Culture of Acadia | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Culture of Acadia

Marginalized by geographic and economic factors, the Acadian regions remained culturally isolated until the middle of the 20th century. Music and folklore were the only widespread forms of artistic expression until the advent of higher education and access to the wider world.
Ten-year-old Annie-Lyne LeBlanc (left) and her sister Felicia, 13, in the Acadian colours of red white blue and yellow in Bouctouche, N.B. during National Acadian Day on Wednesday August 15, 2007. Image: The Canadian Press/Moncton Times & Transcript/Viktor Pivovarov.

Marginalized by geographic and economic factors, the Acadian regions remained culturally isolated until the middle of the 20th century. Music and folklore were the only widespread forms of artistic expression until the advent of higher education and access to the wider world. The 1950s and 1960s saw a virtual explosion of Acadian culture in handicrafts, painting, song, dance, theatre, cinema and literature.


Until the end of the 19th century, Acadians lived in isolated groups, with little contact with the exterior. This allowed them to preserve the traditions of their ancestors, their speech (derived mainly from the Poitou region of France), their cuisine, celebrations and oral traditions: songs, stories and legends passed from generation to generation since their arrival in the 17th century.

The songs composed by Acadians at the turn of the 20th century attest to their cultural awakening, as seen in "L'Evangéline," "Le Réveil de l'exile," "Le Pêcheur acadien" and "La Fleur du souvenir." Traditional songs had always remained in favour with the people, but intellectuals tended to scorn them. It was not until 1939 that a column on Acadian folksongs began to appear in the paper L'Evangéline. This column (by journalist Thomas LeBlanc), along with 3 volumes of Chansons d'Acadie published by Fathers Anselm Chiasson and Daniel Boudreau between 1942 and 1956 attracted attention to Acadian folklore. Shortly thereafter outside researchers arrived: Luc Lacourcière, Monseigneur Félix-Antoine Savard and Roger Matton from Québec; Carmen Roy from Ottawa; and Geneviève Massignon from France. Soon Acadians themselves began to gather folklore material, assembling important collections.

The Université de Moncton has been teaching folklore since 1966, and in 1970 its Centre d'Études Acadiennes opened a section devoted exclusively to this theme, preserving thousands of songs, stories, legends and cultural traditions. Université Laval now has a rich collection of Acadian material, thanks to its own researchers and students.

Singers and choral groups in Québec and Acadia have rediscovered traditional songs, which are now heard frequently in concerts, on radio and TV. Edith Butler and Angèle Arsenault relied on these folksongs to launch their brilliant careers.

Indeed, the rediscovery of Acadian folklore has given rise to an entire literature: there are volumes of stories, legends, songs, recipes and novels. The many books by world-famous Acadian author Antonine Maillet are inspired by this folklore.


Acadian singer Jeanne (Doucet) Currie from Annapolis Royal, N.S.
The World Acadian Congress at the National Historic Site of Grand Pre, in Nova Scotia, August 15, 2004.\r\nImage: The Canadian Press/ photographer Andrew Vaughan.\r\n

There is an old saying that Acadians are born with songs in their veins and music in their fingertips. Previous generations provided instrumental as well as vocal proof of this, and the current generation amply confirms the proverb.

Arthur LeBlanc, after studying in Québec and Paris, soon achieved international fame as a violinist before his career was cut short by illness. Eugène Lapierre and Benoît Poirier, both from PEI, established solid reputations as organists in Montréal, with Poirier composing many pieces for the organ. Roger Lord, a talented young pianist, has already won many competitions.

In the world of popular music, pianist Paul Saulnier, violinist Kenneth Saulnier, and the duo of Wendell and Phillipe d'Eon - all of whom hail from Nova Scotia - are standouts. On Prince Edward Island, the ensemble group "Barachois" presents in concert the rich musical tradition of the province. Two violin virtuosos in the folklore field, Johnny Aucoin from Cape Breton and Elio LeBlanc from Memramcook, have set many feet in motion. Folklorists Charlotte Cormier and Donald Deschênes interpret rural songs and find some of their most eager audiences in Acadian schools. The duo "Roland and Johnny," made up of Roland Gauvin and Johnny Comeau, specialize in interpreting traditional music to young people.

