Acadia: Lifestyles in the days of our ancestors
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Exposition

Originating in 17th century France, Acadians nowadays reside in Canada’s Maritime provinces and account for 30% of the population of New Brunswick. The first French-speaking people to settle in the country, we know that their history, which began at St.Croix Island in 1604, has been marked chiefly by the Deportation (1755 to 1763) and, of course, by their customs. These particular customs of the Acadian way of life enabled them to preserve important characteristics of the cultures of their ancestors throughout the centuries, inhabitants of such places as Poitou and Brittany, etc.

After being driven from their ancestral lands in present-day Nova Scotia and southern New Brunswick, Acadians, both those who escaped the expulsion and those who came back later from their exile, set out to find a new place to stay after the Royal Proclamation of 1764. It was on the shore of the Bay of Chaleur that many of them established their new homes. The settling of this new colony proved to be a harsh time for those people who had to begin anew, but even though the Acadia of old had disappeared in the fall of 1755, it would soon rise again - from the sea.

Near Caraquet, in north-eastern New Brunswick, isolated from our modern lifestyle, there exists a most authentic historic site: the Village Historique Acadien. In a setting created from original buildings, and a great concern for historical authenticity, the interpreters of this living museum display in detail the daily life of the inhabitants of the new Acadia that came to be between the late 18th and the early 20th centuries. Following in the footsteps of the living museum, this virtual museum seeks to augment our collective memory in order to preserve the knowledge of that by-gone era. Four themes will be discussed: daily life; the home; the scenery; and the Acadian village. From the day-to-day routine to the leaders of the community, the numerous aspects of the traditional lifestyle of this frontier-less people are brought back to life through judicial use of images and (multimedia) clips.

Some important dates for New Brunswick Acadians

1604: Establishment of a settlement on St.Croix Island (Maine-New Brunswick border). Marks the founding of Acadia by Pierre du Gua, sieur de Monts, and Samuel de Champlain.

1605: Founding of Port-Royal, the first permanent settlement in Acadia.

1632: Isaac de Razilly undertakes the colonization of Acadia with a contingent of 70 settlers.

1713: The Treaty of Utrecht confirms the definitive defeat of Acadia by England after several wars and its conquest in 1710 over France.

1755: Beginning of Deportation and exile of Acadians, mainly to the British American colonies. Continues until 1763.

1763: France loses Canada for good with the Paris Treaty. Acadia will therefore remain forever British.

1784: Following the final victory of the American colonies over England, the province of New Brunswick is created by British Loyalists on the territory which has been, since 1764, the New Acadia of Acadians returned from exile.

1848: After a 64-year wait, the first Acadian member is elected to the province of New Brunswick Legislative Assembly. His name is Armand Landry.

1864: Founding of St-Joseph College in Memramcook, a forerunner of the Université de Moncton.

1867: Publication of the Moniteur Acadien, the first Acadian newspaper.

1871: Beginning of a school crisis in New Brunswick concerning French and religious teaching in Acadian schools, culminating with the death of Louis Mailloux and a young Scottish militiaman during a skirmish in Caraquet in 1875.

1881: First National Convention of Acadians in Memramcook (New Brunswick). August 15, Assumption Day, is chosen as the Acadian National Holiday.

1884: Second National Convention. This time, a flag and a national anthem are chosen. These two symbols, the Ave Maris Stella and the French Tricolor flag adorned with a yellow star in Papal colors and representing the Virgin Mary, emphasize the attachment of Acadians to their religion.

1955: Multiple activities mark the bicentennial of the Deportation.

1960: Louis J. Robichaud becomes the first Acadian to be elected Premier of the province of New Brunswick.

1963: Establishment of the University of Moncton, which is the largest French-Canadian university outside of Quebec.

1969: New Brunswick becomes the only officially bilingual Canadian province.

1977: First season of operation of the Village Historique Acadien.

The Origin of Acadia

It is known that the search for a seaway through to Asia led to the exploration of the ‘new continent’ discovered by Columbus in 1492. It was the vast amount of riches gathered by the Portuguese and the Spanish in South America which prompted France and England to explore the more northerly territories. No precious metals were found, but the abundance of codfish was noted, codfish being an important staple in the diet of Europeans. As early as the late 16th century, fishermen working the waters of the North Atlantic also begin to take back furs obtained from the native populations. It was the struggle among established powers for control of these two resources which guided the evolution of the colonization of North America.

The origin of the term ‘Acadia’ may be traced to the voyages of Giovanni da Verrazzano, who explored, on behalf of the King of France, a sizeable part of the Atlantic coast from the Saint Lawrence River to the Florida Peninsula, between 1524 and 1528. During his voyage, he gave the name of ‘Arcadia’ to the territory lying between the coasts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, because it reminded him of that fabled land of ancient Greece. It seems that the frequency of the word ‘Cadie’ (or ‘Quoddy’) in the vocabulary of the native Mi’Kmaq tribes of the Maritime provinces, a word which translates as ‘fertile ground’, subsequently brought about a displacement of the name. In the 17th century, most maps or documents referring to this area use one or the other of its variants (Larcadie, La Cadie, or l’Accady).

However, it was only in the early 17th century that the settlement of Acadia was undertaken. In 1603, Pierre Du Gua, sieur de Monts, obtained the appointment of Lieutenant Governor of the French territories in the New World from King Henri IV. In June 1604, under the recommendation of Samuel de Champlain, who accompanied him as a geographer, he decided to establish his colony on St.Croix Island, south of the territories previously explored by Jacques Cartier in the 16th century. However, the harshness of the winter revealed the ill-advised nature of this choice and in 1605, De Monts moved his settlers to Port Royal. It was from this site that Acadie flourished.

The Deportation of the Acadians (1755 - 1763)

From 1604 to 1710, when it became English for good, Acadia changed hands about ten times, passing back and forth from France to England, becoming ‘Acadie’ or ‘Nova Scotia’ according to wars and treaties. When the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713, Acadians, in theory, were left with the choice of either becoming British subjects or leaving. In reality, having no means to move out, they were forced to stay. In fact, neither England nor France wanted them to leave, the first seeing them as a basis for an eventual settlement, the second, as the foundation for a reconquest.

Caught in a vise between these two great powers, and in the shadow of the Louisbourg fortress built by the French as early as 1720, Acadians kept a position of neutrality and refused to take an oath of allegiance which would force them to fight in times of war. Because of the weakness of their garrison, British authorities had no choice but to tolerate this behaviour. British officers who succeeded each other at the head of Nova Scotia had to therefore be content with a conditional oath which acknowledged, at least in the minds of Acadians, their neutrality.

The founding of Halifax in 1749, beginning the true British colonization of Nova Scotia, marks a turning point in this relationship. The new British authorities no longer showed the same patience as before. In a time when the resumption of war appeared imminent in Europe, the British deemed it dangerous to tolerate a French Catholic population whose allegiance was uncertain and no doubt, to British eyes, was only waiting for the first opportunity to rebel. Acadians were thus forced to take an unconditional oath. Disbelieving the danger awaiting them, they nonetheless remained true to their position. The process leading to the Deportation was thus set in motion and in July 1755, the members of the Halifax Council ratified the order of expulsion. It was the beginning of a manhunt which lasted more than eight years.

The number of Acadians in the present Maritime Provinces area in 1755 is estimated to have been between 12,000 and 20,000. Of that number, a few thousand managed to flee towards Quebec or to hide in the forest. All in all, from 1755 to 1763, some 7,000 Acadians were yanked from their ancestral lands taken mainly to the New England colonies. In 1763, the Treaty of Paris put an end to the Seven Years War, and the Royal Proclamation of 1764 gave the Acadians hope that they might return to their former country.

