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Acadians Header

The first Europeans to settle on the Island were of French descent: Acadians who had colonized what is now Nova Scotia in the early 1600s. After losing Acadia and Newfoundland to the British, France encouraged the Acadian farmers to move to Isle-Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) in an effort to support the French fortress at Louisbourg on Isle Royale (Cape Breton).

Acadian CarvingThe first Acadian and French colonies were settled in 1720, at Trois Rivieres (Brudenell), Havre-Saint-Pierre (St. Peters), Havre-aux-Sauvages (Savage Harbour), Tracadie, Malpeque, Pointe de l’Est (East Point), Riviere du Nord Est (Hillsborough River) and Port LaJoye. Over the next 35 years, the Acadian population grew and developed. However, the progress of this community-minded people took a tragic turn in 1755 and again in 1758 when the new British governors expelled the Acadians from the Atlantic colonies. In 1755, 6,000 Acadians were deported from Nova Scotia. Of the 4,000 who escaped, half went into hiding and half sought refuge on the Island. Three years later, 3,000 Acadians were expelled from Prince Edward Island. Many of those deported to France perished when two vessels sank during the transatlantic crossing.

Approximately 30 families managed to remain hidden on the Island until the 1763 treaty. When they attempted to return to their lands, they found that the British had appropriated the land, divided it into lots, and distributed them to court favourites. The Acadians were now forced to pay rent on the land they had inhabited for generations. The Tignish-Cascumpec Acadians, like their compatriots in other communities, struggled with tenancy, exorbitant rents, debts, and difficult relationships with unreasonable or absentee landlords.

The Rustico (Lot 24) families also saw great hardship but the arrival of Father George-Antoine Belcourt signalled a great improvement in farming and business life for the community. The institution he founded, the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico, issued its own currency that was accepted throughout the Maritimes. It proved to be Canada’s first people’s bank, and an inspiration for the Desjardins Credit Union movement. What is now known as “the Evangeline Region” came to be settled by Acadians from Malpeque who left Lot 17 when relations with their landlord became intolerable. In 1812, they founded “La Roche” (Egmont Bay) and Grand Ruisseau (Mont Carmel). In 1817, Colonel Compton sold to his remaining 15 Acadian tenant families 6,000 acres of lowland, in what is now Miscouche.

Culturally and politically, the Acadians encountered many difficulties, only acquiring the right to vote and sit in the legislature in 1830. And, for many years, the French language held an inferior status to English, the language of politics and commerce. Moreover, as the role of government grew, Acadians lost control over education in their communities and the process of Anglicization began.

In spite of these obstacles, the Acadians experienced great progress. The co-operative movement, for example, brought economic stability for farmers and fishers so dependent on the elements and beholden to merchants and processors. In reaction to this, in 1924, fishermen in Tignish created Canada’s first ever fishermen’s co-op, which later contributed to the development of the Antigonish Movement. Co-operatives still play a vital role in the Island’s Evangéline Region.

Today, French-speaking Islanders (representing four percent of the province’s population) enjoy two schools: École Évangéline, in Abrams Village and École Francois Buote, in Charlottetown. Nonetheless, these institutions were hard-won, and the battle for education in French wages on for Francophones in some Island communities, such as Summerside. Almost a quarter of Prince Edward Island’s population has some French ancestry and Anglicization remains an important issue. However, schools and organizations such as La Société St-Thomas-d’Aquin play an important role, not only in slowing down assimilation, but in contributing to the vibrancy of the Acadian culture in Prince Edward Island.

Link to the Acadian Anthem Music Clef
Link to Acadian names

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