Friday, February 10, 2017

Spotlight on our Heritage #7: The Acadian Renaissance in New Brunswick

Isreal Landry
(Le Moniteur Acadien, 1892)
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is the seventh in a series of features prepared for Heritage Week 2017 (February 13 – 20), entitled Spotlight on our Heritage. The blog series celebrates 150 years of history, and reflects upon New Brunswick’s role in Confederation.

The Acadian Renaissance in New Brunswick 

Confederation saw the rebirth of Acadian cultural, economic, and political identity through various media. From newspapers to parliamentary seats, “La Renaissance Acadienne” became a keystone in Acadian history, and a strong proponent for shaping New Brunswick of today.

Valentin Landry
(Centre d'études acadiennes de
l'Université de Moncton)
1867 marked one of several important milestones for Acadians in New Brunswick. That year Le Moniteur acadien, published out of Shediac by Israel Landry, became the first French newspaper in the Atlantic region. This would be followed by L’Évangéline in 1887, published by Valentin Landry (of Pokemouche), which would become a mainstay in Acadian culture for nearly 100 years. 

Confederation, and the promises that followed, caused a significant disturbance in Acadian communities. Confederation promised railroads (that would potentially bypass any and all Acadian communities), a second layer of government consisting of little-to-no Acadian representation, and secular schools.

Amand Landry
Acadian opposition to Confederation was not without reason. Many of the promises seemed to have virtually no effect on Acadian communities. Amand Landry, one of the early Acadian political figures, understood these concerns, and stood as a flagship for Acadian concerns throughout the Confederation elections. In particular, he opposed a southern railway project spanning from St. Andrews and Woodstock, because it served no benefit to Acadians living in the northern part of the province. Albert James Smith picked up on this concern, and gained the trust of Acadians with his Anti-Confederation movement.

While many originally anti-confederation groups would eventually change their minds, New Brunswick’s Acadian population was consistently opposed to union. Nevertheless, although Confederation was feared to bring a slow death to Acadian political
Auguste Renaud
(Library & Archives Canada)
agency, it instead created a platform where Acadian leadership could flourish. Auguste Renaud (of Bouctouche) was one of these politicians, taking a seat in the first Canadian Parliament in 1867, as the first Acadian to become a deputy at the federal level.

The second half of the 19th century also witnessed the rise of the Common Schools Act of 1871. In short, the act stripped churches of their funding for private schools, in support of public schooling funded by government. Public schools were, for the most part, English, and while there were a few French schools, these did not receive the same level of funding as their English counterparts. Accompanying the new schools act was a mandatory school tax to be paid by all New Brunswickers.

Tribute to our Patriots Monument,
Caraquet, NB
Tensions rose to a climax in January of 1875, when in Caraquet MLA Robert Young was called upon to enforce the Common Schools Act as it passed in the Legislative Assembly. Young gathered a band of militiamen called “Young’s Army,” who accompanied the constables to calm protests. Young’s band of militiamen visited André Albert’s homestead in Caraquet, where 14 youths were playing cards in the attic. The militia entered to disperse the young adults, but fired multiple times through the ceiling before climbing up into the attic. Then there was a small exchange of gunfire, leading to the death of Constable John Gifford and young Louis Mailloux. The entire event led to concessions given to the Catholic Church, thus amending the Common Schools Act 1871 to better suit Acadians’ educational needs in New Brunswick.

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