The Daily Life of Acadians

How may we describe the life of the Acadians between the late 18th and early 20th century? As being quite different from ours, no doubt, yet probably somewhat similar. Modern ways may have made our day-to-day tasks much simpler, but the fact remains that the Acadians had the same daily concerns we do - work, the home and food; in short, supporting the family.

In a traditional community, the family provided the frame within which individuals moved about. In fact, most of the daily tasks were dedicated to survival, or, to put it another way, devoted to securing one’s ‘daily bread’.

According to their age and sex, the daily tasks of members of the family varied. For example, the work of each parent was quite different, and the chores would change according to the time of year. In addition, chores were sometimes interrupted by holidays, which created a pause in the day-to-day routine or signaled the beginning of new chores. Note that the holidays were the times when cultural life was most openly expressed, through the customs and traditions which highlighted or surrounded those special occasions.

It is these aspects of the daily life of Acadians of yore (family life, daily and yearly occupations, culture and traditions) that may be found here.

The Acadian Family

In today’s world, the family may take on various forms, but for North American societies as a whole between the late 18th and the early 20th century, it was generally comprised of a father, a mother, and several children. For Acadians, who identified themselves mostly through a paternal lineage – one would say, for example, ‘Pierre, father of Joseph, father of Pierrot’ - family in its broader sense of ‘kin’ was of great importance. Family was the pillar of the community, of its social and economic life, and of its demographic growth. Marriage was the sole context within which children were allowed to be born. This was as important for the unions facilitating existence as for continuation of the family name.

The importance of family may also be seen in the establishment of Acadian villages in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most, in fact, find their origin in a handful of pioneer families. Therefore, it is not uncommon that a community bearing a family name contains concentrations of that family in that area. We could say, for example, that the Landrys are more numerous in the vicinity of Caraquet, and the LeBlancs around Shediac. The extent of this phenomenon is such that the first parish priests had a difficult time applying religious restrictions regarding marriage and inbreeding. This was one of the motivations for keeping parish registers in the conscientious manner that they did back then.

There remains the fact that beyond the role of family relations, the survival of the Acadian home relied essentially on the efforts of it members, that is, the work of the father, the mother and the children. From his or her most tender years to ripe old age, each and every family member had to contribute to the many daily tasks that were necessary to provide food for the family and for maintaining its establishment.

Daily Life

Continued survival of the Acadian home required constant effort. This is not to say that their days were highly stressful; on the contrary, the Acadians were probably the type of people who would follow the advice of Matthew (ch. 6, v. 34), “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” In fact, while certain chores were annual or seasonal, the majority recurred day after day.

The mother, for example, minded the fire, which was lit as soon as she rose from bed. She also supplied the regular drinking water, as well as carrying out of her household chores (cooking, cleaning, etc.). As for the father, before leaving for his fields, for the woods or for the sea, he would clean the stable or the barn and feed the animals. He would also take care of emergency repairs, but left most for the cold season, between the end of the harvest and the first spring ploughing.

In his absence, his chores were, of course, taken on by his wife. She was also the one who, with the help of her young sons and daughters, was responsible for milking the cows every morning and evening, for gathering eggs from the hens and for looking after the vegetable garden. Often left alone at home to tend to the farm, the mother’s role was therefore crucial to the survival of the Acadian family.

Which is not to say that the father did not do his part. The work on the land, such as fixing fences and clearing new spaces, and the cutting down and carting of wood for heating, among other chores, were physically demanding. Add to these chores the seasonal work of ploughing, harvesting, slaughtering, etc, and the time given to other preoccupations, like preparing the fishing gear, and one realizes that his days were not especially restful either.

1.3 The Yearly Cycles

Though the routine of an Acadian home remained similar from one day to the next, the year was nonetheless punctuated with duties and special occasions requiring the family as a whole, sometimes the entire community. Even if the notion of civic holiday did not exist for the Acadians of yesteryear, their beliefs, and therefore the church, prescribed some forty religious ‘idle’ holidays. Religious and agricultural calendars being tightly linked, these rest periods were more numerous during the winter.

In this traditional society, where existence essentially depended upon the seasonal activities of summer, the active year started with snowmelt in the spring and ended, so to speak, in late fall. First came the preparation of seed and land for cultivation, followed by the harvesting and slaughtering of animals. In fact, it might be said that those chores, along with the collection and preserving of food, marked the coming of the cold season. For example, a good part of the crop of berries (strawberries, raspberries, currant, blueberries, choke-cherries, etc.) of the summer was well appreciated in winter in the form of jams and preserves.

This does not mean that Acadians were idle throughout the winter. They had to see to the chores that were overlooked during the summer. Animals, of course, still had to be tended. Still, when fall came, the family spent more time indoors. At this time, the mother could then give special care, as she did in the spring, to the cleanliness of the home with a thorough, top-to-bottom housecleaning. This left her with ‘leisure time’ in the winter, when she would create and mend clothes and homespun pieces with the wool and flax from the hot season.

1.3.1 Common Chores

In Acadia past, many large-scale agricultural and domestic tasks could not be undertaken by one family alone. On such occasions, neighbors were called upon for what was known as a ‘bee’. The processing of textiles, in particular, often lent itself to this type of activity. Many people would get together and work at a task such as carding or fulling wool, which would make a long job much shorter and more enjoyable.

A very popular working bee in Acadia, the carding bee was part of the processing of wool: “When the warm days of summer came along, everyone sheared the sheep. Then, outdoors, in large cauldrons, the wool was boiled, to cleanse it. After drying in the sun, it was teased so that it would be easier to card. It was then ready for the carding bee. Neighborhood women and other friends were invited with their carding combs and their apron. With ten or twelve carders, the wool was soon done. After a few hours of work, where chit-chat also had its place, the wool piled up in front of each carder in soft rolls, ready to be spun.” (Chiasson, Père Anselme. Chéticamp, Histoire et traditions acadiennes, Éditions des Aboiteaux, Moncton, 1972; free translation.)

A bee is characterized by its festive atmosphere and by mutual help between neighbors. Such was the case with the fabric fulling bee, called a ‘foulerie’. During the long evenings of the cold season, the pieces of woven wool fabric were fulled (pressed together) to make them thicker, so as to allow the making of warm and durable clothes that would not shrink in the wash. Custom decreed that the whole neighborhood be called upon for this chore. A good fulling bee sometimes lasted several hours and required eight ‘fullers’. To break the monotony of the task and to co-ordinate their movements, the men would sing lively songs. Then, to thank the men for their tiring work, the women would prepare a good meal which was eaten with much gusto, before closing the evening with a ‘frolic’.

1.4 The Stages of Life

It is mostly in relation with the passage from one state to the next, from childhood to adulthood for example, that the stages in the life of our ancestors may be distinguished. Thus, several customs generally accompanied them to highlight their importance. This is particularly true with marriage, which played a prominent role for Acadians and the survival of their community. In traditional Acadia, for example, it alone allowed marital life and procreation. Indeed, this was considered it primary function. Very little time went by, therefore, until the young bride became pregnant and gave birth to the first of many children to come.

Considering that it would have been difficult to get by in ancient Acadia by one’s means alone, marriage was also crucial to the survival of the individual. Thus, as soon as adolescence, (inaugurated by the Solemn Communion), that is about 14 for girls and 16 for boys, marriage was sought. All the more so since in the mentality of the time, marriage established the passage into adulthood. If the matter was not quite so pressing for the Acadian man who first had to settle down, the Acadian woman, for her part, worried about her fate at an early time. She especially did not wish to “cap Saint Catherine” [« coiffer sainte Catherine »], reach her 25th birthday as a bachelor; she would then have to resign herself to the role of a spinster aunt, or discover a religious calling!

