by Ronald Rudin
In 1955 the Office national du film released Les Aboiteaux, the first film produced with an original Acadian script. But quite aside from this distinction, the film — directed by Léonard Forest at the start of his important career as an Acadian filmmaker — told a fascinating story about both the environment and Acadian society. It focuses on the challenges for one Acadian community in southeastern New Brunswick, whose farmers (much like their pre-deportation forebears) were working land that had been made cultivable by means of a system of dikes and aboiteaux that drained the marshland and protected the farmland from the tides of the Bay of Fundy.
Across the region — in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — the protective structures had fallen into disrepair by the 1940s, leading the federal government to create the Maritime Marshland Rehabilitation Administration in 1948. With the involvement of the pertinent provincial governments, the MMRA proposed an ambitious program to repair the aboiteaux, thus challenging a four-century-long tradition of local control. And so we see the drama unfold in one community when the aboiteaux are about to fail and the MMRA has to come to the rescue. What would happen to individuals such as Placide Landry, the central character in the film, who had been responsible for watching over the dikes? And what did the arrival of modernity mean for Acadian society as it marked the 250th anniversary of the deportation?
The film raises some important questions, and yet for sixty years it has only been available in French. This situation has now changed with the release by the NFB of an English-subtitled version, available at: https://www.nfb.ca/film/dikes_en
The author’s article-length analysis of the film can be found in the December 2015 issue of the Canadian Historical Review.
Ronald Rudin is a Professor in the Department of History at Concordia University.