So we were discussing the manner in which a dispersed nation can find a mythic yet very real past that allows resistance. Yes the deportation of Acadians did take place. It’s a fact. But it did not destroy Acadie. Although he could not have anticipated the fate of his heroine, Longfellow had given Acadians a redeeming symbol. Acadie was Évangéline, both a saint and a martyr!
There were twelve-thousand Acadians who lived more or less amicably with Amerindians. They were farmers.
Most of the Acadians who were deported did not come back. But among those who were finally allowed to leave the ships in Georgia, US, some started travelling towards Louisiana which was still a French colony. However, many decided to return home. Antonine Maillet’s Pélagie-la-Charette tells the story of Acadians travelling back home. Madame Maillet was awarded the 1979 prestigious Prix Goncourt for this truly fine novel.
If fact, I analyzed Pélagie-la-Charette, and my publication is online, in French. If you click on Patrie Littéraire, my article will appear. Bourbeau is my mother’s name.
Le Père Sigogne
We are now returning to Acadie where we will meet one of the French Catholic priests who fled to England, but whom England sent to its French-speaking colony where some became missionaries to Acadians who were settling back.
Father Sigogne [i] was born on April 6, 1763, in Beaulieu-lès-Loches, France, and died in Ste Marie (Church Point or Pointe-de-l’Église) on November 9, 1844. He had spent forty-five years in what is now Nova Scotia, and he is the best known of the French missionaries sent to the Maritime Provinces.
Sigogne’s story is quite the story. According to l’abbé Casgrain, our Father Sigogne had his head under the about-to-fall blade of the guillotine when he was saved: [ii]
(please click one page to read text)
Yet, although he had escaped the guillotine, father Sigogne decided to join several other priests who had fled to England. This was the same England that had been a refuge to Huguenots, French Calvinist Protestants. And this was the England who having deported thousands of Acadians would make its French-speaking Canadian subjects into full-fledged British subjects, under the terms of the Quebec Act of 1774. History is so convoluted.
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The Concordat of 1801 was an agreement between Napoléon and Pope Pius VII, signed on July 15, 1801. Priests could return to France safely, but Father Sigogne and other priests were already in Canada. Sigogne stayed in the current Nova Scotia, and some stayed in Quebec, then Lower Canada. When studying Canadian Music, I was able to detect the presence of French priests in Quebec. Between 1800 and 1802, three chant and hymn books, “modelled on the traditional French service,” were published in Quebec: Le Graduel romain, published in 1800, Le Processional romain, published in 1801, and Le Vespéral romain. [iii] There can be no doubt that these hymn and chant books are the product of fresh information from France.
As for the Maritimes, the Acadians who were settling back needed the institutions they had had: parishes, schools, colleges. This is how Father Sigogne and other French priests could help them. Moreover, as well educated and refined a gentleman as Father Sigogne befriended the authorities. In his article on Thomas Chandler Haliburton, (December 17, 1796 at Windsor, N.S — August 27, 1865 at Isleworth, Middlesex, England), Fred Cogswell writes that Haliburton was a “friend of the celebrated Abbé Jean-Mandé Sigogne.” [iv] As for Bernard Pothier, in his entry on Jean-Mandé Sigogne he writes that Haliburton, the creator of Sam Slick, found him, i.e. Sigogne, “a man of strong natural understanding, well informed.”
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So, the fictional Pélagie, who travels back to Acadie, and Father Sigogne, who creates parishes, schools, etc., resemble our voyageurs. They gave themselves a purpose and they were happy to have a job. In England, there was very little for l’abbé Sigogne to do, but in Acadia, everything had to be rebuilt. For Sigogne, this was a real opportunity. People stumble and rise up again.
As for l’abbé Henri-Raymond Casgrain, during his pilgrimage, he was looking at what a priest would consider a miracle: an Acadie rising from its ashes with priests leading the way. Times have changed.
Grieg: Ave Maris Stella,* St. John’s College Choir