Acadians - Orientation

Identification. "Acadia" ("Acadie") was the name given to the first permanent French colony in North America. Historians disagree as to the origins of the name. One possibility is that it derives from "Arcadia," a name given to a land that was considered a sort of earthly paradise in ancient Greece. The Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano gave the name "Arcadie" to an area he explored along the eastern seaboard of North America in 1524. The other, more likely, possibility is that "Acadie" was borrowed from the Micmac people of the present-day Maritime Provinces of Canada: it is found in many Micmac place names such as "Tracadie," "Shunenacadie," and "Tanacadie." Today, "Acadie" is used to refer to areas in the Maritime Provinces that are populated by

French-speaking descendants of the original inhabitants of the colony of Acadia.

Location. The Maritime Provinces include New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. Being Canada's three smallest provinces, together they cover just over 1 percent of Canada's land surface. The territory predominantly inhabited by Acadians includes almost half of the province of New Brunswick, where French is the majority Language both in the three northern counties and on the east coast. Elsewhere, Acadians form a scattered population living in isolated pockets in western Prince Edward Island, southwestern Nova Scotia, and eastern Nova Scotia. The sea forms a natural boundary around the Maritime Provinces, except New Brunswick, which touches upon the province of Quebec to the north and the state of Maine to the west.

Given their position on Canada's Atlantic coast, the Maritimes have a cool, temperate climate: cold continental air masses from the northwest alternate with warmer, humid maritime air from the southwest. Winters are long and cold, and snowfalls abundant. The city of Moncton, in the geographical center of the region, has an average annual snowfall of ninety-two inches. Typically, spring and summer are short seasons, and the autumn is long and pleasant, with cool nights. Summers are very warm in inland areas and along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but cooler on the Atlantic coast. The average temperature in Moncton is 18° F in January and 64° F in July, although high temperatures occasionally reach 86° F in July. Average annual precipitation is thirty-nine inches. The growing season lasts on the average 133 days, Beginning in early May and ending in September. Within the Acadian areas of the Maritime Provinces are two regions with distinctly different weather patterns. Northern New Brunswick has a colder, more continental climate, with a shorter growing season. In Campbellton, for example, the average growing season lasts only 110 days. Southwestern Nova Scotia, in contrast, has a humid, temperate climate with rainy winters and few extremes in temperature.

Demography. In 1986, the total population of the Maritime Provinces was 1,709,000. In census returns, the main indicator used to identify the Acadian population is the mother tongue. In 1986 the total population with French as the mother tongue was 295,000, or 17 percent of the population of the Maritimes. The vast majority of Acadians now live in New Brunswick. Those whose mother tongue in 1986 was French numbered 248,925 in New Brunswick, 39,630 in Nova Scotia, and 6,525 in Prince Edward Island.

There is no city where the Acadians form a majority of the population. The largest concentration of urban Acadians is in Moncton, where they form a third of the population of 80,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. Recent figures have shown that the French language is in sharp decline in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, where Acadians form only 5 percent of the population. Though almost all New Brunswick Acadians used French as their first language in 1986, one-third of Nova Scotia Acadians and almost one-half of those living in Prince Edward Island indicated that English was the main language spoken at home. The rate of acculturation is highest in urban areas where Acadians form a small minority, such as Halifax, St. John, and Charlottetown, although the recent opening of French-language schools in these cities may influence the trend.

The French language, as spoken by Acadians, includes many archaic elements that originated in the seventeenth-century dialects spoken in western France. The strongest linguistic affiliations are found between Acadia and the Loudun area in the northern part of Poitou. There are several regional linguistic differences in Acadia itself. In northern New Brunswick, for example, the proximity of the province of Quebec has influenced the spoken language, whereas isolated areas such as Chéticamp, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, have maintained a more archaic form of speech. In the Moncton area, constant intermingling between Acadians and English speakers has spawned a hybrid form of speech, known as Chiac. In French-language schools, modern standard French is taught, and students are strongly encouraged to avoid mixing French and English. Educational institutions also tend to condemn the use of archaic expressions no longer accepted in modern French usage, although in recent years many voices have been raised in the Acadian Community calling for the maintenance of the distinctive elements of the Acadian dialect.

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