If a wedding marked first and foremost the creation of a new family, it also established, in the Acadian view, an alliance between two family groups. It was therefore consequently surrounded by an important ritual. One thinks especially of the “grande demande”, or official marriage proposal, when the suitor expressed his wish to the parents of the young girl and strives to demonstrate that he will be well capable of taking good care of her as his wife.

1.4.1 The Marriage Proposal

Very often in the Acadia of old, marriage was the result more of a certain respect than of true love. On both sides, a favorable match was sought, someone likely to help establish a home. For their part, parents also wished to set up links with a family able to bring support and help in case of need. In such circumstances, parental approval of the marriage was therefore crucial. Therefore, an official proposal was extremely important, allowing the young man a chance to speak upon his assets, and the opinion of the girl’s parents to be clearly expressed.

In order to meet regularly, both of the young folk had to respect certain traditions. They were acquainted in public, in plain sight of everyone, and probably met on a few occasions, at a bee or on the church steps, for instance. After some time, the young man would pay an occasional visit to the home of the young girl. Then, after approximately six months, he would pop the question to her, although this was not necessarily to get her consent, for she likely would have let her lack of interest be known sooner, if such was the case. What he really wanted to know was how her parents saw their relationship: “Do you think your parents would agree if?...” If the answer was positive, he would then proceed with the official request.

In fact, even if the result was practically a foregone conclusion – the girl’s parents would doubtless have long before expressed their disagreement – the marriage proposal nonetheless remained a mandatory ritual. From one area to another it could vary, but its high points remained the same. Think, for instance, about the gifts offered by the young man to ensure the good graces of the girl’s parents, and the moment when he rises to solemnly ask for her hand. This formality over, the marriage banner was published, announcing the wedding to be held in about three weeks.

The Acadian Diet

The daily diet of Acadians depended, for a good part, upon their occupation and their environment. Products from the farm or from fishing and hunting constituted the major part of their food supply. Their recipes were generally simple and typically quite salty, due to food conservation methods, which relied heavily on the use of salt. This was true for meat as well as fish.

In fact, for many Acadian families, the diet was more varied in the winter. Reserves set aside during the warm season were then used. Those were the fruits from the foodstuffs produced at the time: from every product of the harvesting, fishing, hunting or gathering, only a portion was consumed fresh, the rest being processed and stored for the cold season. For instance, at the fall slaughtering of animals, only part of the pork (sometimes beef) meat was served fresh, the rest being salted and saved for the winter months.

Their lands yielding in many cases a mediocre crop, salted herring and potatoes (boiled, roasted or grated) were often featured on the menu. To these staples, of course, several vegetables from the garden were added (onion, peas, beans, corn, etc.),and generally served boiled.

From their fields, Acadians harvested oats, buckwheat (especially popular in Madawaska) and barley, which often replaced wheat in the preparation of flour, used in the making of bread, pancakes and biscuits. Bread, a food essential to existence, was fashioned from a hops-based yeast and baked in the embers of the fireplace, in a double-decker stove or a common clay oven. Of course, bread was particularly favoured with molasses and tea, procured from storekeepers in exchange for meat, butter or fresh eggs from the farm.


A Few Examples of Acadian Recipes*

*Source: Cormier-Boudreau, Marielle and Melvin Gallant. A Taste of Acadie. Les Éditions de la Francophonie, Moncton and Saint-Nicolas : 2002.


Corn Soup

3 cups diced potatoes
3 cups water
1 large onion
2 tbsp butter
2 cups milk
1 cup corn kernels
salt and pepper
1 tbsp butter

Cook potatoes in salted water. If using fresh corn, remove the kernels from the cob and cook them with the potatoes.

Meanwhile, lightly fry the onion in the butter until golden. Add the milk. Heat.

Add potatoes, corn and cooking water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand a few minutes.

Before serving, add a tablespoon of butter.

Clam Fricot

½ bucket of clams in their shell
2 chopped onion
2 tbsp butter
8 cups water
4 cups diced potatoes
salt and pepper
butter

In a covered pot, slowly cook the clams (without adding water) until their shells open.

Meanwhile, fry the onions in the butter until transparent.

Add the water, the clam juice (strained through cheesecloth to eliminate sand), potatoes, salt and pepper, and cook for 20 minutes.

Shell the clams. Remove the membrane covering the snout. Add the cleaned clams to the broth.

Let stand for 5 minutes and add a chunk of butter just before serving.

Variations: Half the water may be replaced by milk. In this case, the milk is added at the end only, once the cooking is done. Heat, add a chunk of butter, and serve.

Surf clam (quahaug) fricot: Proceed in the same way as for the clam fricot, except that the clams are opened raw, with a knife, taking care to reserve the juice. Add to the broth only when it is completely cooked.


Boiled ‘dried codfish

2 lbs dried codfish
½ lb fresh or salt pork

Soak the codfish overnight to remove the salt (15 to 18 hours)

Set the codfish in a pot with cold water. As soon as the water boils, drain the cod and start over with fresh water. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

Put the pork in a frying pan with a little water. Boil for 2 or 3 minutes and throw the water away. (If using fresh pork, omit this step.) Fry the pork until crisp.

When the codfish is done, strain it and serve with boiled potatoes, the melted fat and the pork crisps.

The codfish may also be served with lots of chopped onions fried in lard, or with an onion gravy.

Variation: In the Magdalen Islands, salted cod or halibut is used to prepare what is known as «Accommodage de poisson sale». Puree the potatoes and shred the cooked codfish into small flakes. Blend in an onion gravy and put in an oven–safe dish. Cover with bits of pork fat and cook at 375oF for 15 minutes.

Meat Pie

2 lbs pork
2 lbs other meat (hare, beef, chicken)
1 large chopped onion
salt and pepper
water
spices to taste: savory, powdered cloves
2 tbsp chopped onion
1 tbsp flour
pie crust

Cut the pork and beef in ½ inch cubes and the rest of the meat into large chunks.

Put into a pot with the onion, salt and pepper and enough water to cover the ingredients. Cook slowly for about 1½ hour. Add water as necessary.

About ½ hour before done, add spices and the 2 tablespoons of onions.

Set aside to cool. Remove bones from the meat, chop into small pieces and put back into the cooking juice.

Thicken the juice with the flour mixed with water and boil for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.

Let cool before spooning into the crust.

Yield: 3 or 4 pies.

Variation: In some areas of North-Eastern New Brunswick, cubed potatoes are added to the meat.

Beans and Pork

2 cups beans
cold water
1 cup fresh or salt pork, sliced
salt and pepper

If using salt pork, soak overnight in cold water to remove the salt.

Wash beans and leave them to soak overnight. Drain.

Use a cast-iron or preferably an earthenware pot. Line the bottom with a layer of pork. Add a layer of beans, and continue alternating with pork. Add salt and pepper and cover with cold water. (If using salt pork which has not been soaked, use very little or no salt.)

Simmer very slowly for at least 4 hours. Beans may be cooked on the stove top, or preferably in the oven.

Cold water must be added from time to time to keep it on a level with the beans.

Before eating, molasses or sugar are often added to the beans. Serve with fresh bread, hot biscuits or «ployes».

Variation: Hominy-style corn may be prepared with pork in the same way as beans. However, corn does not need to be soaked before using.


