If you have a drop of Acadien blood in your veins or if you just enjoy the distinctive sound of an Acadien fiddle, a place for you to go is the Musée Acadien in Miscouche, near Summerside.
A library full of binders of historical records, drawers of documents and compilations of genealogical research. I was there with only a few hours to spend, and a broad interest in all Acadian families with any connection to Newfoundland Mi’kmaq. That’s a pretty tall order for assistance from archivists. I figured I’d just poke around and get a feel for what was there. Instead, files and books were pulled out and stacked on a table for me. “Here, these might help you,” museum director Cécile Gallant said.
The emphasis is on Acadian family history. But there are some church records from the nearby Lennox Island Mi’kmaq First Nation. I started there, recording information as fast as I could. Then I flipped through other files, recording names and dates that seemed relevant to “my” people. I looked at two huge published volumes of Acadien genealogy by Jean Bernard. Vol. 1 was “A”: in PEI, for Arsenault. It was also in the gift shop. I bought it. It seemed likely that everyone in PEI is somehow connected to the Arsenault family. I also bought Earle Lockerby’s Deportation of the Prince Edward Island Acadians. If I could read French, the gift shop has many more books on Acadien history that I would love to have.
Museum exhibit rooms
A quick tour of the exhibit rooms. A whole room with a permanent exhibit of paintings by Claude Picard, depicting the creation and official adoption of the Acadien flag in the 1880s. In another room, a temporary display of the lives and work of Acadien women. Exquisite photographs, both professional and family snapshots. Spinning wheels and kitchen tools, knitted and sewn goods, the implements and products of women’s hands.
St. John the Baptist Church cemetery beside the museum. Names so familiar to me from Newfoundland west coast families. I’d see these same names if I went to a graveyard in Louisiana. Same families, but their move wasn’t voluntary. In the 1750s, when Britain took control of North America, the expulsion of the Acadiens began. Many were sent to what’s now the US, especially Louisiana where they became Cajuns, adding their heritage and language to the cultures already there. Others were “returned” to France on ships, to a homeland they’d never seen before. Acadiens escaped to Quebec and Newfoundland or hid out and were missed by the British. Some stayed in their new homes. Some returned to their homeland when it was safe.