Acadia is also known for its classical singers, its chansonniers, groups and chorales. Anna Malenfant was one of the first Acadians to distinguish herself on the national and international scene. Laura Gaudet popularized Acadian songs throughout Acadia and the US in recitals and on the radio, while Robert Savoie was a baritone for several years at Covent Garden in London. Suzie LeBlanc from Moncton is building an international reputation by dedicating herself to Renaissance singing. The voices of Gloria Richard and sisters Germaine and Marguerite LeBlanc have gained renown in national competitions. Today, Claudette LeBlanc from Shédiac, Roland Richard from Rogersville and Rose-Marie Landry from Caraguet are applauded at home and abroad.

Among interpreters and composers of popular songs, Edith Butler enjoys great success here and in France, while Angèle Arsenault has earned a solid reputation at the national level. Calixte Duguay and Donat Lacroix are known for their magnificent songs on Acadian themes. The list would be long indeed were it to mention all Acadian singers of renown today such as Denis Losier, Raymond Breau, Georges Langford, Lorraine Diotte, Ronald Bourgeois, Lina Boudreau, Jac Gautreau and so many others.

Young Acadian singers continue to win competitions in Québec and France. Groups such as Beausoleil-Broussard and 1755 have delighted audiences in Canada and France, where each has won the prize for best song by young performers. Les Tymeux de la Baie represented Acadia at Expo 86, as did the PEI group Panou at the music festival held in conjunction with the Canada Games in St John's in 1985.

Until recently, most Acadian parishes supported a good church choir. One of the best, the choral group Lafrance de Tracadie (director Armand Lavoie), established its reputation far beyond the church and parish. In Bathurst, the Voidunor (Sister Germaine LeBlanc), in Fredericton the choir of Soulanges (Father Stanislas Paulin) and in Memramcook, La Fleur du Souvenir (Charles LeBlanc) have won awards for Acadian choral societies.

Brass bands were long popular in the former boys' colleges Saint-Joseph and Sacré-Coeur in New Brunswick and Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia, but from the 1950s on, choral groups in the colleges and convents stole the limelight. Groups from Saint-Joseph and Sacré-Coeur, from Collège Notre-Dame d'Acadie in Moncton and more recently from Université de Moncton have won top honours in provincial, national and international competitions. Since 1962 the Lincoln Trophy has been won 8 times by one or another of these groups. The first to gain attention at home and abroad was the choir of the University of Saint-Joseph, established by Father Léandre Brault in 1946. Neil Michaud took over its direction in 1955; in 1963 it became the choral group of the Université de Moncton.

Singing is an important activity in many Acadian schools, and youth choirs regularly compete in annual music festivals. Thus, the choral group from École Beauséjour of Moncton (later known as Les jeunes chanteurs d'Acadie) with director Sister Lorette Gallent has since 1957 won national and international honours.

Some of these choral societies have made excellent recordings as well. To those already mentioned should be added the Chanteurs du Mascaret (Neil Michaud), les Alinos (Aline OBriet), La-Mi-Champlain (Sister Blanche Dupuis) and others. This strong choral tradition attracted the Choralies Internationales competition in 1979, a major event in the musical history of the region, which is now held biennially under the title Arcadiades at Saint-Antoine-de-Kent, NB.

Acadia is also the site of a major baroque music festival, founded by harpsichordist Mathieu Duguay. It has taken place annually since 1975 on the little island of Lamèque in northeastern New Brunswick and draws musicians from far and wide.

