During the 17th century settlers came from different parts of France to a region of the New World they called l’Acadie (present day Nova Scotia). As time went on their descendants, the Acadians, developed a unique way of life which found expression in their own language, customs, and beliefs. In 1713 this land known as Acadia was permanently lost to the British after the signing of the treaty of Utrecht. Perhaps the most important year in Acadian history is 1755 when Governor Lawrence of Halifax and Colonel Winslow of Massachusetts deported and exiled Nova Scotia Acadians throughout the world. Over 6000 Acadians were deported in the first year. Many Acadians hid in the forests surrounding Nova Scotia, while others landed on the coast of New England or France, and sadly others perished of disease or famine. After some time in exile, Acadians slowly, but surely, returned to the Maritimes and settled the coastal areas of present day New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Amazingly, regardless of this dispersion, isolation, and the constant intimidation and threat of assimilation by the Protestant English majority, Acadian popular culture managed to survive and flourish.
Evangeline the Beginnings of Acadian Pop Culture
However not a historian, in my humble opinion I would date the emergence of an Acadian popular culture to 1853, the year Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie” was first published in the French language. Although the famous American poet had not a drop of Acadian blood, his epic poem of two betrothed lovers separated and exiled off the coast of Nova Scotia during the deportation of 1755, gave the Acadians a national heroine and a symbol upon which to construct a cultural identity. Evangeline, whom Acadian folk singer Angèle Arsenault later baptized the “Acadian Queen”, was a fictional character but came to represent Acadians the world over. She gave Acadians a means of affirming the resiliency and strength of their race by giving a face to their suffering and tears. In many ways, Evangeline’s search for her long lost beloved resembled the Acadian people’s search for their place in the world. In fact, the most important Acadian newspaper was called “L’Évangeline”, and ran from 1887 until 1982, when it was replaced by “L”Acadie Nouvelle” (The New Acadia).
A period reffered to as the “Acadian Renaissance” then followed. It is during this period, roughly from the mid 19th century to the mid 20th century, that the Acadian identity was solidified and Acadian culture took a more popular shape. In 1881 the first Acadian Convention discussed the meaning of Acadian identity, and chose August 15th as National Acadian Day. Some would have preferred adopting June 24th, the same day as Quebec Francophone’s Saint-Jean Baptiste Day, thus showing solidarity with this larger Canadian Francophone community. They were overruled however, in the name independence and uniqueness. This feeling of autonomy has never left the Acadians. Even to this day no self-respecting Acadian would dare call himself a “French Canadian”.
At the second convention, held in 1884, the national flag and national anthem were adopted. The Acadian flag is incredibly representative of the Acadian identity. The tricolor or red, white, and blue represents the attachment to the French motherland, while the yellow star in the corner, the Stella Maris, symbolizes Mary, the patron saint of Acadians and mariners. The adoption of the Stella Maris on the flag reinforces the deep attachment to the sea that developed as a result of the Acadian’s resettlement of coastal areas. The fact that most of them were fishermen not only created solidarity amongst them, but also differentiated them from the English who mainly practiced agriculture. The yellow color of the star represents the catholic faith, or the Papacy, another staple of Acadian identity. The church in fact greatly aided the survival of Acadian culture. Religious events such as marriages, baptisms, and holidays, were prime occasions of celebration and cultural expression (for example folkloric music and dancing). Marriages in particular were important to Acadians and were accompanied by fun, food and traditional fiddle music.
In sum, it was their isolation, coupled with the impact of the coastal landscape that was their home, which helped the Acadians to establish and maintain their unique identity and culture.
During the Acadian Renaissance popular cultural forms emerged to transmit this unique Acadian identity. Before having access to higher education, Acadians were limited in their capacity to produce important literary or scientific works. They nonetheless developed a very rich popular culture, ripe with nostalgic fokloric songs. Each community had their own “storytellers” who kept legends and history alive through oral tradition. Furthermore, violinists were an integral part of the Acadian culture at this time. With the introduction of the radio, English music and popular culture threatened this oral tradition more than ever. This brought about written compilations of Acadian songs, such as Thomas Leblanc’s column in “L’Évangeline” where he compiled and published songs sent in to him by readers in different locations. Also, in 1942, Father Anselme Chiasson and Daniel Boudreau published the first book of Acadian songs.
Franglish, CB Buddies, and The New Acadian Queen:
The Acadian Cultural Revival of the 1960’s and 1970’s and the Modernization of Acadia.
In 1966, the University of Moncton began offering courses in Acadian Folklore where the study of song, legend, and all that constituted Acadian pop culture was given academic importance. The following creation at the University of a centre for Acadian studies influenced an unprecedented cultural revival in Acadia. For the purpose of this paper and under limited spatial constraints, I will focus on three aspects of this revival; the emergence in Southeastern New Brunswick of the “chiac” dialect, the international success of the works of Acadian author Antonine Maillet, and the emergence of 1755, often considered the best example of Acadian popular music.
