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National Acadian Day

This story was initially published in 1998

On August 15, Acadians throughout Canada, in particular the Maritimes, celebrate National Acadian Day. It marks the survival of their unique and vibrant culture in North America. This date—the Catholic Feast of the Assumption—has been the Acadian national holiday since 1881, when it was chosen by the first Acadian National Convention held at Saint Joseph's College in Memramcook, New Brunswick.

The Acadian Flag

The Acadian Flag

Acadians are the descendants of French colonists who came to North America's east coast, starting with the companions of de Monts and Champlain in 1604. The most famous early settlement is Port Royal in Nova Scotia. Left alone to face their fate, Acadians developed into an independent-minded society. Catholicism, the French language, large families and strong community links through marriage, became the key elements of Acadian social life.

Acadia or "Nova Scotia" was contested by England and France almost from the time of first settlement, and changed possession seven times in a hundred years. In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht finally transferred it to Britain. The government demanded that the Acadians swear an oath of allegiance to the British crown. The Acadians refused, offering instead to remain neutral in future wars.

As tensions between Britain and France increased in North America, the British feared an Acadian uprising in support of France. Sir Charles Lawrence, Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, decided to disperse the Acadians throughout other British colonies. The deportations began in Grand Pré on September 5, 1755 and, by 1763, three-quarters of the Acadian population (approximately 10 000 people) had been forced out. Their homes were destroyed, families were separated and many died. The deportation was a great tragedy in Canadian history.

In 1764, Acadians were allowed to return to their homeland if they took the oath of allegiance to the British crown, which some did. Their old farms had been taken up by immigrants from England and the American colonies, but the Acadians were determined to preserve their culture in the new settlements of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and especially New Brunswick.

Monument Lefebvre

Monument Lefebvre
© Parks Canada

The second half of the 19th century saw Acadian culture renewed in the Maritimes. In 1864, Father Camille Lefebvre established Saint Joseph's College, the first French-language degree-granting college in Atlantic Canada. Here, the leaders of the Acadian Renaissance were educated. Saint Joseph's was host to the first Acadian National Convention, which chose the national holiday. A second convention in Miscouche in 1884 chose an Acadian national anthem (Ave Maris Stella) , a flag and adopted programs of action to establish French schools, hospitals and newspapers. Acadian culture re-asserted itself in Atlantic Canada.

In honour of Father Lefebvre's leadership during the Acadian Renaissance, the Saint Joseph's College Alumni built the Monument Lefebvre in 1896. In 1994, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recognized this building as a national historic site. Many other national historic sites throughout Atlantic Canada chronicle the rich history of the Acadian people.

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