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Acadian Odyssey

This story was initially published in 2004

On October 10, 1864, Collège Saint-Joseph, which later became Université de Moncton, opened its doors. The founding of this institution of higher learning marked a major turning point in Acadian history.

Monument-Lefebvre
© Parks Canada

In 1764, Great Britain authorized Acadians, deported since 1755 to British colonies, to come back and settle in the Atlantic provinces on the condition that they would take the oath of allegiance and spread out in small groups. Excluded from political power, Acadians had no choice but to isolate themselves to preserve their language, faith and culture for an entire century following their return from exile.

The second half of the 19th century, however, marked the beginning of the Acadian renaissance. At a time when the British identified more and more with Canadian nationality, Acadians considered themselves to be a distinct people with specific aspirations and needs. According to Father François-Xavier Lafrance, Acadians had never been treated fairly when it came to education, which led him to found the Saint‑Thomas de Memramcook seminary in New Brunswick in 1854. This institution closed in 1862, however, due to a lack of support from the church.

Fortunately, Father Camille Lefebvre of the Holy Cross Congregation arrived in Memramcook in 1864 and took over from Father Lafrance. That same year, he founded Collège Saint-Joseph, the first French-language institution of higher learning in the Atlantic region. The number of students registering at this new Catholic college grew with every year. An Acadian elite that graduated from the institution quietly began asserting their rights. In 1881, they met at Collège Saint-Joseph for the first-ever Acadian National Convention, during which they developed a plan to ensure the survival, strengthening and growth of the Acadian culture.

The theatre in Monument-Lefebvre
© Parks Canada

Exhausted, Father Lefebvre died in January 1895, after 31 years as director of Collège Saint-Joseph. A month after his death, the institution's alumni decided to erect a building in his memory. Construction of this more modern structure, called Monument-Lefebvre, was completed in June 1897. The official unveiling was marked by numerous speeches paying tribute to Father Lefebvre as well as concerts and short plays, held in the theatre renowned for its acoustic quality. Monument Lefebvre, which is part of Collège Saint‑Joseph, breathed life into the institution's community, cultural and artistic activities, and attracted new students.

In 1994, Monument-Lefebvre was designated a site of national historic significance.

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