New Heritage Minute aims to raise awareness about traumatic chapter of Canadian history

It’s been more than 260 years since thousands of Acadians were rounded up, torn from their families and forced away from their homes in the Maritimes.

Historica Canada is now telling their story in a new Heritage Minute, which was released on Thursday — National Acadian Day.

The vignette shows a mother and her child being led to a beach, where they would be separated and forced onto boats by British troops.

In a voiceover, she explains how the men in their community were imprisoned before their houses were burned and the women and children were forcibly evicted.

“We were forced from Acadie, the only home we knew,” she says.

More than 10,000 Acadians, the descendants of French settlers, were displaced from their homes during the expulsion.

They were sent to Europe, French colonies in the Caribbean and the southern United States.  

By 1763, the Acadians were permitted to return only if they lived in small communities and pledged loyalty to the British crown. These communities can still be found across the Maritimes.

The Heritage Minute was filmed in Annapolis Royal, N.S. — where the first Acadian settlement was located — and in Canning, N.S., on beaches where actual deportations occurred.

Paul Aucoin, who has Acadian roots, composed the music for the Heritage Minute and was one of the producers.

While many Maritimers are familiar with what happened in 1755, Aucoin said the story deserves to be known across the country.

He noted that Heritage Minutes have raised national and international awareness for Canadian stories like the Halifax Explosion, Chanie Wenjack and the legacy of residential schools, and Japanese internment camps.

“These are the ways that we plant some of these stories that we don’t know enough about … the way we spread these things wider than just the regions we live in,” he told CBC’s Information Morning Fredericton.

“When we know about these histories because of our regional backgrounds, they really need to be spread as wide as they can be.”

A resilient culture

The film was written and directed by filmmaker Tess Girard, while Acadian filmmaker Phil Comeau acted as a script consultant. Other Acadian consultants were brought on board to help with the production. 

The end narration was provided by  Acadian author Antonine Maillet, and Acadian singer-songwriter Julie Doiron recorded the vocals in the music.

Aucoin, who’s worked on Heritage Minutes in the past, said he’s long advocated for an Acadian Heritage Minute. 

“It’s just incredible that a community that had to go through this hardship … and that the culture was able to thrive and still exists to this day so strongly, both in the language and the culture,” he said.

More than 10,000 Acadians were forcibly removed during the expulsion. (Historica Canada/YouTube)

Aucoin said it was difficult to condense such a large event into one minute.

He said the biggest challenge was they there was no singular “hero” of the deportation story. 

While Evangeline, a fictional character from the epic Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem set during the deportation, is considered a symbol of Acadian identity and history, Aucoin said it wouldn’t work for a Heritage Minute.

“We always were looking at that one, realizing that the most popular retelling of the Acadian story was one that was made up,” he said.

Instead, they wanted to focus the story on one individual who would have shared a story with many others.

“We told it from the vantage point of a mother and her watching this happen to her husband, her older sons and then, ultimately, herself.”

The release of the vignette comes during the Acadian World Congress being held in New Brunswick and P.E.I. until Aug. 24.

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