Sugar rolls

Dough

3 cups flour
6 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
½ cup cooking lard
1 cup milk (approximately)

Garnish

butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup water

Dough: Sift and mix dry ingredients. Mix in lard and gradually add milk to make a rather soft dough.

Roll into a fairly thin sheet, but make it thicker than a pie crust. Spread with soft butter, cover with ¼ inch of brown sugar, and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Roll up the dough like a jelly roll and cut into slices about ½ inch thick.

Pour the water in an oven-safe dish.

Arrange the rolls in the dish and bake at 375oF, until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Variation: Cranberry jam may be substituted for the sugar and cinnamon.


Homemade Beer and Wine

Acadians used rye, wheat, fir tree shoots, dandelions and hops as a base for beer. Water, yeast and a little sugar were added and the mixture was set aside to ferment for several days.

Wine was usually made from sarsaparilla, wild cherries, chokecherries, rhubarb, wheat, dandelions and beets, with the last two being the most popular.


Dandelion Wine

16 cups dandelion blossoms
16 cups boiling water
3 pounds white sugar
2 tbsp yeast

Wash the dandelion flowers and put them in an earthenware pot.

Pour boiling water over the flowers, cover and soak for 5 days, stirring every day and removing any surface mould.

Strain the liquid through a sieve. Add the sugar and heat the mixture in a large pot, stirring to melt the sugar.

Allow the liquid to cool until it is lukewarm, and add the crumbled yeast. Stir again and set the mixture aside in the earthenware pot 2 weeks.

When the fermentation has finished, strain the liquid through a sieve, and pour it into bottles. Do not seal the bottles until the fermentation is complete

1.6 Folklore and Beliefs of Acadians

When speaking about Acadian popular culture and folklore, we must of course linger on their religious practices, the holidays they observed and the rites surrounding them, but we must also discuss their oral traditions.

The Deportation, despite the efforts of its creators, did not succeed in destroying the foundations of the Acadian identity laid out in the 17th century. If isolation and neglect inclined the Acadians to a certain moral laxness towards the late 18th century, missionaries steered them back to the straight-and-narrow path during the following century. Thus they remained, in their new Acadia, deeply attached to the Catholic faith and the French language, which were the dominating traits of their popular culture. This is evident in their national symbols, defined in the later 19th century and fashioned around submission to the papacy and the Virgin Mary.

Long illiterate, Acadians maintained a rich oral tradition, filled with tales, legends, laments and folk songs. Particularly prized during the long winter nights or the holidays, this oral literature allowed keeping the memory of their origin or of tragic events, and constituted both a means of entertainment and moral education. Imported from west-central France and rescued from old Acadia, it was embellished over the years by the contribution of sailors and strangers who visited their communities, and later by woodsmen coming back from logging camps with new cultural baggage.

Dominated by themes of exile and return, of purgatory and hell, of good and evil, those tales were suffused with the supernatural, yet were often based upon truth. Generally centered on a hero, they oftentimes used the sea and its unpredictable nature as a backdrop. The Englishman and the American Indian sometimes played a part in the oral traditions, the former as the anti-hero or displaying weak morals, much like the latter, indeed, who was also endowed with mystic powers.

1.6.1 Acadian Conventions and National Symbols

Acadian National Conventions, held from 1881 in Memramcook, then in Miscouche, Prince Edward Island (1884), in Church Point, Nova Scotia (1890) and in Caraquet, New Brunswick (1905), were the first great Acadian rallies since 1755. To fill an absence from political power throughout the 19th century, Acadians found in these great nationalist reunions the opportunity to give themselves their own identifying symbols. In 1881, a National Holiday was chosen (Assumption Day, August 15), then in 1884 came the flag (the French Tricolor with, in the blue section, the star, Stella Maris, in the papal colors) and a national anthem, «Ave Maris Stella». Those symbols, recalling their devotion to the Virgin Mary and their submission to the Pope, reveal the Acadians’ attachment to their Catholic culture but also to their French origins.


Theme 2 Introduction

The Acadian Home, Inside and Out

For centuries, the home has been the foundation of most families. This was also true for Acadians of old, who retained certain techniques practiced by their French ancestors in the construction of their living quarters. This architectural parentage is probably in ancient Acadia, but it fades out after the Deportation, with the necessities of their new surroundings and the introduction of new influences. What, then, do Acadian homes look like between the late 18th and the early 20th century?

It goes without saying that according to the area of origin and the time period, the architecture of those dwellings and their interior accommodations varies. The same is true of the furniture and of the outbuildings, which are chiefly influenced by the main occupation of the family. The fact remains that as a rule, those ancient Acadian homes are more modest than those of their English-speaking neighbors.

No doubt this modesty is reflected also in the Acadians’ dress and the textiles they use. In fact, articles of clothing and materials do not undergo much change over most of the 19th century. In some isolated regions, traditional Acadian dress was seen even into the early 20th century.

The Acadian Home and Its Architecture

Following the Deportation, Acadians found themselves without home or country. Their comfortable French-inspired dwellings disappeared with old Acadia and their former lands were occupied by strangers. Until the end of the 18th century, insecurity, bred by the fear of having to leave everything once more – revived by the massive arrival in 1784 of English-speaking newcomers who grabbed up the more fertile lands – coupled with the scarcity of resources at their disposal, greatly influenced the beginning of a new Acadian settlement. They were under the impression that they were not to remain on their new lamds, and consequently their houses are easily distinguishable for many years by their simplicity. Generally built of axe-hewn logs, a type of house that was common in the 19th century, they were built hastily, they were very rustic and they had few openings.

While this was true for all Acadian areas, this does not mean that particular traits are not to be found. Influenced by the sea or the forest, Acadians were not alone in their new Acadia. Whether in Caraquet, Memramcook or Saint-Basile, various tendencies are observable in the early 19th century, with the arrival, for instance, of Scottish elements into their communities. Around this time, land grants allowed at last a certain permanence, and homes were, from then on, more carefully constructed. Long left without outside siding, they were now adorned with clapboard or wooden shingles. Rather uncommon, apparently, in old Acadia, the cedar shingle, first hand-made, and later mechanically produced, became very popular in the 19th century and remained in wide use into the early 20th century.

Around the mid-19th century, homes became more spacious and comfortable. The availability of tools and materials was no longer the deciding factor for their appearance. The way of life for which the houses were intended now had much more influence upon how the homes looked. Sitting on a stone foundation, the boarded vertical-post, or frame house, now prevailed, and the square-log cabin, first with dove-tailed and later grooved-pillar corner assembly, became scarcer.

2.2 The Acadian Home: Living Space

The simplicity of the Acadian home, following the Deportation, was reflected in its interior space. Thus, the Acadian dwelling was long restricted to one room and one storey. At once kitchen, living room and bedroom, it was heated by means of a stone fireplace, quite suitable for cooking food but very inefficient against the sharp cold of winter. For a time, the floor was simply hard-packed earth and no cellar was to be found.

The introduction of the wood-burning stove was no doubt the most significant event in the evolution of the Acadian home. While not giving way overnight, the fireplace was overtaken by the stove in the Acadian kitchen towards the middle of the 19th century. In some cases, the stone hearth remained in the kitchen for some years, alongside the new heating implement which required less wood but was much more expensive to purchase.

With the stove coming into general use, allowing for more efficient heating, the evolution of the home could better answer the needs of the family members, who were more numerous than before. The indoors being warmer and better lit, thanks to the a greater abundance of windows, could now be partitioned, with separate rooms each allotted a specific use. The kitchen became smaller and separated from the common bedroom. Some families, seeking relief from the hot days of summer, add a summer kitchen to their installations.

