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  • Belle-Île-en-Mer
    – Acadian memory is alive and well
Entry to the port of Le Palais
Entry to the port of Le Palais in front of Citadelle Vauban (author Patrice78500, CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

The event was highly symbolic and showed with brilliance that the Acadian memory of Belle-Île-en-Mer is alive and well. On June 11, 2016, Belle-Île-en-Mer commemorated the 250th anniversary of the settlement of 78 families of Acadian refugees (363 people) in 40 villages in the four parishes of Le Palais, Bangor, Locmaria and Sauzon.

In the presence of a large Canadian delegation, the mayor of Le Palais and president of the community of the four municipalities of Belle-Île-en-Mer emphasized the needfulness of twinning the isle since 2003 with the city of Pubnico (Nova Scotia). Pubnico (formerly Pobomcoup) is considered the oldest Acadian village, founded in 1653, and even the oldest village in Canada still inhabited by descendants of its founder, Baron Philippe Mius d’Entremont. Today, this strong link is highly precious for Belle-Île-en-Mer which, far from being an island-museum, constitutes the largest Acadian fief of France. To understand this, let’s go back to November 1765…

A rather successful integration

All of the Acadian families did arrive at the port of Le Palais, coming mainly from Morlaix but also from Saint-Malo. Most of them had been exiled and placed under house arrest in British ports until 1763. What were they doing in Belle-Île-en-Mer, this Breton isle of about 5,000 islanders just returned to France by England but in need to be rebuilt entirely? The States of Brittany did propose a general feoffment of the isle, that is to say a redistribution of land parcels to the Bellilois peasants so that they become landowners. They, no doubt, hoped to achieve a healthy rural emulation by also offering lands to the Acadians, considered more industrious. Was this experience a success? If many Bellilois claim today their Acadian ancestry, it is that the social and economic integration of their ancestors was rather successful. Evidence and digital data recently collected (Jean-Paul Moreau, 2014) are very enlightening in this respect…

The Acadian cross near Bangor
The Acadian cross, east of Bangor, where the plaque indicates “In these places the Acadians met once they landed on Belle-Île-en-Mer in 1765” (author Patrice78500, CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

The first two decades (1765-1785) were marked by two key dates. From January 1, 1776, the affeagists (persons holding feudal land) were allowed to sell their land, and in 1785 some Acadians migrated to Louisiana. During this period, the main driver of social integration – marriage – played a huge role, since almost 90% of marriages involving an Acadian were mixed! After 1785, only 25% of the pioneer families remained permanently on the isle. Among the remaining others, 30% went to Louisiana and 45% also left the isle but stayed in Breton ports. Admittedly, in the first decade, several departures were obviously linked to economic reasons, but in the second decade, departing families were able to sell or lease their concessions in good conditions, sometimes even to… other Acadians who decided to stay on the island .

The principal Acadian pioneer families of Belle-Île-en-Mer in November 1765 (200 out of 363) were the Leblanc, Granger, Trahan, Terriot, and Daigre families.