Big time celebration
Author Georges Arsenault and Victor l’Heureux discuss the home of Manuel “La Light” Arsenault, which l’Heureux purchased to save from demolition. He is currently renovating the property, which is just one of the many illustrations and stories in “La Roche & Grand Ruisseau” history of the Evangeline region. Local resident Irene Arsenault was one of many others who took advantage of the opening of the bi-centennial ceremonies to get a signed copy from Arsenault.
By Michael Nesbit
MONT-CARMEL – Two hundred years is certainly a big time period, and P.E.I.'s Evangeline area intends to express that as boldly as the star on its national flag.
More than 75 community members turned out Friday for the official opening of 10 days of celebration of the founding of the first homesteads in Lot 15, what is now known as the Evangeline region of the Island.
The event also served as the official launch of a book on the area's history, "La Roche & Grand Ruisseau," by celebrated historian Georges Arsenault.
Co-president of the event, Marcel Bernard, explained that the five families of Acadians settled the area in 1812, making 2012 the bi-centennial of their installation. There were two families that settled in Mont-Carmel and three in Egmont Bay.
"The whole concept behind the bicentennial is to celebrate those five families," he said.
The five families came from the Malpeque Bay area, according to Arsenault.
"They relocated in the fall of 1812. They were tenants of Col. Compton, and they were having problems with him. They thought he was charging too much rent. There was also bad relations with some of the English neighbours, so they decided to come to Lot 15.
"They knew the proprietor was not taking care of the land (following the responsibilities of Lot ownership). The Lot owner had passed away, with no descendants, so I believe they knew the government was going to seize the lot and make it Crown land."
A few years after the relocation, Lot 15 did become Crown land when most of the Island was still ruled by absentee landlords. By 1828, when the first leases were given, there were 61 families involved.
"They managed to become proprietors of their own land, some of the first Islanders to be able to do that," said Arsenault.
Acadian National Day organizers allowed the celebrations to be held in the Evangeline Region this year. The day is normally recognized in a different part of the province each year, and Souris has given up the honour for this special event.
Promotion of the bicentennial event has been sponsored in large part by the Evangeline Credit Union Central, with additional funds of $54,450 from the federal government, through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Canadian Heritage, and $8,000 from the provincial Department of Tourism and Culture.
"We do understand the value of tourism to the economy here in Atlantic Canada, and the contributions the bicentennial celebrations will make, when spent through the local economy to ensure long-term prosperity," National Revenue Minister Gail Shea told the assembled audience as part of her remarks. "Events such as these also help to ensure that local attractions also benefit."
Robert Henderson, P.E.I. Minister of Tourism and Culture, brought congratulations from Premier Robert Ghiz, who was unable to attend.
"When one thinks that, after 200 years as a community, that you have evolved to the point where you are today, you can tell that people have put a lot of hard work and their efforts have paid off to have formed such a tight-knit community," Henderson said.
"The Island would simply not be the place it is today had La Roche & Grand Ruisseau not been founded 200 years ago."
Henderson added that his own area history, documented in "Along the North Shore," by Clint Morrison, is a treasured document in many households and he expects the same to be true for the Evangeline history among local families, near and far.
Arsenault humourously encouraged families to buy multiple copies so that there are no family fights over who gets to inherit it when the time comes.
Considering the abundance of descendents in the area, that may not be a bad idea. The original leaseholders include: 32 Arsenaults, 15 Gallants, four Richards, three Bernards, three Poiriers, two Downings, one Aucoin and one Cormier family.