Acadia is a land deeply imbued with history. Its present status is that of a minority, a "country" with vague outlines but a vigorous spirit. Its territorial origin follows the French colonial efforts in the early 17th century. The first permanent agricultural settlements in what is now Canada occurred there.
Origin of Name
The name "Acadia" most likely originated with Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian explorer serving the King of France. In 1524 Verrazzano made his first trip to the New World and gave the name "Archadia" to a region stretching along the Atlantic coast near Delaware, explaining the choice in his diary with a reference to "the beauty of its trees." In ancient Greece "Arcadia" referred to a Peloponnesian plain that was thought of as a sort of earthly paradise. Sixteenth- and early 17th-century cartographers and explorers moved variations of the name further up the coast. By the 1620s, the name Acadia was commonly used for the region of what is now the maritime provinces of Canada.
Acadia is a territory which has been historically inhabited (see History of Acadia) and which, in turn, has shaped the culture of its inhabitants. Its cultural traditions go back to its colonial period and refer to the French language, Catholicism and rural life (agriculture and fishery). The dramatic experience of the deportation of the Acadian populations, which occurred in the fateful year 1755, connects the history, mythology and collective imagination of present-day Acadia.
Geography has a difficult task in drawing a map of Acadia, since it lacks geopolitical borders (see Contemporary Acadia). Mapping along the criteria of French language, and a sense of common belonging, shows an archipelago of Acadian communities in the Maritime Provinces. These communities largely extend from northern and eastern New Brunswick to the two far ends of Nova Scotia, and the Evangeline region of Prince Edward Island. This definition does not include populations of Acadian origin (the so-called "diaspora") to be found in Québec (Gaspé Peninsula, Îles-de-la-Madeleine, etc), France and Louisiana, although these populations share the historical memory of deportation.
Acadian society and culture are rich in common experience. Political institutions have bound Acadians together since the end of the 19th century. Today, countless institutions, projects, associations and events assert Acadian distinctness and the vitality of this minority group. Collective action towards the federal and provincial (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) governments have ensured that linguistic rights were acquired and maintained, especially at the level of education. The most astounding successes in this struggle have been the constitutional recognition of individual bilingual rights for New Brunswickers in 1982 (see also Constitution Act, 1982) and of the collective equal rights of both francophone and anglophone communities of New Brunswick in 1993.
Art and literature show a cultural vitality that includes both a vision of the past and a contemporary desire to break with it (see Culture of Acadia). Artists are fully present on the public stage, and they are often the forerunners in the creation of new traits that make up the Acadian identity.
If Acadians have long been perceived as an ethnic group that strongly identifies with its traditional roots, it must now be acknowledged that their place in the modern world is being actively nurtured. No longer characterized by a rural and relatively poor livelihood, they live a plurality of social experiences and prove to be part of most social statuses. Acadia's participation in Canada's nation-building process has not been as influential as that of Central Canada, but Acadians have kept the francophone minority agenda alive. They remind Canadians that they were the first French community in Canada and that they constitute the second largest today after Québec.
While some Acadians focus on a political, economic and cultural territory, others attempt to establish a legitimacy on a national scale, as well as in the broader context of the French-speaking world. In this way, they all contribute to the symbolic recognition of Acadia.