March 9, 1953 (21st Parliament, 7th Session)


Bona Arsenault


Mr. Bona Arsenault (Bonaventure):

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take part of the time allotted to me to recall to hon. members of this house an important event in Canadian history, which will be celebrated two years hence, that is in 1955, and to suggest to the government steps that could be taken in those circumstances. It is not too soon in fact to draw the attention of the Canadian government to certain measures that could and should be taken upon the celebration of the second centenary of the deportation of the Acadians. There is no question of reviving whatever ill-feeling may have resulted from an unfortunate period in our history, for which no Canadian of our generation holds any responsibility. It is rather a matter of showing in an official way, in a solemn way, the gratitude of the Canadian people towards the astonishing survival of an important group of our citizens, of the Acadians, that is of Canadians of Acadian origin. It would also be fitting for those in high places to underline the example-an example which is probably unique in the history of our country -offered by the reconciliation of the Acadian people with the various other ethnical elements which now make up this Canadian nation.
During the wars which led to the conquest of Canada, no other part of the then population of our country suffered more through the loss of their possessions, in their very flesh, in their hearts and their souls, than the Acadian people. Nevertheless, today, no other element of the Canadian people contributes more sincerely, more loyally and more actively to this sacred union which must exist between all Canadians from the Atlantic to the Pacific, whatever may be their origin, in spite of past rivalries and mistakes.
In 1755, more than 2,000 families, 15,000 people approximately, who were living in the territory represented today by the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, were cruelly affected

The Budget-Mr. Arsenault by a drastic measure which has come to be known as "le grand derangement"-the great disturbance.
More than half of these peaceful and Godfearing people, who had maintained themselves on Acadian soil for 150 years, that is from 1604 to 1755, were deported and dispersed during the fall and winter of 1755. Another group were hounded, seized or made prisoners between 1755 and 1758, while what was left of these unfortunate creatures spent the next ten years in constant wanderings, from forest to forest, from shore to shore.
There was not one of these families that was spared the death or disappearance of one or more of its members.
Nearly 5,000 of them were dispersed in small groups in the various British colonies of America. A large number took refuge in Canada-that is in that part of Canada which has become the province of Quebec-or in Louisiana. Others, numbering about 1,500, were taken into captivity in England, where they had to wait for seven years until the signature of the treaty of Paris, after which they were able to cross over to France, to settle there, especially in the southwestern part, more particularly in Poitou.
Hundreds of others had been shot down by their pursuers or had died of hardship. More than a thousand were engulfed by -the sea along with the old hulks which brought them into exile.
Without for a moment wishing to establish the responsibility for the tragedy, but for my purposes in this debate, I should like to put on record a few brief excerpts from certain official documents, practically unknown to the general public, the translation of which I found in L'Acadie by Edouard Richard, annotated by Henri d'Arles in its second edition.
First of all, a few excerpts from the deportation edict which was read by Winslow to the 418 men and children over 10 years of age, in the church of Grand Pre, on September 5, 1755:
The duty, said Winslow, which I must now perform, although imperative, is quite repugnant to my nature and my character, as it will be to you, who are somewhat like me. But I cannot oppose what I was ordered to do; I must obey orders. Therefore, I shall let you know immediately the orders and instructions of His Majesty, which are:
That your farms and your homes and your cattle and your herds of all kinds be confiscated to the crown, with all your other belongings, except your money and your household effects, and that you be taken, outside this province.

And here are a few excerpts from the account given by Governor Lawrence of Halifax himself to the right honourable Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations of England, under date of October 18, 1755, again according to Richard's translation, at page 28:
Since the last letter I had the honour of writing
to Your Lordships on July 18,-said Lawrence,____
the French representatives of various districts, have appeared before the council in order to formulate a final answer to the proposal which was submitted to them to take an oath of allegiance to His Majesty; they persisted in opposing to the said proposal a positive refusal. In spite of the fact that all possible means were tried in order to persuade to them that their real interests were at stake and that a sufficient delay would be granted to them so that they would be able to give due consideration to their decision, nothing could win their assent to any of the measures required by with regard to the honour due to His Majesty and to the security of the province.
Confronted with such an attitude, the council decided to force the representatives to leave the colony and considered immediately what might be the quickest, cheapest and easiest way to carry out this resolution.
We could easily foresee that to exile them by armed force and drive them to Canada or to Louisburg could not be done without great trouble; if such a move had met with success, it would have greatly strengthened the said establishments in- bringing to them men who had always been without exception the most inveterate enemies of our religion and government and who are now desperate owing to the loss of their possessions. The only way to prevent a counter-attack on their part or their reunion in a large body was to disperse them in the colonies', from Georgia to New England.
In conclusion, here is an excerpt from -the letter dated March 25, 1756, which was sent to Governor Lawrence by the Lords of Trade, that is after the dispersion and deportation of the Acadians; it completes this historical correspondence concerning the deportation of the Acadians, which I wanted to bring to the attention of the house. I quote:
We have placed before the Secretary of State of His Majesty that part of your letter dealing with the deportation of the French people and the methods you have used to bring this about; as you present this deportation as having been absolutely necessary to the security and protection of the province, in the present critical circumstances, we do not doubt that your conduct in the matter will meet with the approval of His Majesty.
There you are. Then followed, as we all know, the Seven Years' war, the battle of the plains of Abraham, the fall of Montreal and the treaty of Paris, surrendering Canada to England.
And during that decisive period in our history, the unfortunate Acadians, who had been expatriated, knew much more bitter hours than that of their arrest and deportation. Scattered in small groups along the shores of New England as far south as