In Nova Scotia, especially in the vicinity of Baie-Sainte-Marie near the Université Sainte-Anne, musicians abound and cultural events take place all year long. One of the great promoters of all this activity has been Father Maurice LeBlanc, a choral society director and longtime catalyst for cultural life in the region.

One must also note the important contribution of religious communities which have awakened young people's taste for music. Throughout Acadia, priests and nuns fostered young talent, providing encouragement and opportunity for one of the most engaging aspects of Acadian culture.

Arsenault, Eddy
The music, by the Arsenault family at an Acadian party in the Evangeline region of PEI is La Reel Acadiens by Edward Arsenault (courtesy CBC).

Painting and Sculpture

Professional painting and sculpture are relatively new to Acadia, where the arts have traditionally evolved from church decorators - both those who were self-taught and those who were professionally trained. The first organized instruction in these disciplines came with the creation at the Université de Moncton of a Department of Visual Arts in the mid-1960s. A few talented productions from earlier generations survive, including works by women who studied design and painting abroad: Philomène Belliveau from Memramcook and Caroline Léger from Paquetville in the 19th century, and later Anna Bourque-Bourgeois, Jeanne Léger from Sainte-Marie-de-Kent, Alma Buote from Tignish and Yolande Boudreau from Moncton.

At the turn of the century Dr. Paul Carmel Laporte (born in 1885 in Verchères, Québec) settled in Edmundston, established a studio and spent 40 years teaching teenagers the art of wood carving. Claude Picard (Saint-Basile) and Claude Roussel (Edmundston/Dieppe) are 2 names which stand out among the talents which blossomed under his instruction. Roussel, while artist in residence at the new Université de Moncton, set up that university's Department of Visual Arts (1963). Picard and Roussel were both invited to contribute paintings and bas-reliefs illustrating the Acadian odyssey to the Église-Souvenir in Grand-Pré (1987). Environmental stone sculptures by Sister Marie-Hélène Allain (Sainte-Marie-de-Kent) are also on display at several public buildings in New Brunswick.

A number of artists from the same generation trained outside the province before establishing their careers in New Brunswick, including Sister Gertrude Godbout, Sister Eulalie Boudreau, René Hébert, Georges Goguen, Roméo Savoie, Hilda Lavoie-Franchon and Claude Gauvin. One of Gauvin's murals decorates an exterior wall of a federal building on Sparks Street in Ottawa and another was made for Expo 86 in Vancouver.

Édouard Gautreau (born in 1906 in Saint-Paul-de-Kent), Claude Picard and Ernest Cormier (born in 1921 in Cap-Pelé) produced religious paintings and murals for Acadian churches. New Brunswick has declared the church in Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, sometimes described as the Sistine Chapel of Acadia, a provincial heritage because of its paintings by Gautreau. In Nova Scotia, Nelson Surette (born 1920) has earned a reputation as a painter for his illustrations of Acadian daily life. In PEI, Adrien Arsenault has proven to be a remarkable artist. In Québec, an Acadian originally from northeast New Brunswick, Néré DeGrâce, has had one of his paintings featured on a commemorative Canadian stamp; and his prolific creations on traditional folkloric themes are in private collections far beyond Acadia's borders. Represented in the collections of National Museums of Canada are folk artists such as: Léo B. LeBlanc, a South-East painter; Alfred Morneault and Octave Verret (born 1902), both Madawaska area wood carvers; and Arthur Gallant, a South-East wood carver. Other well known folk painters include Médard Cormier (born 1933) and Camille Cormier (born 1924) come to mind.

