la Tour when he was lieutenant général pour le roi en la côte de l’Acadie that is Lieutenant General for the King on the coast of Acadie. In the concession he recieved a) The fort and habitations on rivière Saint-Jean and b) Fort Saint-Louis in Cap de Sable. Date: 21 mars 1635, amirauté de La Rochelle. Impressive eh?

IMG_1146
Monument étrange à Fort St Louis. Photo pris en 2015

Léona CormierMaster Ship Carpenter, Robert Cormier’s three-year contract for work at Fort Saint Pierre in Cape Breton told us he also took his wife and two children along. It seems they never came back to France. His son Thomas eventually married Marie-Madeleine Girouard, they had Anne and she married Michel Haché around 1690. They are the ancestors of all the Cormier in North America. What a thrill it was for Léona to touch this part of her history!

The main event of our visit was the parish register for Beaubassin’s Paroisse Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption for the years 1712-1748. This old tattered ledger was saved by Acadians fleeing the deportations starting in 1755, first to St Pierre & Miquelon then La Rochelle in 1778. What a thrill to leaf through the document filled with Acadian family names: Bourg, Doucet, Daigle, Arsenaud, Chiasson, Godet, Richard.

Pottier

Personally, I was floored to find Jean Pottier’s name. My family tree is full of Pottier’s so it was especially interesting to see that he had signed his name, not the usual X. I had to laugh when I saw he had also made a sign (more like a squiggle) next to his name. It looked like a crown. In my family, it was an accepted truth that the Pottiers (no matter how they spell their names today) are smart and industrious. Chips off the old block? Must be! A few days earlier, I had noted that French locals used to pronounce Grandmère Rosalie’s maiden name “Po-ché” like us in Par en Bas!

The magnificent waterfront with it’s imposing Grosse Horloge Gate and moored sailboats, sitting on the mud of low tide, were our surroundings for lunch at an outdoor restaurant. Then it was a tour of La Rochelle, starting with a Musketeer who just appeared from around the time of he Siege of La Rochelle in 1627 to give us a historical account!

Supper was served by male waiters dressed in housedresses, the restaurant’s name Bistrot de Mémé, said it all.

After an entertaining and tasty supper a few of us set out in search of the beach. We had heard it was there but not found it yet and time was running out. Usually, the iconic harbour with it’s landmark towers the of Saint-Nicolas and la Chaîne had been as far as we had gone.

IMG_1879

Anne, Annette, Gloria, Paula and I formed an informal search party. We followed cobblestone streets, narrow alleys and small bridges over rushing waters. When we reached it, the small beach gave a whole different feeling to the city. Hundreds of masts from neatly anchored sailboats bobbed in the marina on the horizon.

It really came home to us then. This water, this sea, this seaport was where our ancestors had sailed away from the lives they had known, headed for the New World-Acadie and uncertain futures. Now, almost ten generations later, we were back.

Susan at beach 2

We took turns walking in the rippling surf; a kind of benediction, a spiritual connection with our past, a tangible sign.

From the beach we could see where parts of the walls still existed for this formerly walled city.

One by one, we climbed on the stone step built along the wall. We guessed it would take us to the Tour de la Lanterne. How appropriate that it would be a lighthouse leading Acadians home. The setting sun warmed its cream coloured stone walls and ornate spires in the distance.tower and mur

“En revenant de la jolie Rochelle” I don’t know who started singing it but soon we had all joined in. It was the perfect song for this night.

“J’ai rencontré trois jolies demoiselles.” We sang softly but clearly.

“C’est l’aviron qui nous mène, qui nous mène.” Ancient stone houses with terra cotta pots beside doors and flower-boxes filled with red geraniums witnessed our return.

“J’ai point choisi mais j’ai pris la plus belle.” Our footsteps crunched on the ancient stones and our fingers danced on the top of the gritty weathered stone wall.

“C’est l’aviron qui nous mène, c’est l’aviron qui nous mène en haut.”

Village Bro à Martock

watercolour
Watercolour memories

Two hundred sixty one years ago, they disappeared from this landscape but sixty-two years before that, they were just beginning.

Antoine Breau was twenty-six when the census-taker of 1693 enumerated the inhabitants of the Pisiquid district. He was settled on the opposite side of the Pisiquid River from his in-laws but not so far that his wife, 22-year-old Marguerite Babin could not keep in touch with her family. There was no doubt that regular visits would take place, especially when the Babin family donated some of their land for the church of Ste Famille de Pisiquid.

In 1754, when the Bro and Babin families paid their taxes with the other inhabitants of Pisiquid, their names were listed together: a tangible demonstration of family bonds.

