by Treva McNally
Just a few miles past Summerside on the All Weather Highway in Miscouche is the Acadian Museum of Prince Edward Island. This large modern building was constructed in1992, but the Museum was created many years earlier by a group of Island Acadians who wanted to preserve their heritage. 2004 marks both the 40th anniversary of the Museum and the 400th anniversary of the first Acadian colony in Canada, and a special exhibit this spring will commemorate this heritage which began with the arrival of the Acadians to Prince Edward Island in 1720.
A visit begins with a 17-minute video, available in either French or English, telling the story of the Acadians on P.E.I. Currently, Islanders of Acadian ancestry make up 25% of the Island population. The video ends with the credits rolling over a performance by the recently disbanded group, Barachois, who were the unofficial ambassadors for Island Acadians for many years.
Several exhibits highlight the Acadians belief in the co-op system. A grain bank (get 4 bushels of grain in the spring and pay back 5 bushels in the fall) and the Farmers Bank in Rustico are two examples from the 1800s which show how the Acadians worked together to survive. Another exhibit features Stanislaus F. Perry, the first Acadian elected to the Island legislature as well as the first Acadian elected to the House of Commons. A collection of early farm implements is testimony to the foresight of a Mont-Carmel priest who, in 1912, asked his parishioners to gather up their old unused farm tools which he then stored in the church steeple for more than 50 years until there was a museum to house them.
The Museum is very proud of a sculpture, L’acadiens, which represents an Acadian family during the deportation of the French in the 1700s. It was created by Quebec artist Louis Philippe Hebert in 1908 and was owned by a Montreal man who phoned Miscouche one day to determine if it was actually an Acadian Museum. Assured that it was, he then asked if he could donate a sculpture and they enthusiastically said yes, even though they were not sure exactly what they were receiving. This beautiful gift is now prominently displayed.
This winter the Museum hired its first archivist, Jean Bernard. The Museum houses many Island Acadian Church records prior to1900 as well as copies of the 1881, 1891 and 1901 Canadian census for the Egmont Bay area. Bernard is computerizing a data bank with this information and encourages people to research their Acadian and West Prince roots here.
The Acadian Museum is open year round, Monday to Friday 95 and Sunday 14 with longer hours in the summer. There is no admission during the winter; after April15, the fee will be $3.50 for adults and $1.75 for students. Call 432-2881 for more information.