Later, the building of annexes allowed parents and children to find some privacy in the way of individual rooms. Long reserved for storage and without access except through a ladder or a roughly-built stairway, the use of the attic, then of a second storey, also spread during the second half of the 19th century, with the addition of a more elaborate stairway. This space was now more often used as living quarters and accommodated the bedrooms.

2.2 Furniture and Material Culture

The Deportation having deprived them of everything, Acadians had to attend first to the most urgent things, in order to survive. Limited means dictated thrift as the golden rule; the need for, and availability of materials became the sole yardstick. This was true as much for the furnishings as for the house itself.

As a rule, Acadian furniture was made of pine. This choice may be explained by the workability of this wood and its abundance in the area. Furniture was extremely simple and in general made by the user with the same tools and techniques used in building the house. Until the early 18th century, the furniture was multifunctional and was restricted to a table, a few benches and the beds. Chests were used as seats as well as for storage. It was very rustic furniture, devoid of any particular style, very spartan, it showed few embellishments or decoration.

With a greater desire for comfort around the middle of the 19th century came inevitably a greater variety in articles of furniture. Some pieces of furniture became more frequent, such as chairs, replacing benches. The many bench-chests also give way to cupboards and upright chests of drawers. Often embedded in a wall, the corner cupboard was now part of the house and its moldings adapted to the surrounding decor. On the whole, however, the furniture remained quite simple, with little refinement or ornamentation, along with a still-restricted choice of materials.

Later, at the time of the “Acadian Renaissance”, around the 1860’s, furniture became more refined. The newly adopted living-room, for instance, required more fancy furniture. Intended for special visitors, it was filled with the most elegant and comfortable pieces. The introduction of the wood lathe also put its mark on styling, especially on table and chair legs. The late 19th century, in turn, was marked by the introduction of manufactured furniture, which eventually brought on the end of home-made furniture.

2.3 Outbuildings

Since the Acadian family had to take care of the most pressing needs when setting up a residence, the installations at first included few outbuildings. It was only once the family house had been completed and a good parcel of land cleared that the permanent addition of secondary housing, required for agricultural work and the raising of livestock, was attended to. Most structures were therefore rather primitive at first.

After a few seasons, temporary enclosures were replaced by sturdy, durable rail fences. More than a simple boundary line between two properties, fences were essential for virtually every Acadian establishment until the Second World War. They were constructed, of course, to check the wanderings of cattle, but were needed mainly to protect cultivated lands from roving wild animals. For this purpose, fences remained the rule, in some small towns even into the early 20th century.

The first decade of a new settlement saw initial structures of unhewn logs or brushwood (sheds, chicken coops, pig pens, etc.) give way to stables, hen houses, barns and permanent sheds to be used for several years, even several decades. The same was true for the root-vegetable cellar, which was essential for every family. Cellars were built to endure. The fetching of drinking water at the nearest spring being very time-consuming, a well was also dug as soon as possible, and sometimes a manual pump was installed. The outhouse was also dug, not too far behind the house, sometimes later replaced by a “john” adjacent to the house.

Even though the main occupation of many families in the 18th and 19th centuries was not agriculture, the building of a stable was nonetheless necessary, since at least some farm animals were almost always part of the homestead. The shed was also used for storing firewood and fishing gear during the winter.

2.4 Traditional Acadian Dress

Upon leaving France, Acadians brought with them the dress peculiar to their provinces of origin. Their first costume was therefore similar to that of the peasants from Poitou or neighboring regions.

As soon as they were settled, wool and linen became the fabrics used in the Acadian costume. The costume gradually underwent a certain evolution. In the early 1800’s, for instance, cotton came into use, as well as other materials found in general stores. Around 1850, men adopted the tailored suit, while women more and more abandoned the “mantelet” and skirt in favor of the frock dress. At the same time, the heavy Nîmes cloth (denim) was becoming more and more popular for jackets and overalls. Wooden clogs, for their part, were also giving way to moccasins made of animal hide and later to manufactured shoes.

Simple, roomy and functional, hand-made garments allowed great freedom of movement. Durable, they were passed on to new generations thanks to the continuous mending by the women who fixed the clothes, darned the socks and sewed patches onto the pants. Even when worn out, clothing was not thrown away: rather, it was made into rag quilts or mixed in with fresh wool with which to make new clothes. This custom indeed explains why it is so difficult to find authentic Acadian traditional garments.

Finally, for ancient Acadians, uniformity and the respect of traditional notions of decency and modesty were the rule. This held true for the men as well as the women. Each had his clothing that corresponded with the social and moral tenets of the times. Woe for the person who tried to be original in his on her dress: such a person would have been exposed to religious sanction or to public mockery. Rather similar from one family to the next, fashion did not change much until the second half of the 19th century, and persisted even to the first decades of the 20th century in some isolated areas.

2.4.1 Men’s and Women’s Clothing

The virtue of the Acadian woman was protected by several articles of clothing. In fact, her dress was a true process of assembly to be carried out in precise order. First of all, she donned the long-sleeved shift. Made of unbleached cotton, it also served as a nightgown and was taken off only to be washed. The second step was the bodice, made of the same material, reaching down to the waist and buttoned up the front. The petticoat was third. It was worn over the shift with the opening at the back. The mantelet completed the upper part of the dress and covered the shift. The skirt, which could be made of homespun fabric or of drugget, covered the petticoat and the pouch. A fine linen kerchief around the neck hid what remained of the shift and completed the dress, along with a cross. The Acadian woman also wore a headdress, called “caline” (colored on weekdays, white on Sundays) and an apron (white on Sundays, with blue and white stripes on weekdays).

The man’s dress was much less complex. It consisted simply of an unbleached linen shirt, a fine woolen vest, a pair of pants with a flap front, and a red or grey woolen cap, replaced eventually by a black felt hat during the 19th century. Of course, the Acadian male also wore a suit of woolen underwear, whether spun or knit, in both the summer and the winter alike.

Finally, both men and women wore woolen socks in natural color, or dyed grey or blue indigo, then moccasins or clogs, sometimes lined with straw to absorb humidity. Made of a block of a light hard wood such as willow or poplar, clogs were probably no longer worn in the second half of the 19th century. After rawhide shoes came into use, clogs were used mainly as overshoes in rain or on the muddy soil of the fields.

2.4.2 Bedcovers

Among the vestiges of popular tradition in old Acadie, bedcovers were among the most explicit examples reflecting the mean economic way of life. Entirely made with reclaimed materials, their sewing actually require a wealth of patience and economy. Contrary to the cutting and sewing of articles of clothing, which allowed little or no flights of fancy by reason of the strict rules defining clothes, the making of quilted bedspreads gave women the opportunity to express some creativity. During the long winter months, the housewife, after selecting and cutting the worn-out clothes into small strips, spun them on the loom to obtain rags-and-tatters bed covers.

The most widely used type of bed covers were, however, spun from scrap wool which was carded, then mixed with new wool. White and double-wide, they were also used as bed sheets. Made like the bedsheets with reprocessed materials, the famous quilted covers were also to be found, whose designs were often borrowed from Anglo-Saxon neighbors. The colors and patterns of those essentially utilitarian articles were arranged with care and the results sometimes verge on the miraculous.

2.5 Textiles

Domestic production of fabrics was an important occupation of Acadians of old. Indeed, until the early 20th century, many families produced and processed their flax and wool into various textile products.

