The church and graveyard at Mont Carmel on the west coast of PEI. Here, the island feels like it should be called by its old name, Ile St-Jean, when it was part of Acadia. First seen at night, it’s scary and beautiful. The archway looming overhead in the twilight, the rows of headstones white and dark against the setting sun. ‘Oh My God’ isn’t blasphemous here.
You feel the power of God – in the form of the Roman Catholic Church – on this windswept bluff with the dark brick monolithic shape on the horizon pointing skyward. Revisited in the daylight, still imposing but less frightening.
I wander the graveyard – and see the names. Aucoin, Arsenault, Gallant, Poirier. Names I’ve known for decades, names from my genealogy database. Not the same individuals, but the same names. My people with these names are from Newfoundland, and more likely connected to Nova Scotia. But I know there are connections between Newfoundland and this island. The people buried here are related to mine. This was all Acadia, with families that spread throughout the area.
Acadian history in a graveyard
I’d see the same names in graveyards in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Louisiana, France. Same families. In the 1750s, the British deported Acadians to Louisiana and France. Some escaped to Quebec and the west coast of Newfoundland, away from British control. Others remained where they were, hidden. Some returned to their homeland when it was safe and some stayed in their new homes.
Acadian history is rich and has spread across North America for two and a half centuries. On the west coast of PEI, it is everywhere around you. In this churchyard, it is awesome.
I don’t think to see if the door to the church is open. I am overwhelmed by the power of the building. Go in? Not when there is no Mass. It doesn’t occur to me to treat it as a monument, a landmark of beauty and architecture – to sightsee. I step gingerly around the building, not going too close, afraid of it I guess.
A large brick house is beside the church, the priests’ house I assume. I see a car there, but no people. I imagine black-cassocked priests flocking around. Probably I’d have got a shock if a real-life present day priest or brother had come out, likely in jeans and sweatshirt. The new SUV sitting out front looks out of place.
So I’m glad nobody came out, maybe glad I didn’t try to go in the church. I like the picture I have in my head. But I’m glad that someone went inside: at shepaintsred, you can see what I missed.
The feeling of family reverence I had in the graveyard has stayed with me. Seeing names so familiar to me that they could be my own family. The solidity of community roots showing in rows of gravestones, hundreds of years of ancestors present with you. And the same names on nearby roads.
See my Musée Acadien PEI for more.