I have freely admitted that my knowledge of Prince Edward Island was minimal when I first visited back in August of 2015 and has only slightly improved since my full-time arrival in September of this year. Oh I knew that the Charlottetown Conference had been held here in 1864 but I didn’t know that Island did not join the Confederation until 1873 nor did I know the conditions for it joining.
And of the Island’s earlier history I was even less aware. I had vaguely heard of the Mi’kmaq in history class but have yet to discover the history and culture of the First Nations people of the Island. Of course it stood to reason that it had been under French control at one time but I had not realized it was part of what was called Acadia and was known as Île Saint-Jean. Nor had I realized that there had been French settlements here though records indicate that they were not prosperous and that the settlers on the Island experience great hardship. Good harvests were often followed by several years of famine. Starvation was common and occasioned desperate pleas for supplies from Louisbourg, Québec and even France itself. In 1756 the famine was so devastating that authorities were prompted to relocate some families to Québec.
Many never reached their destination – disease and the ocean claimed the lives of well over half of the 3100 deportees. Of the disasters at sea the worst was the Duke William on December 13, 1758: 396 of the 400 Acadians died from disease or when the ship sank 100 kms from its destination.
Though the British Conquest of Acadia occurred in 1710 the next 45 years were to witness the refusal of many Acadians to declare the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown. The refusal was made for many reasons: religious, economic, relations with the Mi’kmaq, trade and, perhaps minimally, political. During the Seven Year’s War allegiance to Britain became a major concern and under strategic orders to neutralize support for the French cause General Jeffery Amherst sent Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Rollo to lead the British deportation operations. He was ordered to take possession of Île Saint-Jean, build Fort Amherst on the site of Port-la-Joye, and deport the Acadians. On August 8, 1758 Rollo arrived to begin what was to become one of the most deadly operations in The Great Expulsion. Some of the Acadians on the Island swore allegiance, others joined the Mi’kmaq, and others fled to the settlements on the Miramachi. But most were transported to Halifax and then onward to France. Many never reached their destination – disease and the ocean claimed the lives of well over half of the 3100 deportees. Of the disasters at sea the worst was the Duke William on December 13, 1758: 396 of the 400 Acadians died from disease or when the ship sank 100 kms from its destination. Today the anniversary of that tragedy is commemorated as Acadian Remembrance Day here on the Island and in New Brunswick.
Until the great Acadian writer Antonine Maillet‘s recent lecture at the Confederation Centre I also had no idea that there was an Acadian Anthem.
Ave Maris Stella has its roots in the 8th century Plainsong Marian Vespers Hymn Hail Star of the Sea. In 1884 it was adopted as the anthem of the Acadian people at the Second Acadian National Convention, held in Miscouche, Prince Edward Island. The original anthem was in Latin but in 1994 Jacinthe Laforest, from Mont-Carmel, Prince Edward Island wrote French lyrics but in a bow to tradition the first verse is the original Latin repeated as the final strophe.