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
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
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.