By Peter D'Entremont
My father was born in a fishing village in southwest Nova Scotia. It’s part of a large area, generally known now as the Maritimes in North America that was settled by French people in the early 1600s. Those settlers became known as Acadians and were recognized for their industriousness and skill at farming and fishing. They also found themselves caught between France and Great Britain as those two empires collided in North America. Acadians consistently found themselves with bad choices, risking attack from English and French forces. Acadians tried to remain neutral and resisted calls to swear unquestioned loyalty to the British government that eventually took charge.
Deportation and political disenfranchisement followed during the roughly 100 years between 1750 and 1850. Acadians were thoroughly scattered along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Louisiana, the Caribbean, even back to Europe. Families were separated with men removed from their wives and families. Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline, is based upon this history. When some were able to return many years later they found their homes and villages had been expropriated by English speaking people and they were left to make do with land that was less productive. The prevailing attitude was to hope that they’d just go away or at least become invisible or, if not disappear, assimilate into the dominant culture. Some of the families that returned, including my ancestors, were able to re-settle in the same area they had previously inhabited. Apparently, it wasn’t attractive to the English and so representatives walked the 200 or so miles to Halifax to have their settlements recognized. In this part of the Maritimes with the ever-present sea, they concentrated on fishing and boat building. One of those settlements, Pubnico, is the name of my father’s home village and it now has one of the major fishing fleets in the Maritimes.
My great, great grandfather became the first Acadian to serve in the provincial legislature. It was a period, the late 1800s, when Acadians began to regain their history and culture. I’m told that he too may have walked the nearly 200 miles to Halifax to attend the legislative session. True to his Acadian heritage, he too famously refused to swear an oath of allegiance saying he would rather swallow a dogfish tail first. This time no deportations followed.
My father left Pubnico at age 18, looking for work in the “Boston states”. He was part of a considerable out migration that occurred in the first half of the twentieth century looking for work. Some of those who remained became “rum runners” during the prohibition period in the United States. He returned 4 decades later to visit and that visit turned into a second home in Pubnico. He and my mother are buried here in Pubnico.
Pubnico is a rather prosperous village now. It’s actually still a small village of around 3000 people. This part of southwest Nova Scotia is home to many small fishing villages with no major metropolitan settlements. Fishing and boat building have become huge economic engines for the region and Acadian culture has rebounded in the last 30 years or so. As a sign of the changes, Pubnico recently had a nationally televised concert featuring musicians and performers from the region celebrating the Acadian people.. Over 250 years ago the government in charge tried to eliminate the Acadians by scattering them along the Atlantic Ocean coast. On the day of the concert my wife, Ann Louise, and I were sitting at the reconstructed Acadian village in Pubnico when the Nova Scotia Premier came by. I noted the irony. This town is largely populated by descendants of those who were banished. This town sent the first Acadian member of the provincial government and now its chief executive was coming for a visit – but he didn’t walk.