Tag Archives: Acadians

Iry LeJeune

Lacassine-Special-record-earlycajunmusic.blogspot.ca_2014_08_01In James Lee Burke’s novel Cadillac Jukebox, a New Orleans mob guy brings a gift to Detective Dave Robichaux. A jukebox filled with 45s of classic Cajun recordings from the 1940s and ’50s.

‘There were two recordings of “La Jolie Blon” in the half-moon rack, one by Harry Choates and the other by Iry LeJeune. I had never thought about it before, but both men’s lives seemed to be always associated with that haunting, beautiful song, one that was so pure in its sense of loss you didn’t have to understand French to comprehend what the singer felt. “La Jolie Blon” wasn’t about a lost love. It was about the end of an era.’ (p. 198)

Iry-LeJeune-painting-by-George-Rodrigue-1971-wendyrodrigue.com_2011_04I wondered who Iry LeJeune was. With Professor Google’s help, I found his musical significance and traced his family tree. His 5th great-grandparents are Jean-Baptiste LeJeune dit Briard and Marguerite Trahan of Cape Breton. In the 1750s deportation, they went to North Carolina, then Maryland, finally settling in Louisiana.

Ira LeJeune, called Iry, was born in Acadia Parish October 1928 to Agness and Lucy (Bellard) LeJeune. Agness’ parents, Ernest and Alicia, both had the surname LeJeune.

Iry LeJeune Family Tree

Iry-LeJeune-family-tree
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When a young boy, Iry learned to play the accordion from his cousin, uncle or great-uncle Angélas LeJeune, a well-known musicianIry-LeJeune-wendyrodrigue.com_2011_04. I could find nothing on Angélas’ parents, but I think he may have been a great-uncle on Iry’s grandmother’s side.

In an interview, fiddler Milton Vanicor and his daughter explain their kinship with Iry. Milton’s wife Odile and Iry were double first cousins – a LeJeune sister and brother married a Bellard brother and sister.

Linda, M. Vanicor’s daughter, says Angélas was Iry’s great-uncle but Milton-Vanicor Leslie Westbrook theadvertiser.com 2015:06:07doesn’t mention the same connection with her mother. When I saw Iry’s father’s mother was a LeJeune by birth, I wondered if Angélas might be her brother.

Milton Vanicor died June 5, 2015 at the age of 96. He was one of the last surviving Lacassine Playboys, the band he, his brothers and Iry formed in the 1940s. M. Vanicor was a veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima. He played fiddle at festivals throughout the United States right up to his death.

Cajun's Greatest album Iry LeJeune
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Iry died in October 1955 age 28. Driving home after a gig, he was changing a flat when a passing car hit him. He left a wife and five children. His other legacy was reviving the popularity of Cajun music and making the accordion central to it again.

 

 

The Acadians: Review

Bill Smallwood takes a complicated period of history and makes it more complicated – Smallwood-Acadiansand that’s good. The Acadians, the first novel in his Abuse of Power series starts in 1749 with the British looking for a site to build a fort in Nova Scotia. They choose a harbour they rename Halifax. It ends in 1757 with British soldiers and sailors choosing tracts of “unoccupied” Nova Scotia land to homestead. The Acadians have been deported and the Mi’kmaq are being ‘cleared’ off their lands. The French have been driven back, and Nova Scotia is open for British business.

The facts of it: war between the French and British for control of North America, deportation of long-time Acadian settlers to France and the future United States, and war with and suppression of First Nations. We know these things from living in the Maritimes or reading history. By situating the facts in a story, Smallwood brings them to life and explains the intricacies of ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘why’.

Deportation_Grand-Pré-wikicommons
Deportation at Grand Pré 1755, by George Craig 1893

I have read a lot about the colonization of North America and the history of the Mi’kmaq and Acadians. I have been to Halifax many times and traveled around Nova Scotia. I thought I had a fairly good understanding of the history and geography of the region. But this book made so many things click into place for me. Instead of a spreadsheet of facts, the story gave me a flow of events, places and reasons. The dots were connected.

Deportation_of_Acadians_order 1755 Grand Pre,_painting_by_Chas Wm Jefferys 1923
Col. Winslow reads Order of expulsion, Grand Pré 1755, by C. W. Jefferys 1923

The main character in The Acadians is William Gray who was in real life a clerk to Governor Cornwallis. Smallwood promotes him to British Navy Lieutenant in order to permit him to travel to the extent he does and be privy to the discussions that he is. But it is not only from his perspective that we look. We get to know all the players involved; British, colonial American, French, Acadian and Mi’kmaq. Fear and confusion, bravery and avarice – we see the emotions and actions of all sides. Only the Mi’kmaq remain relatively unknown to us, and I’m sure that is remedied in later volumes.

It is history that shaped Smallwood’s story and character rather than the other way around. Most of his characters are real people. Events are based on letters, logs and other documentation of the time. When he creates or alters events or characters, he explains why and gives what is actually known in notes. So you can become involved in the story and also keep track of the real events. Sources and his changes are referenced in chapter endnotes.

Citadel Hill Fort-photo-D-Stewart
Fort at Citadel Hill, Halifax, today

My only quibble is that footnotes would save having to flick to the end of the chapter each time. You can, of course, ignore the notes but they contain archival sources as well as additional bits of information, quotes from letters and official records as well as the points at which history and this story deviate. That, I found, adds to the story.

The Acadians, 1749-1757 is the first of seven in the Abuse of Power series: The Colonials and the Acadians, 1757-1761; Crooked Paths, 1755-1862; The Planters, 1761-1921; Expulsion and Survival, 1758-1902; Rebels, Royalists and Railroaders, 1841-1910, and Lives of Courage. You can read more at Mr. Smallwood’s website or the publisher Borealis.