In springtime, the various steps in the processing began. The whole household was required, and the steps were spread over several months and could sometimes involve the entire neighborhood, giving occasion for bees. Men sowed the flax in May, sheared the sheep in late spring and tanned the hides of cattle slaughtered the preceding fall. Women, for their part, took care of the carding, spinning, etc. In the fall, flax stalks pulled out by hand were set out to rhet for several weeks over a damp meadow. This rhetting was intended to isolate the fibers with the help of moisture, which dissolved the gum-like substance holding them together. Heating dried the stalk, making it brittle and easier to break. The flax was then broken by means of the implement known as a “brake”, to separate the tow, then cleaned through scotching and hackling. The fiber was then wound around a distaff and spun on the spinning wheel. Of course, the quality of the spun fiber determined that of the fabric woven on the loom. The finer fabric was used for fancy clothes and the average grade for household linen.

As for wool, after the shearing, women washed it in lukewarm water, taking care not to remove the natural oils. It was then laid out to dry on the grass or on fences, and then be teased with fingers to separate the fibers and get rid of bits of grass or other waste caught in the fleece. Using small wooden plates covered with fine metal teeth, the wool was then carded, combing the fibers into rolls ready to be spun. Then came the weaving, similar to that of linen.

Acadians and the New Land

Besides the Acadian home, it is essential to speak of the lands. Why? The environment of the new Acadia of the Maritimes was significantly different from the original surroundings and did not offer the same opportunities for survival. This, of course, had repercussions on their daily life and greatly modified their lifestyle as early as the late 18th century. In fact, it may be said that a transition was then made from an Acadia of the land to an Acadia of the sea.

With this transition came a change in profession for many Acadians, from farmers, as they were before 1755, to fishermen. The soil on their new coastal lands was not found to be very fertile. They therefore had to engage in a variety of tasks tapping the resources of the sea, the soil and the forest. Of course, agriculture remained important. However, the use of certain ancestral methods, such as the dyke and sluice system, was henceforth practically impossible.

This new Acadian landscape was also a country characterized by isolation. At this time, however, native peoples lived in more remote places, while English-speaking settlements were more prevalent. The primitive state of transportation and communication systems still made any interaction with the outside world difficult. It was only towards the end of the 19th century that the establishment of newspapers and the coming of the railway, among other innovations, allowed an opening to the world.

What you will therefore see in this section is the manner in which the Acadians actually occupied this new country: the settling of new villages, the exploitation of resource, and the relationships between Acadians and other communities.

3.1 The Acadia of the Maritime Provinces

Until the middle of the 18th century, Acadia was essentially positioned in Nova Scotia and the southernmost part of New Brunswick. Although on the eve of Deportation a few small centers could be found throughout the Maritime area, the majority of the Acadian population lived around Grand-Pré, Annapolis Royal, Pigiguit and Beaubassin. But the Deportation upset everything in this landscape.

Following exile, a number of Acadians came back to the Maritime provinces. Their ancestral lands, now occupied by British colonists, were lost to them forever. Of course, they had no alternative but to look elsewhere, but where? Reluctant for many years to grant lands to Acadians, the British authorities lay down strict restrictions, including the rule that Acadians must settle in small isolated groups. Motivated by a certain will to settle apart from the English, the majority of Acadian families thus had no choice but to choose coastal areas. On top of this will was the intense pressure from British colonists who monopolized the best sites and were more and more numerous from the 1780s onward.

Some sites already settled before 1755, such as Memramcook and Petitcodiac, once again became hosts to Acadian families as early as the 1760’s, although most regrouped, forming the settlements of St. Mary’s Bay, Caraquet, Bouctouche, Rustico, etc. Other communities, like Saint Basile, in the depths of the New Brunswick forest, were also settled by Acadians in the late 18th century, while those occupying the vicinity of Sainte Anne (Fredericton) were pushed back by the massive arrival of Loyalists, who forced the Acadian displacement towards the North.

In fact, the new Acadia was to more and more make its home in this new province as early as the late 19th century. One may henceforth speak of a New Brunswick-based Acadia, split up over several areas, where Acadians were to become the pillars of the development of Acadian culture and of the struggle for its survival.

3.2 Acadians and the Land

In old Acadia, agriculture was without question the first and foremost means of survival. Corn, wheat, barley and oats were grown, and we mustn’t forget the herds of cattle which were the wealth of the Acadians and the envy of their neighbors. Rather like the Canadian, the Acadian was, at this time, with the aboiteau system, a specialist of marshland agriculture, to the point where his contemporaries gave him the name of “water clearer”.

All this changed after the Deportation. As early as the late 18th century, Acadians found themselves forced to settle on unfertile lands along the shore. Having no choice but to turn to the sea for food, most families still had no hope of survival without agriculture. A modicum of cultivation and cattle raising was thus essential. In fact, despite the economy of their area being dominated by the forest, by fishing or by a combination of both, agriculture remained tightly bound to their daily life and their survival until the middle of the 20th century. For many families, it was even an element of stability upon which to rely in times of crisis, the ownership of farmland or lack thereof marking the line between poverty and economical well-being.

Although favored in the discourses of public Acadian figures linking it to the preservation of their traditional society, Acadian agriculture evolved very little. Even though Acadian farms were more numerous by the early 20th century, they were less developed than in English-speaking districts. In fact, in many cases, they were quite modest and barely fulfilled the family’s needs. Thus, with the exception of eggs and potatoes in some areas, few products were exported en masse outside Acadian communities.

3.2.1 The Drainage System

Acadians called the sluice box set into their dykes “aboiteau” and also gave this name to the system used to drain the marshlands, thus making them suitable for farming. The technique was borrowed from France (Saintonge region), but was Dutch-inspired. It brought fertilizing agents to the lands by using high spring tides. In old Acadia, until the time of the Deportation, grain and some vegetable crops were the objects of intensive cultivation.

An interesting aspect was the communal side of this farming method. The marshlands were divided among the inhabitants of a village. When a breach occurred in a dyke, everyone joined in with his neighbors to close it up. Since each farmer was the owner of a part of the meadow, the danger threatened all local farms. The supervision and maintenance of the marshlands and the dykes was therefore crucial to preserve the efficiency of the whole system.


Installation and Operation

Following a predetermined plan, drainage ditches were first dug in the marsh soil, and connected to a larger central canal emptying into the river. With clay taken from the marsh, dykes or walls were raised on each side of the riverto a height of about seven feet. Built into a slope and faced with sod, this barrier was very solid and durable. The sods were grass-covered clods of earth uniformly coating the dyke from top to bottom. After a year or two, the roots had a very firm hold, and the sods produced a luxuriant grass which helped consolidate the structure. In some places, at the base of the dyke, a passage was left to allow the water to flow through the sluice-box.

Made of larch beams held together with pegs, the sluice box, which wasten or twelve inches wide, could measure up to twenty feet in length. It was a narrow rectangular duct forming a tunnel, with an exit valve at one end, set so as to allow the water from the canals to flow out at low tide. The rising tide exerted pressure against this valve, preventing it from opening and letting the water in. This sluice had to be firmly attached inside the dyke to adequately perform its function. The state of the dyke also had to be carefully monitored and the canals kept free of any debris, such as scraps of hay. Breaches would let the in seawater, which would spread onto the meadows.

3.3 The Acadians and the Sea

After the Deportation, Acadians, farmers by tradition, settled mostly along the shoreline. More than ever before, the sea became a large part of daily life. Since the beginning, the sea had provided a means of travel, but henceforth it also took on a new importance: the sea became a means of survival for many families, to the point where a settlement site with access to the open sea was generally sought after until the early 20th century.