Today's new generation of visual artists, trained in Acadian universities followed by studies elsewhere, constitute an impressive group - equipped to explore new horizons while respecting the traditions of excellence handed down by their elders. Some, such as the multimedia artist Herménégilde Chiasson and prolific painter Yvon Gallant, have already made names for themselves. Others like Paul Édouard Bourque, Jacques Arseneault, Francis Coutellier, Marc Cyr, Pierre Noël LeBlanc, Anne-Marie Sirois, Lucille Robichaud, Lionel Cormier, Luc A. Charette, Daniel Dugas, Guy Duguay, Roger Vautour, Ghislaine McLaughlin, Gilles LeBlanc, Georges Blanchette, Gilles Arsenault, Hélène LaRoche and André Lapointe have, since the early 1970s, produced an important body of work which addresses modern concerns but which looks beyond them. Robert Saucier, Jocelyn Jean and Paul-Émile Saulnier, although they chose to work in Québec and have shown their work internationally (France, Germany, Italy, etc.), must be considered to fall within the sphere of Acadian visual arts.


Acadia's first full-fledged theatre company, the Troupe Notre-Dame de Grâce, was founded in Moncton in 1956 by Laurie Henri. It changed its name to Le Théâtre Amateur de Moncton in 1969, and after its founder's death in 1981, to Le Théâtre Laurie Henri. Le TAM's finest moments came with Germaine Comeau's Les Pêcheurs déportés and Antonine Maillet's Les Crasseux, both performed in 1976, the latter directed by Jean-Claude Marcus. Since then theatrical activity in Acadia has been largely the work of professional troupes such as the Théâtre Populaire d'Acadie in Caraquet, and the new L'Escaouette theatre co-operative in Moncton. The 2 troupes have given several new Acadian playwrights a forum in which to develop and demonstrate their talents.

In Caraquet, the TPA featured Jules Boudreau's plays, the best known of which was Louis Mailloux (1975), a musical drama written in collaboration with Calixte Duguay, the story of a young Acadian hero who died defending his culture. Boudreau dramatized the aftermath of the Deportation as well in his play Cochu et le Soleil (1977). In his other works, Boudreau explores various contemporary themes with skillful touches of fantasy and humour in contemporary themes. The TPA has also produced one of the first plays by Herménégilde Chiasson, L'Amer à boire (1977); an adaptation of the novel by Régis Brun, La Marie Como (1980); a show for children, Rosine et Renixou (1983) by Roseline Blancard and René Cormier; and Zélica à Cochon Vert (1986) by Laurier Melanson.

In Moncton, the Escaouette theatre has concentrated on the works of Herménégilde Chiasson. Her plays are markedly eclectic, hitting every note from the most serious to the most comic, and exploring 3 main themes: revisionist history in Histoire et histoire (1980) and Renaissances (1984); humour, burlesque and farce in Au plus fort la poche (1977), Cogne Fou (1981) and Y'a pas que des maringouins dans les campings (1986); fantasy, dreamworlds and marvels in Becquer Bobo (1976), Mine de Rien (1980), L'Étoile de Mine de Rien (1982), written in collaboration with Roger LeBlanc and Atarelle et les Pakmaniens (1983), which toured New Brunswick and then Europe in 1985. Two of these, Au plus fort la poche and Becquer Bobo, were staged by the Department of Dramatic Arts at the Université de Moncton rather than by L'Escaouette.

L'Escaouette has also presented plays for school audiences, such asLe Pêcheur ensorcelé (1979) by Marie Pauline and le Gros Ti-Gars (1985) by Gracia Couturier. These plays explore both the real and fantasy worlds of children and adolescents. Le Gros Ti-Gars shows a sureness of touch and a mastery of text and dramatic form already displayed by Couturier in the 4 plays she wrote for the Théâtre de Saisons in Shippagan.