As discussed previously, I see the adoption of Henry Wodsworth Longfellow’s fictional character Evangeline as a heroine by the Acadians as the beginning of their popular cultural heritage. Increasingly, however, many Acadiens began to think of her as representing a silent and oppressed Acadia, one that still wallowed in nostalgia of days gone by. For example, in her play “Évangeline Deusse”, renowned Acadian author and former Canadian senator Antonine Maillet proposed an Evangeline who spoke the modern dialect of Acadians; chiac. In the play, Evangeline is an expatriate living in Montreal and trying to keep her Acadian identity. Furthermore, Acadian musician Angèle Arsenault’s “Evangeline, Acadian Queen” explores the commercialization of the heroine in a more urban and contemporary Acadian setting. In another example, perhaps Antonine Maillet’s best known character “The Sagouine”, a 72 year old from the coastal New-Brunswick town of Bouctouche, protested the social inequalities and spoke of the culture of her people through comedic and satirical monologues.
For Acadians, language was instrumental in the formation of a popular identity. The distinct Acadian dialect called “chiac” was for the first time given public expression during this stage in Acadian pop culture’s evolution. ‘Chiac” profusely mixes French and English, going so far as to conjugate English verbs “à la française”. Sociolinguistics have done much research on the dialect as it truly does represent an interesting example language in cultural minority settings. Although sociolinguists cannot pinpoint and exact date, it is believed that “chiac” emerged as a result of the Acadians move towards Moncton, where English was the dominant language of work, instruction, and expression. It is during this period of cultural revival that chiac was used for the first time by the poets, artists, and musicians of the urban Acadian setting. Guy Arsenault with his book of poems entitled “Acadie Rocks” confronted Acadians with a modern perspective of Acadian popular culture. It was a controversial work in its time, not only because its use of chiac was considered vulgar, but also because it expressed the desires and issues of a new generation of Acadians, one that wanted to keep its Acadian heritage but that no longer identified with church and sea.
The musical group 1755, formed in 1975, illustrates this increasingly urban, albeit still traditionally Acadian culture. Songs such as U.I.C. deal with issues such as the seasonal unemployment that plagues coastal regions but at the same time invokes images of young Acadians out smoking, drinking, and doing drugs. Perhaps the reality of the songs and their secular nature (most traditional songs either praise Acadians or reference religious ideology in some way) are what made is so easy for teenagers to identify with them on vinyl in 1975, and again on CD in recent years.
All Roads Lead to Moncton: The Growth of the Acadian City
“With the increasing presence of Acadians from rural areas, Moncton has become the urban Acadia.”
-Maurice Basque, director of Acadian Studies at Moncton University
Moncton has grown dramaticaly in past years due to various economic and political factors, such as its growth as a telecommunications centre and its hosting of grand scale cultural events, such as the 2004 Francophone Summit and the 2005 Rolling Stones Concert. Furthermore, because it is an officially bilingual city and home to a French language university, Francophone migration from rural areas represents an important percentage of this demographic growth.
In 2005 Moncton University hosted a conference entitled “Minority Cultures and Urbanization”. This conference attracted scholars from around the world interested in studying the city as a space of cultural and linguistic mixing. Amongst other things, the conference looked at how the emergence of Moncton and neighboring Dieppe as Acadian urban centers was causing a resurgence of Acadian business and culture. What is of particular interest for the purpose of this paper is that the conference also focused on how the Acadian identity has evolved due to its increasingly urban surroundings. Maurice Basque, director of Acadian studies at the University told Radio-Canada that Moncton, once known as a place of perdition for Acadian culture and the French language, is emerging as Moncton the victorious, the Acadian, the cultural leader.
Marie-Linda Lord, professor at the Moncton University, has taken the idea of an Urban Acadia one step further by looking at how Acadians are searching to define an urban identity in recent literature. She plans to show that Moncton, the Acadian city, is increasingly represented in local literature, and also intends to compile an anthology of this literature titled “Anthology of the Urban Acadia”. Her research thus clearly confirms that Acadian popular culture is shifting from the coast to the city.
Acadieurbaine.net and The Urban Movement in Acadian Pop Culture
AcadieUrbaine.net, a virtual center of expression and discovery for Acadians all over the world, states “the time has come to paint a just picture of modern Acadia, a place that is vibrant and in full bloom”. It contains forums, a digital art gallery, and various texts written by Acadians. A database of contemporary Acadian artists is also in the works. At first glance it could appear as though the use of Internet to reinforce Acadian social networks was inevitable. I don’t disagree with this, however the emergence of this form of social networking clearly indicates the growing strength and interconnectedness of Acadians. Although community radio stations geared towards the broadcast of more traditional and folkloric music still exist, such as CJSE in Shediac, and Choix 99 in Dieppe, since its launch in 2004 Acadieurbaine.net has propelled the urban Acadian scene to the forefront of local pop culture. Shortly after its creation, a radio station by the same name began broadcasting non-traditional, urban music created by young Acadian artists. Most recently, the mastermind behind the urban Acadian sensation, Gabriel Malenfant, has added a web based television station to the network. Although still in the experimental phase, the programming that is available is ripe with Acadian symbolism, references, and local dialect. The last link in this urban Acadian network brings me back to that Pop Montreal flyer I found on the bus and my surprise when I saw four high school friends in it. Radio Radio is a group of young Acadians from Moncton who are using hip-hop and rap music to get their messages across.