In order to survive, many Acadians had to, as early as the late 18th century, devote themselves to fishing for the benefit of the Jersey companies, such as the Robins. Exerting an unshakable monopoly on this industry for over a century, this company and others of the same type established fisheries all over the Maritime provinces, including in Caraquet. Many Acadians then found themselves in a state of near slavery, by reason of the credit system that the companies used to pay them. Forced to exchange their catch for goods from the stores owned by these merchants, they rarely made it through the winter without coming up short, causing them to devote their next fishing season to paying back their debts. This was a never-ending cycle…

In the new Acadia, codfish, salmon, mackerel and herring were the species most commonly sought by fishermen; then in the second half of the 19th century, lobster and oysters became popular. Long scorned by Acadians, lobster, however, was almost never consumed locally. Caught with square nets, the wooden trap appearing only in the early 20th century, lobster was reserved for the many canneries springing up all over the Acadian coastline. The only species bought from the fishermen by the companies, cod became the most harvested fish on the New Brunswick coast, to the point where in some areas, “fresh fish” was automatically understood to mean cod. Always sold salted and dried, it was exported in barrels.

3.3.1 Fishing and Processing Cod

Two methods of fishing for cod were practiced: offshore and inshore.

Offshore fishing was carried out with a schooner and crew of three to five men. At sea for one week, they would fish for cod actively with a line, known as ‘jigging’, or they would just leave a dormant line trailing in the water. Once gutted and cleaned, the fish were salted to conserve them and stored in the hold. Only the fish caught on the last day out were unloaded fresh; the contents of the hold, the green cod, were packed with brine in barrels.

In the case of inshore fishing, practiced in small craft within fifteen miles of the shores, the codfish was brought in fresh. Once unloaded, cleaned and salted, it was laid out to dry on racks for about three weeks. It then had to be constantly shielded from the rain or the heat of the sun, turned over regularly and gathered each night in piles known as “muttons”.

After selecting the codfish of the highest quality, the whitest, with the finest meat and without blemish, the next step was “tubage”, an operation consisting of packing the fish in barrels, and pressing it down several times with a screw press. It was in these barrels, holding about 490 lbs, (222 kg) that the codfish was shipped to Europe, the United States and South America.

3.4 Acadians and the Forest

Upon landing, Acadians discovered vast expanses of forest comprised of essentially the same species as were found in France (pine, fir, cedar, beech, birch, etc.). Other species, such as the spruce and the larch, were native to America, however. Devoting themselves to a method of cultivation based on the draining of marshlands, Acadians were not inclined to venture very far inland for their settlements. In general, their exploitation of the forest was restricted to cutting wood for their own needs, and to hunting big and small game for occasional meat and leather for their clothing.

For Acadians, this lack of interest in the forest was maintained when establishing their new Acadia. Even though the majority settled along the shore, forests still appeared as obstacles to colonization by reason of their high density along the coastline. As a fist step, the trees felled by axe to clear new land were mostly gathered into piles and burned, which allowed a scorched-earth farming method for the first crops of buckwheat and potatoes.

Of course, the forest maintained its importance for supplying building material and fuel. Whether they began as fishermen or farmers, many Acadians went to logging camps during winter to earn extra income. In the second half of the 19th century, sawmills became more frequent in Acadian regions, and then in the early 20th century paper mills started to appear. But while many Acadians found work in these industries, some seized the opportunity to become wood merchants.

3.5 Acadians and Strangers

Following the Deportation, many Acadian families went into a long period of isolation. Living in constant fear and practically in hiding until the end of the 18th century, they only came out into the open to settle in small groups apart from the British colonists.

Acadians, aside from the odd fishing schooner happening by, received few guests in their new communities. For many families, whose existence revolved first and foremost around the home, a stranger was seldom encountered. If a stranger chanced to come along, he was at first met with distrust, but this suspicious attitude generally soon gave way to Christian charity, calling for a warm greeting and a sharing of one’s frugal meal.

An Englishman, especially if he was a Protestant, was looked upon with especial fear and distrust. Very early, some Acadian communities nonetheless had to deal with an anglophone presence. Protestant for the most part, these settlers of various British origins formed, in fact, with their own religious temples, their school and their social life, a parallel society. Still, clashes between the two groups were not rare… Forming a minority in most cases, the English-speaking newcomers exerted a monopoly on economy and political power in the villages. For instance, the Blackhall family in Caraquet, who simultaneously held many administrative offices in the 19th century.

Once a good friend, the Indian was also looked upon with suspicion by the Acadian in his new Acadia. As a rule, they had been on good terms before the Deportation. In the troubled years from 1755 to 1763, the Micmacs were even a great help for many Acadian families. All this changed, however, at the end of the 18th cenury. From then on, Acadians tended to settle in areas already occupied by Indians, which of course brought on many tensions and changed for ever their friendly relations.

3.6 Travel and Communication

While we like to gripe about the state of our roads, we easily forget that our ancestors did not have access, until the first half of the 20th century, to such a well-developed highway system. Moreover, they did not have the opportunity like us to travel tens of kilometers any day just to go shopping “in town”. Let us not forget that a short car ride of some twenty minutes nowadays would have required, at the time, a trip of several hours. In short, travel was a luxury not available to everyone and was only resorted to when necessary.

Before the advent of the railway in the second half of the 19th century, travel was an activity chiefly practiced by waterway, since roads were scarce and in very bad condition. In fact, roads tended to look more like narrow paths and were often muddy, bumpy, and murderous on carriage wheels, making the roads barely suited for the use of buggys and horses, let alone the first automobiles which arrived in Acadian communities in the 1910s. They certainly suffered a good deal of flat tires on those roads. Many people actually preferred walking to riding on the rough roads.

Because of this limited mobility, the boundaries of the village and of the church parish marked the limits of known territory for most people. News from the family and neighbors was the chief concern and news from the outside world was practically non-existent until the creation of the first newspapers, such as the Moniteur Acadien in 1867. Of course, Acadians could always resort to the postal service, which could be very slow, depending on themeans of transportation. Even if the coming of the telephone to New Brunswick dates from the late 1880s, it was not very reliable. Indeed, several decades went by before telephones became widespread in Acadian homes.

Theme 4 Introduction

The Acadian Village

Up to the first decades of the 20th century, the village and parish were at the heart of Acadian community life. Most people were born, live and die without ever stepping outside the parish and village boundaries. These organizations were the foundation of identity, and it was by them and for them that the majority of local institutions, including the church and the school, were established. In fact, trade, education and religion were at that time essentially centered around those structures.

Just as is the case with the Acadian home, the village is composed of a variety of people and trades and services. Tradesmen and craftsmen endeavored, through their products and services, to make the daily life of their neighbors easier. From the 1800s on, tradesmen were in greater number and some of these tradesmen, like the blacksmith, had been present already for several years. Others, such as teachers and doctors, weren’t always available, in some cases for a number of years. The same may be said about public infrastructures which were then rather few in number. Beyond the post office, bridges and wharves were, quite often, the only significant signs of the presence of government.

To round out our exploration of Acadian daily life between the late 18th and early 20th century, we must highlight the importance of their village, its main components and its most prevalent tradesmen and craftsmen.

4.1 The Church

The contribution of members of the Catholic clergy in Acadian history is significant. It was the priests who took command of this small group of people who were devoid of resources following the Deportation. Mostly of Quebec and of French origin, and sometimes Irish, the priests traveled the vast territories of this new Acadia as early as the 18th century. Sometimes priests and spiritual guides, sometimes teachers and agricultural advisors, they were conscious of the importance of their presence and the encouragement they represented. Among their priorities, the chapel, the chancery and the school created under their direction were often the only public buildings in Acadian communities.

