The Acadian Flag

The Acadian flag, also called the flag of Acadia or the starred tricolour, consists of three vertical stripes of blue, white and red, with the star of the Virgin Mary in the blue stripe. In 1884, during the second National Convention of the Acadians in Miscouche, Prince Edward Island, the flag was chosen as one of the Acadian symbols. Today, the star and the colours of the flag can be found in the logos of a number of associations and groups linked to Acadians or their language. 



Acadian Flag

An Acadian flag flying in Wolfville, Nova Scotia,.

(© Wangkun Jia/Dreamstime)

Origins

From the 1880s to the early 20th century, francophone Canadians displayed a strong desire to establish their own identity on the national stage. For Acadians, this wish stemmed from the demographic, cultural and political development associated with the Acadian Renaissance. The latter was also motivated by the problems Acadians faced under rule by a majority anglophone government and by the fear, for some, of their own identity becoming lost with all of Canada’s francophones being lumped together under a Québécois banner. It was thanks to the growing influence of leaders from the Acadian elite and clergy that Acadians succeeded in designing an initial social project with the goal of affirming the history, culture and characteristics of this group of people who lived during a period of significant growth in Canada.

This identity project was established and took shape during the first National Convention of the Acadians, held in Memramcook, New Brunswick, in 1881, where thinkers, members of the clergy and the elite, as well as Acadian nationalists, gathered. It was during this first convention that 15 August, the feast of the Assumption, was chosen as the Acadian national holiday. This decision, however, was not unanimous. Certain attendees favoured Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, 24 June, because it was the day of celebration for French Canadians; nevertheless, the desire to be distinct from the rest of Canada’s francophones prevailed.

On 15 August 1884, during the second National Convention in Miscouche, Prince Edward Island, the matter of national symbols was raised: Acadia still needed a national anthem and a flag. The idea for the Acadian flag is attributed, among others, to Father Marcel-François Richard, a born-and-bred Acadian who championed education and agriculture, as well as the affirmation of the Acadian people. As the chair of the third commission in charge of reviewing the choice of a flag, he had already thought over the project for several years. During this convention, he proposed the model of the flag we know today. 

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. Image: The Canadian Press/ photographer Andrew Vaughan./figcaption>

Meaning and Choice of Flag

The flag that Father Richard put forward to the participants was the French tricolour (blue, white and red), with the blue stripe featuring a yellow star in the papal colour, representing devotion to Mary. In the speech that accompanied the presentation of his flag, Father Richard explained the symbolism and the ideology:

An army needs a standard. The banner of the Assumption, naturally, will be carried with religious patriotism at the head of our religious processions. But we must have a national flag flying over our heads on our meeting days and national celebrations. Several flags have been proposed. I do not want to disparage the suggestions made, but I cannot agree with those who claim that we must choose a flag that is completely different from that which represents our motherland. The tricolour flag is the flag of France, of which we are descendants, and this flag has the right to fly for international convenience worldwide. For us, Acadians, this flag tells us simply that we are French and that our motherland is France, just as the Irish flag reminds the Irish of their origins and homeland. However, I would like Acadia to have a flag that reminds it not only that its children are French, but that they are also Acadian. Therefore, I suggest, and I submit to the delegates of this Convention, the following design for the national flag. The tricolour flag would become the flag of Acadia, with the addition of a star in the papal colour on the blue section. The star representing Mary, the Stella Maris, will serve as the emblem on our flag in the way that the flag of Canada incorporates that of England as a symbol of Confederation…

This new symbol immediately generated enthusiasm among those gathered, who unanimously supported the proposition. That night, during the closing ceremonies, Father Richard unveiled before all the guests the celebrated flag, which he had already had made by his friend Marie Babineau, a parishioner from Saint-Louis-de-Kent. 

At the end of the convention in 1884, the flag was hoisted on the mast of the ferry that carried the participants to Shediac. Anselme Léger, Shediac’s delegate to the convention, then kept the flag. Like many Acadians, Léger left to look for work in the United States and took the flag with him, where it eventually disappeared into oblivion. The original flag was lost until 1940, when it came into the possession of Anselme Léger’s son, Marcel. From his home in Massachusetts, he entrusted the cleric Clarence Léger with the flag, to return it to Acadia. The flag was then given to the museum of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, before moving twice with the rest of the museum’s collection, eventually settling at the Acadian Museum of the Université de Moncton, where it remains on permanent display. 

An Enduring Symbol

After the convention in 1884, the clergy, the Acadian elite and francophone colleges, in particular, supported the idea of the Acadian flag as the symbol of a nation. However, not all Acadians identified with this symbol because the French tricolour was a republican flag. On the eve of the third National Convention of the Acadians in 1890, opposition movements emerged, using Acadian newspapers as a platform. Nevertheless, during the convention, there was no criticism regarding the process of choosing the flag; the participants reiterated their support for this symbol.

In the 20th century, some of the clergy advocated for the unity of the Canadian Francophonie and wanted it to adopt its own unique flag; they suggested using the Carillon Sacré-Cœur, the national flag of French Canadians, instead of the Acadian flag. The idea was abandoned, however, following the first Congress on the French Language in Quebec, in 1912, where the Acadian flag flew alongside the other flags.

In the 1960s, young Acadians challenged the symbolism behind the flag. They called for modernizing Acadia and abandoning symbols tied to religion. During one of their meetings, they voted to downgrade these symbols to folklore and to strip them of their role in the Acadian identity. However, this initiative instead had the opposite effect and strengthened the sense of belonging among Acadians.

The flag remains a strong symbol and has become more firmly ingrained in the community, despite its appropriation by the Parti acadien, a political organization with lukewarm support that existed between 1972 and 1982 in New Brunswick. Each time the flag came in danger of disappearing, the population mobilized to protect it, reinforcing its symbolism. The large celebrations of the 20th century also helped to make this symbol more accepted and popular. The commemoration of the bicentennial of the Great Upheaval, in 1955, and the celebrations of the 375th anniversary of Acadia, in 1979, served to establish the flag once and for all as a symbol of the Acadian people in Canada and abroad. The production of a variety of goods featuring the flag and its colours is the best proof of this.

The flag has become a point of reference. It has influenced a number of other symbols, including the Cajun flag. Furthermore, the star and the colours of the flag can be found on many logos of associations and groups tied to Acadians or their language. Even today, the flag is part of the identity of many groups, institutions and characters, such as the Université de Moncton, the newspaper L’Étoile and the comic book superhero Acadieman.

Acadian Lighthouse
A lighthouse in New Brunswick bears the colors of the Acadian flag. Photo taken on: August 25, 2009. (© Pierre Forgues /Dreamstime)