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Nova Scotia

Through an Acadian landscape



By Peter Neville-Hadley

Meridian Writers’ Group

GRAND PRE, Nova Scotia—It’s a short drive across slender Nova Scotia from the blustery, Atlantic-facing capital of Halifax to where the hamlet of Grand Pré overlooks sheltered Minas Basin. This is a key point on a route called the Evangeline Trail, which passes through lands originally settled by the French, whose descendants developed their own culture and called themselves “Acadians.”

The land is still cross-hatched with the dikes they used to turn marshes into highly productive farmland, but there’s little sign of their Norman-style farmhouses and granaries today. The real drama of the Acadians is not one of arriving and creating a paradise, but of eviction from it. The Evangeline Trail runs through the land that was once theirs.

Considered a threat to British interests and occupying prime farmland, the Acadians undid themselves by refusing to take an unqualified oath of allegiance to the British crown once European treaties made this region of New France permanently English in 1713. “Le grand dérangement” saw families broken apart and sent to the American colonies, Louisiana, France, French Guiana and the Falkland Islands. More than 14,000 were deported.

Their expulsion had almost been forgotten when, in 1847, the popular American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published a rather maudlin epic romance called Evangeline, A tale of Acadie , a story of doomed love based around the deportations.

Founded in 1682, the original Grand Pré is now a national historic site. In the centre of what was once the town (burned by the English) the stone church where the first deportation order was read out has been rebuilt. Nearby in the garden is a statue of Evangeline who, although fictional, became the romantic heroine of the Acadians (and the subject of Hollywood movies).

A short walk from the historic site, an iron cross marks one of the points at which several thousand Acadians were marshalled for transshipment to waiting British vessels in 1755.

Further west along the trail the coast’s first permanent settlement of Port-Royal has been recreated from contemporary diaries and diagrams. Completed in the early years of the Second World War, it’s already appealingly weathered and is appropriately staffed in part by descendants of the few Acadians who were eventually allowed to return. Dressed in the clogs and homespun woollens of the period, some can point to neighbouring lands first brought to order by their forefathers.