Other authors who have chosen Acadian settings and themes are Raymond LeBlanc (As-tu vu ma balloune, 1979, and Fonds de culottes, 1981); Clarence Comeau (Au pays des côtes, 1978, and Premières neiges d'automne), Gérald LeBlanc (Les Sentiers de l'espoir, 1983); and Marcel Thériault (J'avais dix ans, 1983). In the rather more difficult context for francophones living outside New Brunswick, theatre survives thanks to people such as Jules Chiasson and Jean-Douglas Comeau in Nova Scotia and Paul Gallant in PEI, whose La cuisine à Mémé has delighted spectators at summer theatres on the Island. Other authors who have turned their attention to summer theatre are Claude Saint-Germain and Léonie Poirier, while Pierre Gérin has published plays such as Opération Médusa (1974), which have not been produced. But Gérin's case is exceptional, for in Acadia the entire repertory of published plays (apart from those of Antonine Maillet, published by Leméac in Montréal) amounts to only 8 titles, divided among the Éditions d'Acadie, Michel Henry écriteur and L'Imprimerie Lescarbot. The rest remain unpublished, although most have been produced.

Acadian theatre continues to display encouraging vitality. Antonine Maillet's national and international career continues with Carrochés en Paradis (1986), Margot la folle (1987) and William S. (1991). A new troupe founded in 1986 by Viola Léger, famous for her role in Maillet's La Sagouine, has brought renewed enthusiasm, evident in its first production of Carole Higgin's Harold and Maude (1987), which saw some 50 performances for audiences numbering more than 10 000.


The first film produced in Canada was a feature-length movie, shot in 1913, on the expulsion of the Acadians and based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Evangeline. Since that date over 75 films have been made on 'l'Acadie.' However, Acadian-made cinema did not begin until the early 1950s, when Léonard Forest started to work for the National Film Board in Montréal. Forest dipped into his Acadian roots to make such films as Les Aboiteaux (1955), Les Acadiens de la Dispersion (1967), La Noce est pas finie (1971) and Un soleil pas comme ailleurs (1972). Although shot in 16 mm film, La Noce est pas finie is considered the first feature-length movie directed by an Acadian. During his 30-year career with the NFB as writer, director and producer, Léonard Forest was involved in the production of over 150 films. His frequent visits to the Acadian milieu opened the path for future Acadian film directors and production crews, thus contributing to the development of an Acadian cinema.

Forest was also an instigator of the ground rules for the NFB's French Regional Production Centre, "Régionalisation/Acadie," that opened in Moncton in 1974. With its mandate "to give an interpretation of Acadie by Acadians for Acadians and for the rest of the world," the NFB's French Regional Production Centre has produced and coproduced over 45 films (most of them 16 mm documentaries), thus allowing more Acadians the opportunity to mediate their interests, concerns, history, literature and differences through film.

The first producer for the NFB's Regional Production Centre, known as Centre Acadien, was Paul-Eugène LeBlanc from Memramcook, NB, hired in 1974. He was followed by Rhéal Drisdelle (1980-81), Eric Michel (1982-86), Michel Lemieux (1988-91) and Pierre Bernier (appointed 1991). Of the 20 Acadians who have made films with the producers of NFB's Centre Acadien, only a few chose filmmaking as their career. Among those who did not were Anna Girouard, Claude Renaud, and Serge Morin, who nevertheless helped to define an Acadian cinema with their films "Abandounée" (1976), "La Confession" (1978), and "De l'autre côté de la glace" (1983).

Phil Comeau, from Saulnierville, NS, has directed over 27 documentaries and 10 docudramas for the NFB, including: La Cabane (1978), a fictional account of teenagers confronting parental authority in a conservative Acadian village in Nova Scotia, and Les Gossipeuses/The Gossips (1978), a comedy about the crazy antics of 3 women gossips from a similar small village. His first feature, Le Secret de Jérôme (1994), is based on a true story about a Corsican lad with both legs sawed off at the knees who was found on a beach off Nova Scotia's French Shore.

Writer, poet, visual artist and cofounder of Phare-Est Productions Inc located in Moncton, NB, Herménégilde Chiasson (born in St-Simon, NB) began his filmmaking career in 1985 and has directed over 10 films. He is known for films such as: Le Grand Jack/Jack Kerouac's Road - A Franco-American Odyssey (1987), a docudrama based on the life of 'beatnik' Jack Kerouac; Robichaud (1989), a documentary on the political reign of Louis J. Robichaud, the first Acadian to be elected premier of New Brunswick; and Les Années Noires (1995), a docudrama depicting the political, economic and social events that led to the expulsion of the Acadians from Acadia in 1755.

