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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
½ bucket of clams in their shell
2 chopped onion
2 tbsp butter
8 cups water
4 cups diced potatoes
salt and pepper
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.
2 lbs pork
2 lbs other meat (hare, beef, chicken)
1 large chopped onion
salt and pepper
spices to taste: savory, powdered cloves
2 tbsp chopped onion
1 tbsp flour
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
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
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
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.
3 cups flour
6 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
½ cup cooking lard
1 cup milk (approximately)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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