From the mid-19th century, Acadians built vast churches. While traditional history views this as an eloquent testimony to their faith and rivalry between parishes, it can no doubt be interpreted also as a demonstration of the sometimes rather bloated expectations of this clergy towards the Acadians. Indeed, many priests met with difficulty trying to persuade parishioners sitting on the church committee to support them in their ambitious projects, moreso from the time when churches began being built of stone. The construction of such structures required a major effort, forcing the parishioners to supply materials and days of labor. In some cases, the work could be spread over more than a year, even more than a decade.

Before those majestic wood or stone buildings could take shape, however, more simple structures were erected by the faithful to answer to the needs of their religious life. Humble chapels, most of which were later deserted to give way to more imposing temples, pointed their modest steeples to the sky in the midst of small isolated communities. But, destined as they were to become the nerve center of this new emerging community, the determination of church location sometimes gave rise to bitter quarrels.

4.2 The School

As was the case for the church, the building and maintenance of the school, whose architecture was typically quite similar to that of other buildings, depended first and foremost upon the efforts of the community. In fact, until the early 20th century, governments were little involved in the financing and management of schools. Parents, through the trustees, were the first ones to be responsible for the school’s establishment, and, subsequently, of its operation.

However, during nearly the whole 19th century, education was not a priority for Acadians. Far from it! In general, education was considered of little value and schools were, consequently, scarce, poorly maintained and run by untrained teachers. For most Acadian families, survival took precedence. Many young lads landed jobs on fishing schooners as young as ten or twelve years old. Others chose the axe and left at fourteen for logging camps. As for the girls, they took on some of their mother’s chores. According to circumstance, for many young Acadians, the school was a part-time occupation, during the times of year when their services were not required at home. This explains the irregular attendance that teachers had to deal over the course of a year.

Still, in the early 19th century, provincial authorities tried to improve the educational system. But material resources were lacking, most textbooks were in English and were practically impossible to find. Moreover, competent French-speaking teachers were a rare commodity, as training for the teaching profession was only available in English. It may also be assumed that at the time, Acadians were not necessarily a government priority. All these factors explain why, in most Acadian communities, education was seen as rather the exclusive prerogative of the English-speaking elite, who held the upper hand in administrative offices.

4.3 Public Infrastructures

Aside from religious infrastructure and the church committee, Acadian communities of yesteryear were not very organized. In a majority of cases, various levels of government were not visibly present in villages and there was no question, except perhaps in Shediac as early as 1903, of a mayor or a municipal council before the second half of the 20th century. Hence, indeed, the frequent leadership of the priest or of local elites in setting up large-scale projects.

Towards the end of the 19th century, and especially around the beginning of the 20th century, several Acadian communities nonetheless built themselves church halls. In many instances, these community centers were mainly built to temporarily fill the need for a church which had been lost by fire. For several months, even several years, mass was celebrated and religious activities held there. Later on, when the new temple was finished, the halls would host special events, political reunions and even theatre performances.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the occasional bridge, the few wharves and the numerous lighthouses found in Acadian regions were often the only significant presence of the provincial and federal governments. In certain cases they were owned by private businesses and were not necessarily accessible by the general public. The post office, as a separate building, was also quite rare in Acadian villages. More often than not, this service was offered on the premises of a business, such as a general store or a hotel, or even in a private home.

In fact, a special case like the lobster hatchery in Chiasson Office (near Shippagan), a short-lived experiment by the Department of Fisheries, as a “federal building”, was rare concrete evidence of the federal government’s presence in an Acadian community.

4.4 Craftsmen

Until the beginning of the 20th century, Acadian communities, as we know, were quite self-sufficient: they produced locally most of the articles they needed for the home. While many things were made by the family itself, a good number came from craftsmen who had particular skills. In fact, the work of some craftsmen was essential at the time for the daily functioning of many villages.

For a long time, in fact virtually until the Second World War, every village had a blacksmith’s shop. Well known in the community, the blacksmith was an indispensable craftsman in the agricultural world. A forerunner of the mechanic and the veterinarian, he saw to the manufacture of certain tools and domestic articles, he shoed and treated horses, and sometimes put on the hat of the cartwright, fashioning wheels and fixing carts.

If the blacksmith was normally present in most rural Acadian communities from the early 19th century, certain categories of craftsmen only appeared at a later date. Such is the case, for example, of the tinsmith, who became a familiar presence only at the end of the 19th century. A forerunner of the plumber, this artisan of sheet-metal, besides manufacturing a vast number of articles (sinks, pails, cans, tubs, etc.), was often a heating specialist. He took care of the sale of stoves and the manufacture of chimney pipes, which he also installed himself, at his customers’ homes. A distant cousin of the blacksmith, the tinsmith’s function was more regional than local, since he spent most of his time alone in a large area.

Throughout the years, the work of some craftsmen was greatly affected by industrialization. Cases in point are the Acadian woodworker and the barrel-maker. This last turned out chiefly, in Acadia, barrels intended for the exporting of fish. Essentially manual during the 19th century, the introduction of sawmills made his work highly mechanized in the 1930s.

4.5 The Storekeepers

Beyond the economic and social contribution of craftsmen like the blacksmith or the tinsmith, Acadian communities relied also on a group of storekeepers who offered them a selection of products, a market for local production, and, of course, jobs for several persons.

Deprived of financial resources by the Deportation, Acadians long had to rely upon British merchants to export their local production and import products not available in their area. According to the size of the community and the period considered, few commercial outlets were found in Acadian villages. For instance, while a few communities had fish dealers, lobster canneries or other important industrial establishments such as sawmills, this was not the case with most Acadian communities during the 19th century. The fact remains that from the second half of this century, many villages, particularly those lucky enough to lie on the route of the new railroads built during the 1870’s, enjoyed a commercial boom. More Acadians were then seen to go into business to take advantage of certain services, those of a miller for instance, as traveling time became shorter.

At this time the general merchant, quite probably the most frequently found merchant in Acadia, was becoming more and more comon in Acadian communities and offered an alternative to the stores of the wood and fish companies. Also more numerous than before, innkeepers and hotel owners now could hope to welcome a new category of travelers into their facilities: tourists. In the more important Acadian centers, barber shops, restaurants, even banks, started to appear, but for the typical Acadian village of the early 20th century, such businesses were still rare.

4.6 Some Important Figures

Through the years, many individuals took on a large importance in the Acadian communities. In some cases, these people, leaders of social, religious or economic affairs, fulfilled essential everyday needs and contributed in defining the parameters of the evolution of their village.

Of course, those communities being predominantly Catholic, the missionary or resident priest would be foremost in this leadership role. More than a mere representative of the Church, this figure, generally the best-educated in the area, was often the instigator of important projects such as the establishment of a school or a cheese factory, for example. By the end of the 19th century, the doctor and the teacher joined in these endeavors, together with other professionals and businessmen who were becoming more and more frequently found in Acadian villages.

It was not uncommon, however, for Acadian communities to be deprived of the services of one or the other of these influential persons until the early 20th century. Such was the case with the doctor, for instance, whose absence was often compensated by traveling or resident healers, and midwives. Indeed, most Acadians born before the first decades of the 20th century were brought into the world with the help of a midwife, who was a genuine specialist in childbirth.

Some of those figures, such as the justice of the peace or the postmaster, were appointed by one or the other of the governments they represented. Others, like the fiddler or the storyteller, were not really official offices. But their roles were nonetheless crucial to the life of their community. Through their musical or verbal talents, they provided Acadians a means of fully enjoying the few moments of leisure allowed in the year, or of relaxing after a hard day’s work

 

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