Acadian Driftwood

Robbie Robertson and The Band:  Acadian Driftwood

Quiz by Sharon Michiko Yoneda

The Acadians had lived on Nova Scotia and New Brunswick’s territories since the founding of Port-Royal in 1604. They established a small, vibrant colony around the Bay of Fundy, building dykes to tame the high tides and irrigate the rich hay fields. Largely ignored by France, the Acadians grew independent-minded with self-governance. With their friends and allies, the Native Mi' kmaq, they felt secure, even when sovereignty over their land passed to Britain after 1713 (see Treaty of Utrecht). 

In 1730 the British authorities persuaded the Acadians to swear, if not allegiance, at least neutrality in any conflict between Britain and France. However,  over the years the position of the Acadians in Nova Scotia became more and more dangerous as the Acadians had become too autonomous.   They rejected what the British wanted them to do.  In meetings with Acadians in July 1755 in Halifax, Lawrence pressed the delegates to take an unqualified oath of allegiance to Britain. When they refused, he imprisoned them and gave them the fateful order for deportation. 

"The war was over and the spirit was broken.  They signed a treaty and our homes were taken.

It was a New Englander, Charles Morris, who devised the plan to surround the Acadian churches on a Sunday morning and capture as many men as possible while breaching the dykes and burning the houses and crops. When the men refused to leave, the soldiers threatened their families with bayonets. They were expelled reluctantly, praying, singing and crying all the while.  Back in Nova Scotia, the vacated Acadian lands were soon occupied by settlers from New England.  

"This government had us walkin' in chains. This isn't my turf"; "We stood on the cliffs. Oh, and watched the ships. Slowly sinking to their rendezvous"; "Sailed out of the gulf headin' for Saint Pierre. Nothin' to declare" 

Although the Acadians were not actually shipped to Louisiana by the British, many were attracted to the area by the familiarity of the language and remained to develop the culture now known as "Cajun."  In Louisiana, they found work in the sugar cane fields.

"We worked in the sugar fields up from New Orleans. It was ever green up until the floods" 

artists:  Robbie Robertson and The Band

songwriter:  Robbie Robertson

date released:  1975 by The Band from the album, "Northern Lights, Southern Cross"

It has been argued by contemporary music historians that "Acadian Driftwood" was Robbie Robertson's magnum opus as a songwriter and solo artist.

Any discussion of Acadian Driftwood starts with the line:  "Canadian cold front moving in."  As a noted scholar interprets, the metaphor sets a tone of "an alien force moving in." And that is precisely what happened to the French colony of Acadia as it was expelled by the British in Canada in 1755 after the Seven Years War broke out.  All the Acadians' lands, tenements, cattle and other chattels were forfeit to the British Crown.  Before vessels' dispersal to the distant colonies, the Acadians were imprisoned awaiting their transport.  This event was a heinous act of ethnic cleansing which stains the history of Canada.

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