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The Deportation


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.

Writing for Success


Steven Mayoff’s novel in the running for Amazon award

by Peggy Miles

Steven MahoffHis book was recently chosen as a Top 100 Semi-finalist for the Amazon.com Breakout Novel Award. His song lyrics have been recorded by Canadian pop singer-songwriter Melanie Doane. He is currently converting one of his works into a screenplay. And this wordsmith lives in the woods of rural Prince Edward Island with a dial-up internet connection.

As I sit down with Steven Mayoff and empathize about the lack of high speed availability in Foxley River, it is clear that Mayoff is content with life.

His novel Destinations and Departures tells a family’s story using varying perspectives and multiple generations. Finishing the book he had worked on for close to 10 years coincided with the Amazon.com contest. Mayoff decided to enter to “just see what happens.” Making it to the Top 100 out of 5,000 entries has bolstered his confidence as a writer and he is now looking for a publisher to take the book to the next level.

Mayoff’s own life is seemingly filled with destinations and departures. Born in Montreal, and having lived in Toronto, he is a self professed “City Boy” who moved to Canada’s smallest province in 2001. His wife (originally from PEI) and her family (who also live in Western PEI) have helped with the transition. Writing on and off for a number of years, moving to the Island resulted in writing becoming Mayoff’s “definite focus in life.” He held a vision that “writing life was always going to be somewhere in the country, somewhere quiet looking at trees.”

Mayoff’s resume is diverse and includes novels in progress, poems, short stories, and he has written dramas for CBC Radio and contributed as a writer and lyricist for plays and musicals. Mayoff says that he has a visual style and aims to write in such a way that his readers can “smell the smells,” and see and hear what’s going on within a story.

I ask him how he feels about his characters. He tells me they are real. “They haunt me,” he jokes. Mayoff tries to show respect to his characters and he strives not to play puppet master. “Part of the craft of writing is listening,” he tells me. “You have to listen to your characters and cultivate a gut instinct.” He acknowledges that when he sits down to the white space of his computer, he doesn’t always know what’s going to happen next. “If it’s not a journey for me, it’s not going to be a journey for my readers.”

Mayoff describes himself as a storyteller. Recognition and seeing his words on paper is rewarding but “it’s the doing that’s the most satisfying part of it.” A final thought Mayoff shares about his success is that he is “at an interesting time where things seem to be happening. I feel very happy, very lucky, very privileged, to be doing what I’m doing.”

For more information on Steven Mayoff, visit his website at www.stevenmayoff.ca.

Avonlea’s Earth Day


Summerside bookstore does its part for the environment

by Peggy Miles

Avonlea Bookstore owner Richard KaysWalking into Avonlea Bookstore on Water Street in Summerside has a way of transforming a person’s frame of mind. The sound of traffic disappears and rows of books invite you to come further inside the space. Patrons will be greeted by Richard Kays, who celebrated 10 years last fall as the chatty owner and operator of Avonlea Bookstore. The bookstore carries primarily used books, but also has new titles on its shelves.

Over the years various businesses have set up shop in the retail space at 240 Water Street—including a furniture store, a liquor store and a cabinet manufacturing business. Richard tells me he has a wide array of clientele, from his biggest segment: women in their 50s and 60s; to farmers looking for some wintertime reading. In the summer months visitors from off Island stop into his shop, looking to relax with—as Richard puts it—“food, beer and their books.”

With Earth Day on April 22, the mission for my visit with Richard is to gauge his thoughts on how his service of selling used books ties in with the idea of environmental awareness. He tells me he is able to save books from literary purgatory by accepting books from the public, and also by obtaining books from companies that have overstock or items that may be slightly damaged. He admits that not all the books that people drop off make it onto his shelves. Some books are simply not saleable due to damage or being outdated. Richard ensures these books are properly recycled.

We discuss the reasons people choose to shop at second-hand shops, including his bookstore. He indicates the most obvious benefit of buying used is to save money, which is especially beneficial for avid readers. Shopping second hand also means the possibility of finding something unique. On the day of my visit Richard finds just the right item for one of his regulars (a video store clerk in her 20s) in her search for a one of a kind gift for her boyfriend.

We also discuss that providing a book with a sustained life feels good to the environmentally conscientious individual. As Richard points out a book can bring pleasure to a long list of people if it is given the chance to be passed on again and again.

Richard says that one of his greatest pet peeves is ‘packaging’ and suggests that corporations look closer at how they package everything from food to toys to electronics. He puts principal into practice and tells me he always asks customers whether or not they need a bag for their purchase. And if customers do request a bag, it comes from his stash of used grocery bags, which are sometimes brought in by his customers.

Richard Kays and the Avonlea Bookstore represent a growing awareness of environmental consciousness in our society and an alternative for those who choose to buy second-hand. What’s very obvious is the bookstore owner’s passion for the service that he provides to both his patrons and the environment. In his usual outgoing nature he explains his outlook: “You won’t get rich, but it’s a whole lot of fun.”

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