FORT KENT, Maine — Bringing families together is what the World Acadian Congress, held every five years, is all about, organizers said this weekend. And with 120 families coming together during the 2014 World Acadian Congress, it’s doing a great job of it.
Dona Saucier, an assistant with the organizing committee, attended her own family’s reunion in Wallagrass this past weekend.
The gatherings are intended to reunite Acadians whose ancestors living in Nova Scotia and what is now New England were forcibly rounded up in 1755 and deported by the British, who wanted to claim the land for their own.
“When you look at Acadian history, and the deportation that occurred, you see families that were separated and never able to reconnect,” Saucier said. “One child was put on this boat, another on that boat and the parents on different boats and shipped off to different parts of the world.”
Their descendants have been looking for each other ever since, she said.
“We are bringing together a people who are spread to the four corners of the globe,” she said. “We are telling the world we are back together and celebrating this culture you tried to tear apart.”
From the start, organizers of the Acadian Congress knew that family reunions would be crucial to the event’s overall success, setting a goal of 80 participating families to match the number that took part in the last celebration in 2009.
“We blew that out of the water and then some,” said Saucier. The 120 family reunions slated for this Acadian Congress began with the opening day on Aug. 8 and will continue for the full 17 days of the congress.
A big part of the modern-day unification involves delving into history to track those connections.
In 2012, Norma Babin Robichaud of Fort Kent began looking more deeply into her own family history when she and her husband, John Robichaud, took a rainy drive to Bonaventure, Nova Scotia, arriving on Acadian Day, Aug. 15.
“When we got there and attended Mass in the town, we also found out that … it was also ‘Babin Day,’” Norma Robichaud said. “The whole church was full of Babins.”
“I looked for the nearest exit right away,” her husband joked.
Norma Robichaud began making family connections and, through her research, discovered that her ancestors and those of her husband came to the New World from the same village in Normandy, on the same ship in the early 1600s, and settled in the same area of Canada.
For the past two years Norma Robichaud has used what she learned to help organize the Acadian Congress’ Babin Family Reunion, set for Aug. 16, on a farm in St. Agatha.
“This is a way of sharing our history and our culture with our kids,” she said during a pre-reunion family supper at her brother John’s farm last week, when relatives arriving early for the Acadian Congress cooked up fresh trout, potatoes, green beans and ployes (buckwheat pancakes). “As busy as our lives get, we have to stop and do that [and] all these reunions will set bonds between people and generations.”
Norma Robichaud has gone all out for her family’s reunion by preparing a special genealogy book based on her research, creating posters of family history and setting up a small living history museum on John and Ann Babin’s farm where members of the current generation will dress in authentic Acadian garb to give tours.
On both sides of the St. John River up into Quebec, 119 other families are just as excited to get together and make connections.
When she made her last-minute plans to attend the World Acadian Congress, Wendy Amland of Las Vegas figured she would meet some long lost family members — she just did not know how quickly it would happen.
Amland attended the opening breakfast of the Congress in Fort Kent on Friday with her husband, Albert, and her 14-year-old son Hunter, and ended up sitting at a table with Patrice and Leonard “Cur” Soucy of Wallagrass.
The group got to taking and, as it turned out, Amland and Leonard Soucy are direct cousins.
“We came early to the breakfast to get a good table and sat with them,” Patrice Soucy said. “We’ve been friends all day.”
The Soucys immediately “adopted” Amland and her family, taking them on an all-day tour of Fort Kent and the surrounding area on Friday, culminating with a visit to Riverside Park for the creation of the world’s largest ploye Friday night.
“Patrice even gave us some homemade raspberry jam,” Wendy Almand said.
On Saturday, Aug. 16, the Amlands will attend the Broussard family reunion in Riviere-Verte, New Brunswick.
“This is just blowing my mind,” Wendy Amland said. “I just feel extremely blessed to have made such a positive and hospitable connection with Patrice and Cur [and] it’s a dream come true.”
Seeing those dreams become reality is what has kept Roxanne Moore-Saucier involved with genealogy for close to four decades.
Moore-Saucier, who pens the “Family Ties” column in the Bangor Daily News, was in Wallagrass for the Saucier reunion and to give a presentation on finding one’s family roots.
“I think people like to find out who they are and where they come from,” she said this week. “At first [genealogy] looks just like names, dates and places, but it’s really a lot of stories.”
Reunions like the ones going on during the Acadian Congress are just the places to find those stories, she said.
“In my husband’s family, for example, there were people who were supposedly cured by miracles at St-Anne-de-Beaupre in Quebec,” she said. “Hearing stories like that just enriches the history of the person.”
In today’s fast-paced world of cellphones, the Internet and social media, people may feel connected, but can really be more isolated thanks to technology, Moore-Saucier said.
“People are not out and about in their communities,” she said. “But we still have that need for community and connecting with each other.”
There are people who have attended each of the five World Acadian Congresses doing just that, Dona Saucier said.
“It’s at the reunions we see that sense of community,” she said. “It goes back to the joy of getting together and it does not matter how many people show up, [because] the rule in Acadian homes is ‘always cook too much’ and we always do.”
Families also tend to become known for certain traits or habits.
The Babins, for instance, often refer to each other as “tetes de pioche,” which roughly translates to having heads as hard as a pickaxe, for being a bit stubborn.
The Sauciers, with a solid reputation for never being on time or prepared, were holding true to form over the weekend, according to Dona Saucier, with many relatives showing up who had not RSVP’d for events.
“My grosse tete [big head] for the Tintamarre parade next weekend is ‘Bonhomme de Tard’ which means ‘late fellow,’” she said. The paper mache big head is being created for the celebration. “And he’s not done yet.”
The reunions, both Dona Saucier and Moore-Saucier said, help bring in a large percentage of the estimated 50,000 people expected to visit the area over the course of the Acadian Congress.
“Not only for the official reunions,” Moore-Saucier said. “Just drive around and you see groups of cars parked at homes for private family gatherings [and] that means there are these little pockets of reunions all over the region.”
Organizers of the Acadian Congress helped out participating Acadian Congress reunion families with stipends of up to $1,000 per family for mailings, facility rentals, food or whatever is needed, Dona Saucier said.
A very good bargain, considering the payoff, she said.
“All of the things that define us as a population and people come through at these reunions,” she said. “The family reunion helps us maintain our connections and our identities.”
Complete Acadian Congress family reunion schedules are available online at www.cma2014.com/