Acadians - History and Cultural Relations

The first French colonists arrived in Acadia in 1604. After illfated attempts to establish colonies on Ile Sainte-Croix (Dotchet Island, Maine) and at Port-Royal (Nova Scotia), Acadia was abandoned and Britain seized control of the area, naming it Nova Scotia in 1621. In 1632, the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye returned Acadia to French jurisdiction and permanent colonization began. Between 1632 and 1654, when Acadia once again fell to the British, about fifty families of colonists arrived from France, and those few families formed the nucleus of the present-day Acadian population.

Politically, the next hundred years continued to be marked by instability. Because of the weak position it occupied on the margins of both the French and the British North American empires, Acadia changed hands several times. In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht gave Britain permanent control of peninsular Nova Scotia, and with the Treaty of Paris in 1763, France lost the rest of what had been the colony of Acadia. During the tense period between these two treaties, the Acadians were referred to by the British as the "French neutrals" because of their desire to avoid all involvement in military conflicts. But despite the Acadians' avowed neutrality, the British began to deport them in 1755, with the goal of destroying their culture and placing settlers from New England on their lands. Among a total population of about thirteen thousand, at least ten thousand were deported between 1755 and 1763. The rest either fled to Quebec or were captured and detained in military camps.

Once a permanent peace had been established, a new Acadia was born, as prisoners being released from detention searched for lands on which to settle. They were joined by a number of Acadians returning from exile, although most of these were drawn toward Quebec, which remained a French-speaking territory, or Louisiana, where they settled in large numbers and became known as "Cajuns." For two centuries, the Acadian population in the Maritime Provinces increased both in numbers and in proportion of the total population, until the 1960s, when the Acadian percentage of the population leveled off in New Brunswick and began to decline in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Today's Acadians have a whole range of social, educational, and cultural institutions and are active participants in the political process, both provincially and federally, although their political influence is significant only in New Brunswick.

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