Britain Admits Responsibility for 1755 Expulsion

Britain Admits Responsibility for 1755 Expulsion

In Grand Pré, Nova Scotia, a statue honours a woman who never existed. “Evangeline” (see below) was the title character of H.W. Longfellow’s epic… and fictional… poem about cruelty-separated lovers. Yet the poem’s historical context was all too real: Britain’s brutal expulsion of the region’s French Acadians.

In 1755, nearly 14,000 Acadians lived in what are now Canada’s Maritime Provinces. The British acting governor of Nova Scotia, wanted them gone. With backing from Massachusett’s British governor, an exile decree was issued.

Acadians were rounded up by the thousands; families were separated and sent away on ships, bound for distant ports. Thousands died. Many later found refuge in the former French colony of Louisiana; others eventually made their way back home. But those who survived never forgot… and neither did their descendants, More than 300,000 attended the 2004 World Acadian Congress in Nova Scotia to celebrate the culture, with events including reunions of the old Acadian families.

Now there’s more to celebrate. After years of pleas by Louisiana lawyer (and Acadian descendant) Warren Perrin, Queen Elizabeth II has acknowledged Britain’s part in the exile. July 28… the decree’s 250th anniversary… was Canada’s first annual day of Acadian commemoration. Perin is satisfied: “It’s never too late to right a wrong.”

Photo taken by Yvon Cyr

[ The above-noted was written by Margaret G. Zackowitz and published in the July 2005 National Geographics. I am grateful to my friend, Warren Perrin, for having provided me a copy of the article, for publication, above. ]

Click here to view more information on the British Apology

Click here to View more on the Royal Proclamation

Click here to view photos of the Acadian Flag Raising Ceremony in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 28, 2005

Royal Proclamation relating to the Acadian Deportation

On December 11, 2003, the Government of Canada adopted a Royal Proclamation declaring “July 28 of every year as A Day of Commemoration of the Great Upheaval (the Acadian deportation) commencing on July 28, 2005”. The proclamation was greeted with enthusiasm throughout the Acadian community, including by many of those who felt that it did not go far enough in recognizing the responsibility of the British crown in the Deportation of the Acadians. In fact, the proclamation refuses any such responsibility, stating that “this Our present Proclamation does not, under any circumstances, constitute a recognition of legal or financial responsibility”. The Queen of England is in fact recognizing (nowhere does the word “regret” appear) what the Acadians have known for 250 years: that the British government undertook the brutal deportation of its own French speaking subjects from their homes in Nova Scotia and that the deportation had “tragic consequences, including the deaths of many thousands of Acadians-from disease, in shipwrecks, in their places of refuge and in prison camps in Nova Scotia and England as well as in the British colonies in America”. On a more positive note, the proclamation does express her majesty’s hope that “the Acadian people can turn the page on this dark chapter of their history”.

The timing of the proclamation was a little fishy. It came in the twilight of the mandate of a lame-duck prime minister in a Council of Ministers meeting attended by only three members of his soon to be ex-cabinet with the notable absence of the Governor-General, the Queen’s representative in Canada. No political risk taking here. All in all, though, I support the proclamation and do think it is a positive step for the Acadian community of the Canadian maritimes. What strikes me, however, is that the proclamation and its effects will be restricted to Canada. The effect of the proclamation upon the descendants of the Acadian exiles who ultimately settled in Louisiana will be little to none. In a political sense and to a greater and greater extent, in a cultural sense, there is more that separates the Acadians of Canada and the Cajuns of Louisiana than unites us, for all of the history that we share. On the day that the proclamation was being celebrated in Ottawa, a French immersion program was being sabotaged in Saint Landry Parish. The reality of December 11, 2003, in Louisiana was that 70 school children at South Street Elementary in Opelousas were scattered like the deported Acadians into unfamiliar circumstances while their former teachers were exiled to other schools, and this with no warning. The school principal, new to the job, has no patience for French in her school apparently, and with the complicity of the school board, was able to whisk away, practically under the cover of darkness, the French immersion program, thus throwing the lives of 70 children and their families into confusion. Not the Deportation of 1755, but a callous act none the less. (By the way, Canadian historian Stephan White has determined the average age of the Acadian exiles on the transport ships to have been 14 (fourteen) years old). As far as the Royal Proclamation itself, apart from a small article in the local Lafayette newspaper giving well deserved credit to activist Warren Perrin for starting the ball rolling, the whole thing passed undetected. Which is the way that the British would prefer it, I am sure. In perpetrating any despicable act, no news is always good news for the perpetrators.

