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Exhibition at Acadian Museum commemorates historic events

by Peggy Miles

Lucie Bellemare in her studioWouldn’t history class have been more interesting if the historical figures from your textbook had been right there in the room with you? Experience that feeling this summer as the stories of nine different Acadians banished from PEI over two and a half centuries ago come to life at the Acadian Museum of Prince Edward Island.

The exhibition is being held in conjunction with the 250th Anniversary of the deportation of the Acadians, in which this group was banished from PEI (then known as Isle Saint-Jean) by British colonial authorities. Known as the Grand Derangement, or the Great Upheaval, this historic event affected thousands of Acadians who were deported, imprisoned or forced to escape.

The stories of these nine individuals will be told through sculptures and paintings created specifically for the exhibit by West Prince artist Lucie Bellemare. Made mostly of metal frames shaped into human forms and covered with a mixture of cheese cloth and plaster of Paris, the sculptures are lifelike—and life size. Each sculpture will be accompanied by a large seven foot canvas, depicting an image that places each of the Acadians in a particular environment, such as a boat taking them to an unknown destination. Story boards will convey what each of the men, women and children might have been thinking and feeling as they experienced the hardships of deportation. Through written words, each of the individuals expresses what became of their life and the lives of their family members.

Much effort has gone into making the exhibition as historically accurate as possible. Bellemare spent long hours researching intricate details, such as what the landscape of the region would have looked like in the mid 1700’s.

I visited Bellemare’s art studio in Abram-Village as she was working on one of the sculptures, depicting eight year old Marie-Anne Oudy. The little girl was forced to board a crowded boat with her family and leave her home for unknown domain. Oudy’s story has a tragic ending, as do many of the others being featured. But there are also tales of courage and determination—like Joe League and a Half who found his way back to the Island, raised 10 children, and became a prominent member of the Acadian community.

Bellemare explains that while the exhibition will present the historical side of the deportation, it’s her hope that her artistry and the efforts of the museum will help to channel the personal stories of the people affected by this significant event in Island history. Bellemare wants young people with Acadian roots to take in the exhibit and make a connection with their ancestors—as well as a renewed feeling of acceptance and pride. Now that sounds like a memorable history lesson.

The exhibition will be launched on June 2 at 7 pm and runs until December. The Acadian Museum of Prince Edward Island is located on Route 2 in Miscouche. Check out the museum’s website for hours of operation and admission prices: www.teleco.org/museeacadien.

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