St. James residents go in search of the past

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 6, 2000

DANIEL TYLER GOODEN / L’Observateur / September 6, 2000

CONVENT – In 1999 a delegation from Grande-Digue, New Brunswick traveled to St. James Parish in search of distant relatives. They came and foundfriends and family, and the two communities were joined by ceremony and by the bond they shared of a familiar past.

In August it was St. James Parish’s turn. Acadians returned home to viewthe land of their ancestors and rejuvenate their bond with their distant cousins of Grande-Digue.

Most of the group flew to Canada for week-long trip, while some chose to drive, taking extra time to view the country on the long trek north.

The group arrived in Grand-Pre’, Nova Scotia, to tour the area of deportation for many of their ancestors.

In 1744, England and France again went to war. Nova Scotia was under Britishrule, though many of the settlers there were of French origin. In 1755 theEnglish confiscated boats and weapons. The Acadians answered by sending adelegation to submit a petition and were imprisoned. The governor at thetime, Charles Lawrence, began to deport the Acadians and spread them out among the British colonies in America.

Greta Melancon happened upon her cousin, distant as he may be. Her familycan track two brothers, Pierre and Charles, from Scotland to Nova Scotia.

They were contracted by the English to help colonize the area. There theymarried into the French families and settled there. Melancon met a tourguide at Fort Royal, Wayne Joseph Melanson. After striking up a conversationabout their names, they discovered they both could trace their families back to Pierre and Charles. “It’s nice to meet someone of the same family line, sofar away,” said Melancon.

At Fort Royal they caught a glimpse of their families’ way of life before deportation. The fort was a living museum, with guides demonstrating thetasks and ways things were done in the mid-1700s.

By Saturday they had traveled farther north to Grande-Digue and to their hosts for the rest of their trip. They met the families they would be stayingwith and rekindled friendships. Eighty percent of their host families had beeninvolved in the first trip to St. James Parish.The first night they settled into the rural life of the coast of the north Atlantic Ocean. Most homes were small cottages lined up along the shore.Grande-Digue has two main industries, lobsters from the sea and potatoes from rich topsoil inland. All you would see were lobster boats and rows ofpotatoes, said parish president Dale Hymel Jr.

That night they ate traditional dinners, like meat pies and blueberry tarts for dessert, with their host families. Later in the evening they all met at thewharf for drinks and Cajun music.

The community is very much like St. James Parish, very rural and communityoriented. “They’re exactly like us. In fact the land reminded us so much ofGolden Meadow and Grand Isle, they look exactly the same. It was like wenever went anywhere, said Greta Melancon.

On Sunday some of the group attend a French mass in the local church. Inthe afternoon many headed out to sea for a little lobster fishing. The twocommunities renewed they’re bonds, holding another twinning ceremony for the citizens of Grande-Digue.

That evening they were entertained with a talent show. A fairly popularevent, around 400 people gathered to see the show. Fiddlers, singers,cloggers accordion players and others, some 32 individuals, performed that evening.

Monday they traveled the countryside and returned for a special dinner. TheGrande-Digue citizens cooked 166 lobsters, boiled in saltwater and fresh from the sea. The St. James Parish citizens in turn cooked chicken andouillegumbo and jambalaya.

By Wednesday they had spent four days in their ancestors country, seen what they had seen and made countless friends with those that live there now. “When you said you were from Louisiana they embraced you like aninstant relative,” said Edie Michel.

On Wednesday their week was finished, and the group headed back home, though not leaving for good.

The two communities are working to set up cultural exchanges for students as well as the other citizens.

Two students, Mallory Cortez from St. James High and Allison Hotard fromLutcher High, traveled with the group this year. That tradition will becontinued by way of a student exchange program, if the details can be worked out, said Hymel. If the schools in both communities can work out theproper equivalencies, students may be able to study abroad in the years to come.

In 2002, the Grande-Digue community will return to St. James, a traditionthat is planned to continue every two years with one group visiting the other.

The bond between Grande-Digue and St. James Parish is special in the factthat so much can be learned and experienced from each other. Thoughthousands of miles separate them, the communities have grown from the same families. This program will in the future help people preserve a senseof where they came from and who they are.

“This gives us a chance to experience our ancestry,” said Hymel.

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