One final note regarding the Royal Proclamation. The French document reads:

“Attendu que la déportation du peuple Acadien, communément appelée le Grand Dérangement”,which is translated as: “Whereas the deportation of the Acadian people, commonly known as the Great Upheaval”.

What is interesting is that “Grand Dérangement”, is translated as “Great Upheaval”. In fact “Derangement” is better translated as “Inconvenience”, upheaval being “boulversement” in French. I wonder about the term “Grand Dérangement”, the “Great Inconvenience”. Even as a child, that term struck me, not as odd, but as special. I wonder if the Acadians who suffered the “Great Inconvenience” were aware of the irony of the term, and wished to diminish the extent of their suffering by referring to it in an almost off handed manner. The English translation is false to the idea contained in “Grand Dérangement” as though the Acadians have gone through history wringing their hands at the thought of the “Great Upheaval”. Whenever I hear of the “Grand Dérangement”, it doesn’t nearly sound so threatening. It sounds like something difficult, even tragic, but something that can be overcome none the less. Like Elisabeth Brasseaux. Following the sinking of the transport ship carrying her and her family into exile near the mouth of the Saint John river, she felt the almost unbearable sadness gripping those she loved. With nothing but the clothes on their backs, they were surrounded by British enemies and in a state of fear and shock. Little Elisabeth Brasseux, seeing the tearful expressions of her family and friends stood and said, “That’s enough crying, we have work to do”. In treating their plight as the “Great Inconvenience”, the Acadians took away some of its force. An inconvenience is not as hard to overcome as an Upheaval. Even a Great Inconvenience

La proclamation royale sur Le Grand Dérangement Acadien

Le 11 décembre, 2003, le gouvernement du Canada a adopté une Proclamation Royale, déclarant « le 28 juillet de chaque année, à compter de 2005, Journée de commémoration du Grand Dérangement». La proclamation a été reçue avec beaucoup d’enthousiasme dans la communauté acadienne des provinces maritimes, y compris par ceux qui pensent que cette proclamation ne va pas assez loin pour reconnaître la responsabilité de la Couronne Britannique. En fait, la proclamation refuse toute responsabilité, déclarant que « Notre présente Proclamation ne constitue en aucune façon une reconnaissance de responsabilité juridique ou financière ». Par cette proclamation, la reine d’Angleterre reconnaît (on ne parle jamais de « regrets » ou de « excuses ») ce que les Acadiens savent depuis 250 ans : que le gouvernement Britannique de la Nouvelle-Écosse a entrepris la déportation brutale de ses propres sujets francophones de leur pays et que la déportation «a eu des conséquences tragiques, plusieurs milliers d’Acadiens ayant péri par suite de maladies, lors de naufrages, dans leurs lieux de refuge, dans les camps de prisonniers de la Nouvelle-Écosse, et de l’Angleterre, ainsi que dans les colonies britanniques en Amérique. » Sur un ton plus optimiste, la proclamation exprime les souhaits de sa majesté pour que « le peuple Acadien puisse tourner la page sur ce chapitre sombre de son histoire ».

Le déroulement des évènements qui a fini par produire cette proclamation a été assez convoluté. Elle était adoptée lors d’une réunion du Conseil de Ministres présidé par un Premier ministre qui vivait les dernières minutes de son régime, assisté par seulement trois membres de son bientôt-défunt cabinet. Le Gouverneur Général, représentant de la reine au Canada, n’y a pas assisté. Pas beaucoup de risque politique là. Malgré ces détails moins que glorieux, je suis heureux de cette proclamation et je pense qu’elle aura un effet tout à fait positif dans le contexte de la société acadienne du Canada. Malheureusement, cette influence ne descendra pas jusqu’en Louisiane. Dans le sens politique et de plus en plus dans le sens culturel, les deux communautés acadiennes, Canada et Louisiane, s’éloignent. Le jour de la proclamation à Ottawa, on sabotait un programme d’immersion français dans la paroisse Saint Landry. Le 11 décembre, 2003, 70 jeunes étudiants en français ont été dispersés comme autant d’Acadiens exilés, poussés vers un avenir inconnu et intimidant. Leurs professeurs ont été envoyés dans d’autres écoles, et tout cela en catimini à cause de l’indifférence de la nouvelle directrice. Les vies de 70 enfants ont été chamboulées parce que le français n’a plus vraiment de place dans cette Louisiane américanisée. Ce ne pas la Déportation de 1755, mais c’est un bouleversement pareil. (En passant, l’historien Stephan White a découvert que l’âge moyen des exilés au bord des bateaux de transports pendant la déportation était de quatorze (14) ans !). À part un petit article, enterré dans les pages du fond du journal local rendant hommage à Warren Perrin, l’avocat louisianais qui avait lancé le procès, la proclamation royale est passée totalement inaperçue en Louisiane. Ce qui convient certainement aux Britanniques. Pour les auteurs de délits, pas de nouvelle est bonne nouvelle.

