“The Unfortunate Acadians” or How to turn Genocide into Tragic Destiny – Part 2

by Chantal Richard

The following is part two of a two-part blog post.

Acadian politics and language

Unlike the Saint John and Sackville papers, The Moncton Transcript tended to focus more on contemporary Acadians, reporting on the Conventions nationales acadiennes of 1881, 1884 and 1890, and on the resulting emergence of a national Acadian identity. Furthermore, there was a great deal of discussion around the importance of the political representation of Acadians, including this statement by The Moncton Transcript that “There is a determination on the part of the English speaking people of this country to prevent, if possible, the unfortunate mistake of last election, when the Acadian representative was left out.” 11 January 1890, p. 2: https://voi.lib.unb.ca/en/node/1582). The choice of words “unfortunate mistake” is somewhat reminiscent of the cruel necessity argument of the Acadian expulsion, and the author avoids pointing fingers, implying instead that no one was to blame.

While this newspaper appeared desirous to include Acadians in politics, there was an important caveat. Acadian politicians who brought up the past were heavily criticized. For example, on 14 January 1887, The Moncton Transcript published the following letter to the editor:

Why should Mr. Landry, who is styled a leader among the people, go out of his way at a banquet tendered to him by his Acadian friends to harrow up the dead and by a skillful reference to imaginary wrongs, or if you will, real grievances, suffered by their forefathers ages ago, attempt to rekindle the extinguished animosities of the past? I fear that Mr. Landry is too much like some of the leaders of his people of that day, who study their own interests and selfish ends more than the good of the people. It would seem as if he was afraid that the Acadians of Kent County, who form a majority of his constituents, were not prepared to endorse him again at the approaching election if left to their present mood. He probably felt the necessity of calling off their attention from what he has been doing in that county since he was returned. (“The Acadian Leader”, The Moncton Transcript, 14 January 1887, p. 3: https://voi.lib.unb.ca/en/node/1468)

In other words, it was considered poor taste to bring up the Expulsion of Acadians in this context, and Landry was accused of using the Expulsion as a mere distraction from more pressing matters in an effort to garner support. Furthermore, the reader would have been left to wonder whether Landry was referring to “imaginary wrongs” or “real grievances” in his references to the “animosities of the past”, thus calling into question the legitimacy of his claims.

Similarly, an editorial in the Saint John New Freeman reads:

We consider that our Acadian friends are making a great national mistake (national is hardly the word, but let it pass) in advocating a renaissance of French speech and modes of thought, in leading their people aside and keeping them a people apart, in introducing the spirit of a foreign nationality when there should be but one spirit of Canadian nationality, that we raise our voice in protest. The sooner the various races that compose the population of Canada are amalgamated and assimilated into one united people the better for the true progress of our common country. (“The Acadian Question”, 8 September 1900, p. 4: https://voi.lib.unb.ca/en/node/689)

This “French speech and modes of thought” are not included in Canadian nationality according to this author who considered them “foreign”, and as such, giving the French language and culture external status and treating it as a threat to Canadian unity.

In sum, the English-language newspapers in New Brunswick of the 1880s and 1890s and their readers were very aware of Acadians. Within the pages of these newspapers, Acadians tended to be represented in one of two ways: mythical or infantilized Acadians of the past who suffered an “unfortunate” fate, but were largely authors of their own tragic demise, and Acadians in the present who were unavoidable, sometimes even problematic political entities. Interestingly, the two identities were not to be fused into one, for fear of rehashing a past which was best forgotten. And in both cases, Acadians were not represented as active, contemporary contributors to society. Moreover, what is conspicuously absent is the debate around education en français which was ongoing at this time, and was a topic frequently covered by French-language papers.

To answer the original question then, if I were an Anglophone reader of these papers with little prior knowledge of Acadians, I might be tempted to think that they were a quaint and simple people prior to the Expulsion, and that the unpleasant business of their mass removal from Acadie could have been avoided if they had just been more reasonable. I might even get the idea that contemporary Acadians who insisted on bringing up the past and speaking their “foreign” language lacked good manners, and were a threat to Canadian unity. And these ideas might get perpetuated for generations to come.

Chantal Richard is an Associate Professor in the French Department at the University of New Brunswick.

About The Acadiensis Blog

The Acadiensis Blog is a place for Atlantic Canadian historians to share their research with both a scholarly and general audience. We welcome submissions on all topics Atlantic Canadian. If you are interested in contributing to the blog, please contact Acadiensis Digital Communications Editor Corey Slumkoski at corey.slumkoski@msvu.ca.
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