Rodolphe Caron, from Lac Baker, NB, was cameraman for 11 films before becoming a filmmaker. Cofounder of the only Acadian film coop, he made 3 documentaries with the NFB and 2 with Cinémarévie Coop Ltée. located in Edmundston, NB. Avec le coeur (1994), a documentary about a group of volunteers bringing comfort to the sick and the terminally ill at the Edmundston Regional Hospital and Le Champion (1996), a documentary on Canadian champion archer Hermel Volpé, also from the Edmundston area, are the results of the Coop's directive to develop filmmakers and production crews in northwest New Brunswick, where people consider themselves variously as Brayons, Acadians or French Canadians.

Writer and cofounding member (in the 1970s) of the musical group Beausoleil Broussard, Jacques Savoie, who was born in Edmundston, NB, directed his first film in 1982. Massabielle, from his novel Raconte-moi Massabielle, is the story of Pacifique Haché, whose land is expropriated but who refuses to leave. He meets an attractive woman and together they come up with a solution to his predicament. His story resembles that of Jackie Vautour and the families whose lands were expropriated to create Kouchibouguac National Park. Savoie went on to write scenarios for the films: Les Portes tournantes (1988) directed by Francis Mankiewicz; Le Violon d'Arthur (1990), directed by Jean-Pierre Gariépy and a fictional TV , Bombardier.

Cofounder of Phare-Est Productions Inc, Ginette Pellerin is originally from Québec. Since her move to Moncton in 1975, she has devoted all her time to working in movies - first in assisting capacities. She has directed 3 films with the NFB, including: L'Âme soeur (1991), a documentary on the lives and accomplishments of nuns from the Religious Order of Hospitalières de Saint-Joseph and Évangéline en quête (1996), a docudrama on the myth or reality of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's heroine Evangeline.

Originally from Charlo, NB, Bettie Arseneault was assistant director to various film and television productions before directing 2 films with the NFB: Bateau bleu, maison verte (1985), a documentary on the colourful Acadian homes and boats, and De retour pour de bon (1994), a documentary on Acadians returning home after living for several years in Montréal.

Cartoonist and animator Anne-Marie Sirois, from Madawaska County, NB, has directed 2 animated films for the NFB and 2 for Cinémarévie Film Coop. Her first film, Maille Maille/Stitches in Time (1987), is about 2 aged women recalling their memories while knitting. Animastress (1994) presents humans who have absorbed the stress forced upon chickens raised for human consumption.

Claudette Lajoie, born in Grand-Sault, NB, worked in video productions as researcher, director and interviewer for Télé-Public, a community channel serving northeast New Brunswick, before directing 4 documentaries for the NFB. Her first documentary, Une sagesse ordinaire (1983), is about midwife Edith Pinet from Paquetville, NB, while Les Femmes aux filets (1987) is about women working in fish-processing plants in the Acadian Peninsula.

Robert Awad, from Kedgwick, NB, began his career as a film animator in 1974, going on to make 7 films with the NFB. His first film, Truck, is a satire whose central character explains how Acadian history would have been different if trucks had been invented in 1755. The Bronswik Affair/L'Affaire Bronswik (1978) is a comedy about the influence of advertising on people. Automania (1994) is an amusing film about a man's obsession to get to work in his car.

New film directors include: Renée Blanchar, from Caraquet, NB, whose third film, Vocation Ménagère (1996), is about the lives of women working as housekeepers for Catholic priests: Monique LeBlanc, from Bouctouche, NB, whose first film, The Acadian Connection/Le Lien acadien (1995), casts an affectionate look at members of the LeBlanc family living throughout North America and maintaining strong ties with their Acadian heritage; and Moncton-born Christien LeBlanc and partner Paul Bossé who have made experimental video productions.