Un dernier petit mot au sujet de la proclamation. En français, le texte déclare :

“Attendu que la déportation du peuple Acadien, communément appelée le Grand Dérangement”. Ce qui est traduit par : “Whereas the deportation of the Acadian people, commonly know as the Great Upheaval”.

Ce qui est intéressant, c’est que « Dérangement » devient « Upheaval » dans le texte anglais. En fait «Dérangement » est mieux traduit par « inconvenience ». « Upheaval » veut plutôt dire « bouleversement ». Ce que je trouve très spécial c’est l’ironie de cette phrase « Grand Dérangement », comme si la déportation était une espèce de super piqûre d’insecte ou de grande fuite de robinet. Même très jeune, cette phrase me frappait fort. Je me demande si ceux qui ont connu le Grand Dérangement ont voulu diminuer l’importance de cet événement en le traitant pince sans rire. La traduction anglaise « Great Upheaval » (« Grand Bouleversement ») trahit le sens du français. Elle laisse entendre que les Acadiens exilés passaient leurs vies à se lamenter. Les Acadiens ont réagi plutôt comme Elisabeth Brasseaux lors du naufrage de son bateau. Perdu sur les rives de la rivière Saint Jean, le groupe d’exilés s’est retrouvé bredouille, et même déprimé. Alors la petite Elisabeth en voyant les gens dans un état de choc, leur a dit, « Réveillez vous, il y a du travail à faire ». Si les Acadiens n’avaient pas été capables de s’organiser pendant la déportation et l’exil, il n’y aurait pas eu leurs descendants pour applaudir la proclamation de la reine d’Angleterre 250 ans plus tard. En traitant leur sort de « Dérangement » ils ont réussi à enlever un peu de sa force. Un dérangement n’est pas du tout aussi bouleversant qu’un bouleversement et donc plus facile à surmonter. Même un Grand Dérangement.

Click here for added information

Une Partie du Rapport mensuel 2004, mis à jour 01/07/04; by Zachary Richard

http://www.zacharyrichard.com/

For Immediate Release: July, 2009

Acadian Memorial & St. Martin De Tours Catholic Church
Acadian Museum of Erath / Warren Perrin
Contact: Brenda Comeaux Trahan ~ 394.2258

WE SHALL NEVER FORGET

July 28th, 6:00 p.m. ~ Acadian deportation “Day of Commemoration” Memorial Service held at St. Martin De Tours & the Acadian Memorial & Meditation Garden.

St. Martinville ~ Brenda Comeaux Trahan, Curator Director of the Acadian Memorial and Monsignor Douglas Courville of St. Martin De Tours Catholic Church invite all Louisiana Acadian /Cajuns and friends to join in a spiritual memorial to remember the Acadian victims who died during the years of the deportation.

As mandated by the Queen’s Proclamation of December 9, 2003, and with the support of the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, we request that all churches in the Acadiana region please toll the church bells at 6:00 P.M. on July 28th, 2009 in remembrance of the day that the Acadian Deportation Order was signed by the British officials in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The signing of the Order by the British Lt. Governor Charles Lawrence brought about the Diaspora which commenced on September 5, 1755 and resulted in the cruel removal of Acadians from their homelands in Acadie, now present-day Nova Scotia. From 1755 to 1763, more than 7,000 (half of the population) perished.

Warren Perrin, instrumental in bringing awareness to the Canadian Parliament states, “Over 250 years after the defining tragic event of Acadian history, we will pause to remember the unparalleled saga of our ancestors because, as was stated in dictum by William Faulkner, ‘ The past is never dead. It’s not even past ‘. The desirability of an official apology to the Acadians became the subject of debate in the Canadian Parliament and within the Acadian community. In 2003, the Society Nationale d’Acadie, — the largest Acadian organization in the world– wrote directly to the Queen of England “asking that she ‘ recognize the wrongs done to the Acadian people as a consequence of the deportations from 1755-1763’ in order “to turn the page definitely on this tragic episode in our past”. As I look back upon the Petition For An Apology, which I launched in 1990, I’m very gratified to have played a role in bringing about this closure.”

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