On a clear day, Antoine and Marguerite could look across the Pisiquid River Valley, see the steeple of their parish church, and hear its bell tolling the Angelus. When the tide was low, the growing family crossed the Pisiquid on the naturally occurring gypsum land bridge that revealed itself at the narrow part of the muddy river bottom.

By 1755, the couple had 11 children. Some of them, like Antoine’s namesake married local girls, like Marguerite Dugas, and stayed close to their parents but others settled closer to the families of their in-laws.

So what was their Acadian village like? So much has been forgotten. Ancient maps provide clues but place names have changed, not to mention the addition of new roads and buildings.

On November 9th, 2016 our group was welcomed to walk the land, explore the possibilities and imagine the lost history of this landscape. Our guides were Mike Oulton and Richard Armstrong.

old-apple-variety-2We began at an ancient apple tree producing an unknown variety of apple. We were told that samples of the apples were taken to Dalhousie University to determine the variety. Maybe it would be possible to find out if it really was from Acadian times as the farmer suspected when he spared it from the axe. It reminded us of a Russet with its rough skin and round shape but was this greenish apple really the descendant of our ancestor’s apples? By the look of the gnarled apple tree, it seemed possible.

Mike was anxious for us to see the cellars he had found and preserved from the plow, though not from the bushes, on his property.

From the grassy hillside, the Pisiquid river valley spread out before us. Ste Famille Cemetery’s location was identified on the distant hills. Marshland fields, green and golden yellow, had given up their bounty of hay for the cattle and sheep dotting the countryside.

We couldn’t see the river from this vantage point, but it was interesting to get a perspective of the Falmouth-Martock area from this height. Usually, we follow the road at sea level where the marshlands still produce cattle feed.

We soon reached the stone groupings suspected to be cellars. One was smaller than the other but of typical Acadian house dimensions (16×16 or thereabouts). Whoever lived there had fresh spring water, rolling hills for grazing animals and a great view of their marshland farm below.

The next cellar was more controversial. Mike had previously been told by a visiting historian that the dimensions indicated it was too big to be a house. 30 feet by 40 feet was much larger than the traditionally accepted size of an Acadian house. He had been told that this was more likely a church.

“Is it a house or a church?” That was the question we debated.

Some of us liked the idea that this could have been the family home of Antoine Bro. Old maps had told us this was the Village Bro. His family lived here for 60 years, why couldn’t their house be on the top scale of the average size home?

Antoine had a large family (including some nephews from Grand-Pré) who joined him in Pisiquid.

We made the argument that you would need space for all those people.

The placement of the cellar reinforced our theory. It was not in plain view like most churches.

Instead it was partially sheltered from the north wind by a gently sloping hill between it and the marshland. Trickling past the cellar was a fresh water stream that never goes dry. Adjacent to the cellar stood an apple orchard, which is obviously a modern planting, but if apples can grow there now, why couldn’t they grow there before 1755? We were told that the landscape had not been significantly modified since the Acadians were deported.

We asked ourselves, “Other than the dimensions, what makes this the possible cellar of a church?” We knew that no exact accounts of a church existing on this side of the Pisiquid River have survived so the idea of a church on this site seemed unlikely… except for one possibility.

When the church of l’Assomption, the second church in the Pisiquid area, was forcibly re-located to build Fort Edward, could the new church actually have been built in Martock?

“If it is a church site, shouldn’t it be in plain view?” In the Maritimes a church steeple is often a navigation point, why would it be hidden by a hill?

The “pro-house” argument seemed to have won the argument until we remembered that by the time the church of L’Assomption was re-located, the Acadians may have deliberately chosen a low-key location to stay out of trouble and out of sight of Fort Edward.

In the end, we decided this would be a good project for archaeologists and our interested landowner. A great combination! We will be following any developments closely.

close-up-horseIt was time for the second part of our visit. Curious horses followed us out of their pasture as we headed off to a woodland landscape.

The road was not much more than a trail now. Had it once been a village? There were holes that may have been small cellars but no cellar stones. Access to a variety of trees and game was evident but it was hard to imagine why any Acadians would live so far from the marshlands.

Could it have been a hiding place?

A few years ago, our group Les Amis de Grand-Pré took a walking tour to the place called French Fort in local folklore. It is located at the back of present-day New Minas.

This landscape was similar, so when Richard told us about the lookout that the Acadians had on the rocky ridge of Martock, he got our attention. Then he showed us a written account he had discovered which told of soldiers finding an encampment of Acadians, post deportation.

old-french-roadUsually, there is no mention of Acadians escaping the deportation in Windsor but what if? What if they were hiding out in the woods at the base of the mountain and keeping a lookout on the Pisiquid & the Ste Croix rivers from the rocky ledge, like the Minas Acadians were doing from the French Fort?