The history of Acadian literature can be divided into 5 periods.

Antonine Maillet, writer
Maillet's novels fuse adventure, desire, frustration, agony and joy to offer a new image of the original Acadia (photo by Andrew Danson).

Up to the Deportation (1604-1755)

Strategically located for commerce, Acadia was long coveted by both France and England. Although its connections with the culture and institutions of New France were distant, it was in Acadia that Marc Lescarbot composed the first literary texts in North America in 1606. Later visitors such as Biard, Leclercq, Denys, Dièreville, Maillard and Bourg described its geography and settlements and its flora and fauna. To these documents may be added those by churchmen, such as Monseigneur de Saint-Vallier, who visited the people and bore witness to their religious and economic circumstances. Acadia's troubled colonial history - the slow growth of its population, the constant threats to its future, and deportation - explain why the Acadians did not produce texts of the calibre of those written by Jolliett, Morin and Boucher in New France. 

From the Deportation to the Return (1755-1881)

The reconstruction of an Acadian collectivity was a slow process, with no written literature but a wealth of oral tradition retained in stories, legends and songs. By the middle of the 19th century a school system for Acadians began to take shape. In 1854 the first college was founded (reorganized and expanded in 1864), and its graduates soon played active roles in their community. With the assistance of the clergy they began to focus on their own identity and aspirations as francophones in an environment surrounded by English speakers. That focus was sharpened by a series of national conventions, beginning in 1881.

The Age of the Nationalist Debate (1881-1966)

For 80 years, the nationalist debate dominated Acadian thought and literature. Rooted in the works of Frenchborn Rameau de Saint-Père and fostered by clergy from Québec who had adopted his theories, this debate took place in sermons, discussion groups and French-language newspapers (Le Moniteur, L'Évangéline). Seeking to embrace politics, economics and sociographic research, the debate dominated cultural activity, helping to heal the trauma of deportation and redefine the traits of the Acadian collectivity.

The rediscovery of their own history obviously played an important role for Acadians, and this was soon extended to anecdotal history, biographies, geneaologies, monographs devoted to parishes or individual settlements, and linguistic studies, with Pascal Poirier, the first Acadian senator, distinguishing himself in the latter field. Literary genres conformed to the nationalist theme as well, in poetry (F. Moïse Lanteigne, Napoléon-P. Landry), novels (Antoine-J. Léger, Hector Carbonneau, J.-Alphonse Deveau) and theatre (Alexandre Braud, Jean-Baptiste Jégo), the latter focusing as well on the recurring battles for educational freedom, evidenced as well in the social dramas of James Branch.

By the mid-20th century the nationalist debate no longer constituted the centre of Acadian thought, since the legitimacy of the francophone community's existence was no longer in question. Authors turned to other concerns, notably Antonine Maillet, whose first novel, Pointe-aux-Coques (1958) deals with everyday life in a small Acadian village.

Donat Coste, an Acadian living in Montréal, wrote L'Enfant noir in 1957 to denounce the hypocrisy of modern society. Ronald Després, a musician, poet and translator, also living outside New Brunswick, published many poems and a novel, Le Scalpel interrompu, which provides a tragicomic view of the modern world.

This literary withdrawal from the nationalist debate took place as a challenge arose from the younger generation. In 1966 the Rassemblement des Jeunes questioned the very essence of the debate, its emblems, symbols and historical viewpoints - indeed the traditional portrait of the Acadian. And the times were sympathetic to their approach. The Liberal government of Louis J. Robichaud (the first Acadian premier of New Brunswick, 1960-70) succeeded in implementing this Equal Opportunity program as well as an Official Languages Act, at a time when Québec's Quiet Revolution and the widespread radical movements of the decade served as a model and stimulus for change.

