Late August. Can’t believe it’s been over a month since the last post. Much of that month was spent travelling through Atlantic Canada. The great Boon-Petersen Road Trip (somehow I feel as though the magnitude of the trip requires capitalization) covered some 6000 km and six provinces in just a little over three weeks. In that time, we took six ferries, sunbathed on warm Atlantic shores in three different provinces, visited well over twenty different museums and historic sites, hiked a number of trails, and had good times with old friends and family along the way. The weather was perfect and every day was a new adventure. We really couldn’t have asked for more.
We also learned a lot, particularly about the Acadian peoples and their histories. From settlement through deportation and resettlement, their histories are tangled, complex and fraught. Today, the Acadians are a proud people, with a strong sense of national identity, an identity forged and understood through their experience of exile. Belonging, identity, citizenship – all of these have been hard won for the French speaking people of Canada’s Atlantic provinces.
The resilience of Acadian identity has been memorialized in numerous forms: from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, Evangeline to “Un acadien errant,” the Acadian appropriation of the Antoine Gérin-Lajoie’s, “Un canadien errant” (immortalized here by Ian & Sylvia) These nineteenth-century evocations of Acadian identity coincided with a growth of Acadian nationalism. Acadians began to be represented in political life, developed educational institutions and newspapers. In 1881, delegates at the Acadian National Convention adopted August 15 – Assumption Day – as their national holiday. For the delegates, it was an ideal choice. Separate from St. Jean-Baptiste Day (June 24), an August national holiday would allow the celebration of a unique national identity while not taking away from Acadian ties to francophone Canada. The adoption of August 15 also served to strengthen Acadian commitment to Catholicism.
Is it any wonder that the colours of Acadie: the red, white and blue of France, together with a vibrant yellow star, were so visible during our mid-August holidays? Indeed, the Acadian flag (and variants thereof) were present throughout our travels, and along the New Brunswick coast in particular. Light poles, porches, windows, license plates, lawn ornaments. L’Acadie was everywhere.
I leave you with the voice of Acadian soprano, Suzie LeBlanc. A singer perhaps best known for her interpretation of early music, Suzie has a crystal clear soprano voice. The nuances and subtleties, colour shifts and textures of French Baroque music in particular come alive in her interpretations. Speaking from experience, I can say that it’s been a delight to work with her and to collaborate in a number of musical conversations. More recently, Suzie’s branched out. In addition to exploring contemporary music, and the links between music and text (through the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop), she has begun to explore her own Acadian musical roots.
Suzie points to the physical harshness of exile, of the work required to rebuild roots, and of her own quest to recover her stories: “C’est peut-être dans mon sang, dans mon histoire. Mais eux,” she states, referring to the deportees returning to resettle Atlantic shores, “ils ont marché longtemps pour retrouver leurs racines. A ma façon, j’ai…fait la même chose.”
Roots, blood, and the complex histories of exile and belonging. If nothing else, these musings – and our travels – remind me that identity is always fragile, tenuous; that it is inevitably fraught and always political.