As our feet crunched on the spongy woods-road sparkling with frosty grass and fallen leaves, Richard pointed out the direction of an Acadian mill site at the head of Bro Brook located at the foot of rocky Martock.

That exploration would have to wait for another day. Our stomachs were grumbling and our feet were wet as we said good-by to Richard with armloads of cider, our thank-you for an unforgettable morning adventure.frosted-leaves

As for Antoine’s family, we are told that 261 years ago they disappeared from this landscape. Historians say that most of them were shipped out to Maryland, Virginia or Philadelphia, ending up in places like France or Louisiana but was that everybody?

Had they really all disappeared from the area or were some of them surveying the scene from their Martock lookout and deciding what to do next?

 

Bény-sur-Mer

Up to that day, our France des Acadiens trip had been educational, lighthearted, happy, and fun but when we reached the US and Canadian War Cemeteries, everyone became somber and quiet.

We dropped our Cajun cousins off at the US Military Cemetery first.

american-monument
Memories of D-Day

It seemed to be in the centre of town: traffic whizzing past an attention grabbing monument in front of the museum. There were a variety of reactions to it: smiles, photos, but raised eyebrows too.

As our busload of Acadians approached the Canadian Military Cemetery at Bény-sur-mer, we were surrounded by fields in cultivation. It was quiet, birdsong and gentil breezes stirred the air. We were the only visitors.

flags-at-beny-sur-mer
Canadian Cemetery flags

Our tour guides had thought of everything; small Acadian flags to place at tombstones, a plan for finding specific soldiers’ resting places, time to look over documents and spend quiet time with our fallen Canadians. Some members of our group talked with the lone maintenance man in hushed tones.

wall-with-flags
Bény-sur-mer entrance

Others had a mission. I found my friend, Carolyn’s grandfather’s tombstone and someone else paid tribute to a fallen uncle from the North Shore Regiment.  Clara and Marcelle from Clare found the name of a neighbour’s son. We all remarked at the Acadian surnames on the carved tombstones.

Dans ce cimetière reposent des soldats canadiens tués lors des premières semaines de la bataille de Normandie en juin et début juillet 1944. En marchant le long des rangées de pierre tombales blanche on réfléchi …des jeunes hommes, loin de leur pays et familles, dans un pays si beau et tranquille aujourd’hui… mais pas en été 1944.

L’enfer c’est souvenir. Hell is Remembering

morning-light-plage-et-drapeaux
St Aubin sur mer

Most of us know about the world wars but if you’re like me, living in Canada, you know about it in abstract ways unless your family was directly impacted. Books, movies, poems and personal stories from veterans have informed me, but until I was actually where it happened, it remained a historical event for me.

Our France des Acadiens tour took us to a beautiful seaside town called St Aubin sur mer where we were warmly received by residents who had survived the war and many who still had vivid memories of it. We were told that 90% of the houses along the beach were destroyed by bombardment. It was hard to believe when you looked at the buildings which have been reconstructed in the old style.

St Aubin sur mer has a particular connection with Acadians…particularly New Brunswick Acadians because it was the North Shore Regiment who liberated them from the Germans on June 6, 1944.

In preparation for our visit, we saw a movie to compliment the information we had already received prior to leaving Canada. I was interested to see who the 20 something North Shore Regiment men were and what had brought them here.

It was a familiar story in some ways. To say that their lives had been hard before the war would be one way to cover the facts. Education was minimal. Only hard physical work was available, if at all. Young Acadian men, hungry and wearing homespun clothes couldn’t help but admire the soldiers in their smart uniforms. So they volunteered even though they could not speak English and orders were only given in English.

Training took place in NB, then they were off to England to wait and train. Finally on June 6th, they were deployed. One of the men in the film spoke of the complete silence that reigned in the debarkation ship, each man thinking of their families and wondering if he would survive the day. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The title of this post is a quote from one of the veterans.

Over the years, I have heard some Acadians and Cajuns speak of the advantages they had during the Second World War because they could speak English and French. Here’s the St Aubin version. When the North Shore Regiment men reached the town of St Aubin sur mer, they were able to communicate with the terrified residents who could not speak English to the liberating forces. What an unexpected gift!

The bonds have held. Our group of Acadians and Cajuns were treated like visiting stars by residents who entertained us with traditional songs and were genuinely happy to see us, talk to us and tell us their stories.

The war is not abstract any more. breche-explained