The Age of Literature (1966-86)

Many other factors combined with this ideological challenge and social revival: student grievances and their social and legal consequences; the "nuits de poésie" or "poetry nights" - where activist poetry was generated and a new sensibility born; the enormous success of La Sagouine by Antonine Maillet; the rise of the chansonniers; the more frequent publications by young authors, well served by the newly established Éditions d'Acadie.

Poetry came first, centred upon Acadia for its themes, characterized by a search for identity, by rebellion against traditional views and, paradoxically, by strong attachment to traditional Acadian values. Typical contexts include the burning desire to create one's own country (Raymond LeBlanc) and the violent yet sorrowful denunciation of what is perceived as a collective living death (Herménégild Chiasson). Other works by these same poets celebrate love and everyday life free from any particular political stance. Such is the starting point for Guy Arsenault, the studied naivety of whose language appears to treat lightly, and in fact probes deeply into the ways in which Acadia's very being continues to be depreciated. In a more general way, Ulysse Landry denounces the invasion and devaluation of individuals' lives by so many aspects of modern society. The works of these poets, published between 1973 and 1976, manage to combine everyday language with original stylistic exploration.

Although some of these topics have retained their importance, poetry has continued to experiment and evolve in format and theme. Roméo Savoie has moved towards philosophy, while Gérald LeBlanc has introduced a new cosmopolitan inspiration into Acadian literature. Léonard Forest shares this desire to reach out to other cultures through his poetry, developing a distinctive musicality through the use of archaic vocabulary and compelling ritualistic rhythms. A kind of natural surrealism pervades the poetry of Rose Després and Dyane Léger, the former freeing herself from the past in her search for the right gesture and word, the latter surrounding herself with a magic universe of words as she constructs her own literary dream world. Others (Huguette Legaré, Clarence Comeau, Daniel Dugas, Huguette Bourgeois, Robert Pichette and Melvin Gallant) explore, poem by poem, registers of sentiment and emotion which touch the heart.

The Acadian novel is dominated by the works of Antonine Maillet, whose boundless energy combines epic scope with everyday events, calling on all the resources of popular legend and oral storytelling tradition. But other voices are also heard: Louis Haché uses his archived knowledge to retrace the history of Acadian life in northeastern New Brunswick. Régis Brun adopts a revisionist historical perspective, finding his heroes among the ordinary folk who display their hunger for freedom and their delight in life. Claude Lebouthillier rewrites history through utopian literature that restores to Acadians their lost homeland; Jeannine Landry Thériault and Laurier Melanson evoke village life - often satirically - in its personal dramas, its bawdiness, its hopes and disillusions; Anne Lévesque, Germaine Comeau and Melvin Gallant focus on the fates of individuals, as does Jacques Savoiein in his spontaneous, lively prose, creating new novelistic structures. France Daigle, in a minimalist, elliptical style, offers a modern, virtually abstract vision of the world coloured with emotion. Richard Roy'sL'Acadie perdue (1978) is an impassioned and fascinating book based on solid historical research, while Jean-Paul Hautecoeur's L'Acadie du discours offers brilliant sociological insight and Léon Thériault examines politics in his La Question du pouvoir en Acadie. In autobiographical writing Calixte Savoie's Mémoires d'un nationaliste acadien stands out as a book of the first rank.

Contemporary Period (1986 to the Present)

The literary institution is becoming more vital. Publishing houses are growing in number, anthologies are being produced and the university teaching of Acadian literature is making certain authors better known, is encouraging the recovery of older texts and is obliging authors to produce collected works.

All genres are being enriched. Established authors are inspiring the next generation of writers. Poetry is in a healthy state, as the increasingly influential work of Serge-Patrice Thibodeau attests. The historical novel is under considerable development, and the essay is gradually winning attention. Plays and writing for children are beginning to take off as important literary forms. Acadian literature is widely recognized in France, Nova Scotia and Louisiana. Once marginal to French-Canadian letters, Acadian literature is now resident in that institution.

Further Reading