Georgia, as may be seen from the texts I have just quoted, among a hostile people, whose racial origins, religion and language differed from theirs, poorly fed, already sick and weakened by their trip on the sail boats that carried them, death worked havoc in their ranks.
But their most sorrowful affliction, the one that was their greatest cause of despair, was the dispersal of families. For those exiled people, the loss of their property and of then-country was not the worst of their sufferings. Wives, left alone on foreign soil, separated from their husbands and children, husbands, thrown on distant shores without any hope of ever seeing their loved ones again, often died broken-hearted. They were killed by moral suffering. As Father Casgrain said, they were like uprooted plants; they could not take a new lease on life. They were dying of homesickness as much as of want and like the exile of bygone days, they died their eyes turned towards their homeland.
Philip H. Smith, an English author, said in his book, Acadia, A lost chapter of American History:
In the annals of the past, we find examples of countries devastated in time of war, and where inhabitants were found in possession of arms; but history mentions no case similar to that one; peaceful and defenceless people were never subjected to treatment such as was meted out to the neutral French population of Acadia.
John Clark Ridpath, a well-known American historian, makes the following comment:
Governor Lawrence and Admiral Boscawen, together with the Chief Justice of the province, Belcher, came to a horrible decision: the whole of these people must be banished. Their first move was to require of them an oath of allegiance so contrived as to make its acceptance impossible. Then the English accused the Acadians of treason and forced them to give up their firearms and their boats. These broken-hearted people also submitted to this order. They even went so far as to offer to take the oath, but Lawrence answered that they having once refused, they must needs suffer the consequences. The annals of civilized nations contain nothing that can be compared to this wanton and sacrilegious destruction of an inoffensive colony.
In any event it is much to the credit of English-speaking historians, among whom Longfellow ranks highly, as well as comforting for those who are of Acadian extraction, to note that most historians have had enough intellectual honesty and courage to stigmatize such barbarous conduct. In spite of these terrible hardships which have no precedent in the history of civilization, the Acadian nation is today stronger and more alive than ever.
The sons of the deported and dispersed of 1755, who managed to survive their misery, number today more than a million.
The Budget-Mr. Arsenault
There are today more than 80,000 people of Acadian descent in Nova Scotia, nearly 200,000, if not more in New Brunswick and in Prince Edward Island, more than 100,000 in New England, more than half a million in Louisiana and nearly 300,000 in the province of Quebec alone.
Bonaventure county, where my ancestor took refuge at the time of the dispersion, numbers alone more than 35,000 persons of Acadian origin. With faith in God, with confidence in Providence, these people have maintained the customs and traditions of old Acadia and the gentle tongue of the Acadian ancestors, of which you probably now hear a few accents.
They live in close harmony with some ten thousand descendants of Wolfe's or perhaps Lawrence's soldiers and of American loyalists to whom their ancestors' land in Acadia has been distributed.
From that point of view, Bonaventure county, and for that matter the entire Gaspe peninsula, sets for the rest of the country an unequalled example: the descendants of two races of different origin leading together a peaceful and fraternal life. Such an example could very well be followed in some other parts of the country, at Maillardville especially where, in the very middle of our twentieth century, the prejudices, the bigotry and the arrogance of the eighteenth century are still rampant and even inspire a form of persecution which, though subtle, is none the less disturbing.
Apart from the county of Bonaventure, there are numerous districts in the province of Quebec where a large section of the population is of Acadian origin: the Magdalen islands, the Saguenay and the Chicoutimi districts, the eastern townships, the districts of Beauce, St. Hyacinthe, Joliette, Nicolet, Three Rivers, Quebec, Montreal, and others.
It is that miraculous survival that will be celebrated, no doubt very brilliantly, in the various parts of the province of Quebec, in New Brunswick, in Nova Scotia, in Prince Edward Island, in the Magdalen islands, and in the New England states, as well as in Louisiana, upon the second centenary of the deportation of 1755.
As a descendant of that race that would not die and as representative in this house of Bonaventure county, where the great majority of the people are of Acadian ancestry, I suggest to the government of my country four ways in which it could solemnly and officially take part in the celebration of that second centenary:
The Budget-Mr. Thomas First, by issuing a memorial stamp, similar to the one that was issued in 1928, at the time of the erection of Evangeline's monument at Grand Pre and of the opening of the memorial church, which has since become one of the most popular monuments in eastern Canada.
Second, the appointment, among the personnel of our public archives, of a Canadian of Acadian origin, whose exclusive responsibility would be to resume the work which the eminent Acadian genealogist, Placide Gaudet, interrupted in 1924 at the archives, regarding research and classification of historical documents pertaining to the Acadian history and genealogies. For more than 25 years, the great gap created by the departure from the archives of Placide Gaudet and his subsequent death unfortunately was never filled.
Third, the recovery, restoration and repatriation as far as possible of Acadian original registers and historical documents, a large number of which are scattered in France and England as well as in Louisiana and Nova Scotia. These are historical treasures of immense value and they should be entrusted to the custody of public archives for future generations.
And fourthly, Mr. Speaker, and last, the setting up of special scholarships, paid by the Canadian government, with the concurrence of the governments of Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and the representatives of the Societe nationale 1'Assomption for university students of Acadian origin whose ancestors lived in Acadia at the time of the dispersion. A permanent committee could be set up in order to determine the means of administering and distributing such scholarships, which would constitute a rather belated but at least symbolic gesture of reparation in compensation for the incalculable amount of material harm endured by their Acadian ancestors whose property was arbitrarily confiscated.
This is the form which the Canadian government's participation could take in 1955, on the occasion of the commemoration of the two hundredth anniversary of the deportation of the Acadians.
In all justice, it should be done, to my mind. It would redound to the honour of the government which would take the initiative in the matter.

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