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.
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.