On a sunny morning in mid-August, nearly five hundred people came together in Riverside-Albert (population: 350) to recognize and honour the region’s Acadian past. While standing among local residents and Acadians from many states and provinces, I felt proud to be from Albert County.
We had gathered for the official unveiling of the Monument de Chipoudie. For four years, a committee of people from Albert County and Dieppe worked together to create the structure and organize the unveiling ceremony. The timing was chosen to coincide with the Acadian National Congress happening throughout SE NB.
The black granite monument features an etching of an Acadian family wearing traditional clothes; the names of the 22 family names are inscribed on the top. Between 1700 and 1755, Acadian settlers led by Pierre Thibodeau settled in the region. According to the 1755 census, 425 Acadians lived in and around what is now Shepody and Riverside-Albert.
The event featured speeches from politicians (including past premier Frank McKenna), the singing of O Canada by students and the crowd, and a blessing of the monument. Several speakers acknowledged the contribution Acadians made to our community. It is easy to see how people in Albert County might not know about our region’s Acadian heritage. There are no buildings left, not even a cemetery remains. Their legacy lies in the land, the dykes that still remain, and in the spirit of the diaspora, the Acadians who live in other areas.
At one point, a speaker asked for all descendants of Shepody Bay Acadians to raise their hands. All around me, hands went up into the air. Many had come a long way to be at this event as part of the Acadian Congress -- a group of Louisiana Cajun visitors attended the unveiling, along with people from Maine, Massachusetts, California, Quebec and the rest of the Maritimes.
As a resident of Albert County, I feel I owe the early Acadians a debt of gratitude. Through their ingenious method of dykes and aboiteaux, the French settlers transformed boggy marshland into highly productive agricultural fields. The hard work of the Acadians made it much easier for later immigrants from England, Germany, Ireland and Scotland to farm the land.
At the ceremony, we said “Merci” for the past work of early settlers and also thanked the organizers of the event, particularly Wilfred Savoie from Dieppe and Riverside-Albert Mayor Jim Campbell.
The ceremony ended with the singing of Ave maris stella, the Acadian national anthem. Strong voices rang out. I heard a beautiful soprano voice behind me clearly singing every word. As the song ended, I turned around and saw the woman had begun to cry.
In 1755, the British forcibly removed the Acadians from their land in what is now the Maritimes. It is estimated that 11,500 of the 14,100 Acadians were deported. Some returned to the region in the late 1700s but their land had already been granted to other settlers. Many died following the expulsion from disease, hunger and shipwrecks.
The speakers barely touched upon the past tragedies of the past but instead focussed on the wonderful spirit of cooperation and reconciliation that brought us all together.
Janet Wallace is the coordinator and editor of Connecting Albert County. She is also a freelance writer and organic grower. The picture is of a young fiddler on the Albert County Fairgrounds after the unveiling.
For more information, see https://monumentdechipoudie.ca