Our last few days in New Brunswick were spent in a beautiful part of the province known as Acadia. This region, stretching the length of the Northumberland Strait, is renown for its beautiful, warm beaches, its abundant waterfowl, and its quiet, friendly towns. More than this, however, during our short visit to the area, we came to know and love the people themselves. How saddened we were to learn the history of the Acadians.
In the past, Acadia included most of what is now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The Acadians were French from origin, and while many of their fellow French immigrants settled in “New France”, modern day Quebec, this group of people settled in the Maritimes. Here they worked hard against all odds to turn the abundant salt marshes into rich farmlands, building thriving farms for themselves and their children.
During the great war between France and England, the Acadians, desiring to neither fight against their neighbors or against their brothers from France, remained neutral. When the Treaty of Utrecht declared that they were now under British rule, their neutrality remained. This didn’t sit well with the British government. Though there were never any signs of hostility, the British feared Acadians would eventually turn against the authorities.
Tension rose further after the arrival of 7000 British colonists on Acadian land, île Royale (now Cape Breton) and île St-Jean (now Prince Edward Island). Fearing what the Acadians could potentially do, Governor Charles Lawrence demanded that all of Acadia make an unconditional oath of allegiance to the British Government. The Acadians were willing to confirm their loyalty to the King of England, but they feared that signing an oath of allegiance might one day force them to take up arms against France, the country of their origin, and they refused.
This didn’t sit well with Governor Lawrence. On July 28, 1755, the decision was made to expel all Acadians from British North America and expropriate their land. Deportations began immediately. Over the course of the next 15 years, between 12,000 and 18,000 Acadians are estimated to have been uprooted from their homes and sent throughout the world. Some were sent to Great Britain and some to France, while others were sent to the American colonies, to South America, and still others to the Caribbean. Families were routinely split up, with family members being sent in all different directions. Meanwhile, in order to ensure that the Acadians would never return to the Maritimes, the British seized Acadian farms, goods and livestock. Their homesteads were burned down, and the rich farmlands were taken over by British settlers.
The ships used for the deportation were so crowded that the exiles couldn’t all sleep at once. The food turned bad, and rations were reduced. Epidemics swept through the people, and this, coupled with the harsh travel conditions, resulted in the deaths of many. Once at their various destinations, things were not much better. Acadian survivors were generally made to feel quite unwelcome. In some British colonies, especially Georgia and Pennsylvania, they were treated like and used as slaves. In other colonies like New York, what family members remained together were dispersed throughout the colony. Even those who ended up in France were not well received. Though the government gave them land in Brittany and Poitou, local farmers considered them to be usurpers and treated them harshly.
A few of the Acadians managed to escape deportation. Some fled into the woods and tried to make their way to other French colonies. These didn’t fare much better than those deported, however. Suffering from disease and the fear of British attacks, they lived in constant anxiety.
The deportation may have temporarily removed the Acadians from the Maritimes, but it did not, as the British had hoped, make them lose their culture. The Acadians loved life, and this, along with their peaceful outlook, even amidst constant abuse, gave them a survivor’s attitude. They never retaliated against those who hated them so much, and this is probably one of the key reasons why they prevailed and were eventually allowed to return to the Maritimes. They didn’t go back to their original homelands, however, but took up residence in uninhabited areas. In New Brunswick, they began their lives anew on the land along the Northumberland Strait, and now, some 300 years later, there are more than 300,000 Acadians in New Brunswick alone. Despite all that they have been through, the friendliness and peaceful attitude of the Acadians remain remarkable, making Acadia, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful parts of New Brunswick.
Reflecting on their past, Jesus words come vividly into my mind: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:9-10 NIV)
Why are we as human beings always tempted to return evil for evil? We’re so quick to say, “YOU did this to me. I will never forget it! You deserve to be hit hard for what you did to me!” Often grudges are carried from generation to generation, and it is common that those holding the grudges may not even be aware of the original reason for their animosity!
Why are we so unwilling to forgive? Is it possibly because we deem ourselves more important than others? But let’s think about it! Is this constant bickering worthy of our time? Are we really so much better than others? Haven’t we also been guilty of offending others, even if it may have been be unintentional?
Jesus gives us great advice in Matt 7:3-5 “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” (The Message)
Leaving in peace is God’s way. Jesus showed how important it was for us to live in peace. He reached across the chasm that sin had created and made sure we could be united with God once again. He died so that we could experience complete freedom, so that we could be reconciled with God. We were the ones who created the chasm between God and ourselves, however God is the one who paved the way for reconciliation. Peace is a worthwhile endeavor. Living in peace is living according to God’s will. “When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.” (Rom 5:10 NIV)
Is holding on to grudges worthwhile? Don’t you make yourselves prisoners of your own emotions when you do so? If you can’t let go, come to Jesus, the resurrected one, and learn from Him. He will set you free: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36 NIV) Only through Him will you ever be able to forgive. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col 3:13-14 NIV)
May we all learn from our Acadian friends and neighbors.