The Real Meaning of “Acadia”
Acadia means more than our local Maine coast and Acadia National Park. I have been remiss, some would say sloppy, to have used the word in this limited way in previous posts. The real meaning of “Acadia” is an area containing all of the original maritime French colonial lands of eastern North America. This includes parts of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, eastern Quebec and Maine. Colonial Acadia was populated with a certain group of French immigrants who to this day distinguish themselves from the Quebecois. There are differences in culture, language and politics from both France and Quebec. The Acadians even have their own flag, but alas, no province. The areas under French colonial control were always shifting, so the original Acadia grew and shrank over time. Today, besides our Acadia National Park area, it’s best to think of Acadia as those areas in northeastern North America where Acadian culture and language continue to hold sway. In my limited travels I have encountered Acadian enclaves in northern Maine, eastern New Brunswick, western Nova Scotia, western Cape Breton Island and eastern Quebec. Here on Mount Desert Island, our eastern half was granted to a granddaughter of Antoine La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac named Madame Maria Therese de la Mothe Cadillac de Gregoire by a grateful post-revolutionary America and as a result, many of our present day deeds were originally written in French. But it would be a stretch to say we are part of where present day Acadians live, even though we were for a time under French colonial administration.
The Acadian group Vishtèn from Prince Edward Island.
The history of Acadians in North America is difficult to condense into a few paragraphs, but by far the most noteworthy episode occurred 1755-1758, the Great Upheaval or the Great Expulsion. This was the start of what Americans refer to as the French and Indian War, known as the Seven Year’s War elsewhere. Between 6000 to 7000 Acadians were deported from Nova Scotia to France, New England or further south by the British. Many more fled into the woods or to New Brunswick and Quebec. The British burned farm houses and generally made for themselves hundreds of years of ill will. Those Acadians who fled to Louisiana eventually separated culturally and became Cajuns.
The war and other political changes (including importing English speaking colonists from New England) resulted in another 50 years of migration for the Acadians. Eventually, many returned to their Nova Scotia homeland and their descendants continue their culture and language to this day.
So how did Acadia National Park get its name? Originally (1919) it was named Lafayette National Park to honor the French general who helped us fight the British. But in a few years a large landowner offered to contribute the Schoodic Peninsula, thereby doubling the park, if only the name were changed to something less….French! So George Dorr, the park superintendent relented (actually, it took an act of Congress and a delay until 1929). The new name was Acadia National Park, the Greek-derived name originally given to the area by Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524.
For all the Acadians who may have been insulted by my incorrectly limited use of “Acadia”, I apologize. There is a lot more to Acadia than the downeast coast of Maine. For others, put the Canadian Martimes in your travel plans and see the Acadian Acadia.