My island visit was about to come to an end
but I made one last stop at the Acadian museum in Miscouche near Summerside.
Prince Edward Island has been inhabited for thousands of years. Recent archeological excavations prove that people were living here at least 10,000 years ago. Their descendants, the Mi'kmaq, were probably the people the first French explorers encountered when they arrived on the Island in 1534.
They called the island, Isle Saint Jean. Eventually the French settled and farmed the area until the 'Expulsion of the Acadians'.
This was the beginning of the mass deportation of the Acadians from Canada...
In 1758, the British captured the fortress at Louisbourg, forcing France to surrender both Ile Royale and Ile Saint Jean. The population of the island at the time was about 5,000. An estimated 3,000 of them were deported to France. About 700 of the deportees perished when one of the ships sank in the English Channel. Many more died on board the other ships. Those 2000 remaining on the Island hid or escaped to the mainland and sought refuge there.
Those Acadians that were able to get back to the Island some years later found that their land was now owned and occupied by the English. In order to stay on the Island, the Acadians were obliged to become tenants to the English landowners. Relations were understandably strained.
From a letter written by the missionary priest de Balonne in August of 1800...
"There are now three Acadian settlements, in Malpeque, Rasticot and in Bay Fortune. In each case the settlements were formed by two or three families who produced many offspring, but without ever marrying anyone else, so that in each of the localities you will find that everyone is more or less related. I cannot disapprove of the aversion they have for marrying their neighbors (the English, the Scots or the Irish) because it has meant that they have kept their faith, their customs and their piety intact. The result is that all the marriages are between relatives, and until I arrived second cousins were being married without any difficulty."
Though that friction between the different communities is no longer so noticeable, the vestiges are apparently still there. In one town the names of the businesses, streets and monuments are all about the English or the Scots and 5 miles away all the names change to Arceneaux, LaBlanc, Hebert, and Poirier. The rivers are Riviere Saint Something, the towns become Saint Whomever and the language is abruptly switched by clerks, waitresses, and children from English to French, then back again.
I thought it might be interesting to compare the Acadian food to the Cajun food of La. Well, there is no similarity at all. Where the spicy Cajun cuisine will give you heartburn for a week and raise your cholesterol to the 'oh my god!' level, the Acadian French cuisine is somewhat bland and boring. (My heart doctor would love it)
The plate I ordered was called Acadian Feast: Rapure, meat pie, Chicken Tricot and Coquille Evangeline. It was okay but a little garlic and cayenne would have helped a lot. An interesting item on that plate was the black liquid in the little cup--molasses! I am not sure what it goes with so I just tried it with everything. It helped.
A natural connection between the Cajuns of La. and the Acadians is their love of music and dancing.
One of the oldest references to Acadian dance on P.E.I. is a comment made by a visiting Presbyterian minister in 1770, "...he describes the evening he spent at the home of an Acadian family, "At 9 pm went to a house where the French were convened, had a dance and spent the evening in jollity."
Most gatherings, parties, and dances were held in the kitchen, which was usually the largest and warmest room of the house. Living rooms were usually reserved for special occasions and not for 'soirees' where there would be a crowd of people and square dancing. These parties often took place on special occasions such as weddings and Shrovetide. The dancing would start after supper and often last until dawn. Kitchens filled with as many dancing couples as the space could hold. A local fiddler or mouth organ player provided the music.
Deacon Cyrus Gallant, a well-known dancer, described how popular dance was in the early decades of the 20th century:
"It was like there was a heartbeat in the room, and they couldn't avoid it. They had to jump on the floor, and we can't describe that, because you don't see it anymore. They just couldn't stay off the floor."
This spectacular church and the accompanying cemetery ...
...had prime ocean view.
Prince Edward Island is definitely worth the effort it took to get there. I am really glad I did it. Now it was time to head to Nova Scotia. I noticed that I barely slept that night before leaving; perhaps it was the blowing wind and rain on my roof, or possibly my fear of that narrow bridge with the ocean far below me.
(Items in Italics are from literature provided by the museum)