I just finished a new book on the Acadian deportation entitled A Great and Noble Scheme written by a Yale University professor. It is a wonderful book and I think it should be required reading for all English kids in our high schools and universities (where was this stuff when I was in school?).
One of the less talked about aspects of pre-deportation Acadia was the vibrancy of the economy. The Acadians had built one of the strongest economies in all of North America. They, for the most part, had ample food and comforts (many eye witness accounts marvelled at this) and produced so much that they were major exporters to the New England states. This economic success translated into very long life spans. In fact, the average Acadian lived much longer than other persons in Canada and New England. It also had profound cultural and social implications. The Acadians were known as a happy people that enjoyed good food, dancing, music – much to the chagrin of the steady stream of Catholic priests. There was a sense of community not felt anywhere else among the Europeans that had settled in North America (there was this sense of community among the natives but that’s another story).
Despite the ongoing political tension that surrounded Acadie for almost the entire 150 year period before le grand derangement, the book’s author suggests that one of the Acadian’s most pronounced cultural values was “a reluctance to leave their homeland unless forced to do so by circumstances beyond their control.”
However, at the end of the book, after detailing an amazing return and rebuilding of Acadian culture and society, the author states that during the second half of the 20th century old ways of life were transformed. He goes on to say that “rural Acadian communities (in Atlantic Canada were) stricken by unemployment and poverty. Thousands of young people were drawn to other, more economically developed areas of Canada or the United States.”
You see, letting economies collapse has broader implications than just ‘economic’ ones. Acadian culture and society survived hundreds of years and through the most terrible circumstances but this book suggests that the economic realities of the 21st Century are now the latest threat to this very special group of people.
We spend less than 1% of our government budgets on economic development. On doing things to revitalize these communities. On helping them to build new industries and create a bright future.
Less than 1%.
There are wonderful stories in the book about how Acadian communities banded together in the early years to address economic challenges facing their communities. When the powerful tides of the Bay of Fundy overflowed the dikes and spoiled farm land, the community would work together to find a solution and meet the challenge.
Where’s that sense of collaboration today?