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‘We’re still here’ -- Marriage at Port-Royal proof Acadie alive and well

Lise Robichaud and Brad Lejeune at Port-Royal, the Habitation. Their ancestors settled there hundreds of years ago. Brads family was deported to the United States. Lise’s family fled to the woods and later founded Meteghan. In June the couple will get married at Port-Royal, proving that Acadie is alive and vibrant.
Lise Robichaud and Brad Lejeune at Port-Royal, the Habitation. Their ancestors settled there hundreds of years ago. Brads family was deported to the United States. Lise’s family fled to the woods and later founded Meteghan. In June the couple will get married at Port-Royal, proving that Acadie is alive and vibrant.

PORT-ROYAL - Lise Robichaud and Brad LeJeune walk the grounds at the Habitation in Port-Royal. It’s their past -- and it’s their future.  

They’re proof that Acadie is alive and Governor Lawrence failed.

There’s a cold wind coming off the Annapolis Basin. They lean into it, arm-in-arm. It seems there’s always a wind there – perhaps not unlike fate.

It makes you tough.

They met at Acadia University, but went on to lead separate lives, found each other again a few years ago and are getting married at Port-Royal in June.

Brad smiles and calls their journey ‘The Story of Us.’

It’s a jab at a public broadcaster that left the Acadians and the Mi’kmaq out of a Canadian history docu-drama mini series.

But the wedding was planned long before the CBC faux-pas.

“Port-Royal was the place that our families first settled in the 1600s. It represents new beginnings and that’s the reason Lise and I decided to get married here, because in a way it is our new beginning,” says Brad.

For Lise getting married at Port-Royal is important because it follows in the footsteps of her Robichaud ancestors who were married and buried at Port-Royal in the 1600s and the 1700s.

She’s an Acadian folklorist and author from Meteghan.

“It’s important for me to share this important life event with my community and my own children and to tell our stories and create our own stories,” she says.

She calls Brad her Gabriel, a nod to the Longfellow poem Evangeline.

Brad believes Port-Royal represents new beginnings. That’s why he and Lise chose it for their wedding in June.

 

The Acadians

Out of the wind, inside a rustic room in the re-created Habitation, it’s easy to picture the past. Brad and Lise talk about what it’s like to be Acadian.

“In the 1600s when the French came to settle here, they built their houses, and they built their homes, and they crafted the land with the dykes. In doing so as they changed the land, the land changed them,” says Brad. “So we are part of this place as it is part of us no matter where we go in the world. In the 1700s – 1755 -- there was the Expulsion of Acadians and my family was one of the families that was evicted from their land and sent away. Many Acadians actually came back to work on the farms that they used to own – many years later. Me, it just took a little longer.”

Brad’s mother Marlene lived with her father who was working for the British Embassy in Washington, DC. Brad’s father was in the US military.

“They fell in love, got married, had three children of which I was one,” says Brad. “Is it coincidental or is it fate?”

What it meant was that the Lejeune name would return to Nova Scotia – Bear River -- a stone’s through from where his father’s family was from.

“Even though I grew up in different places, we always came back to Nova Scotia,” he says. “We’d come here for our summer vacations. I went to school in Annapolis Royal for several years. I met Lise at Acadia University. We both studied there. We became friends. We both went on to have very different experiences and live our lives.”

A few years ago they met again and, as Brad says, “this time the stars aligned and love ensued.”

Inside the Habitation Lise and Brad Talk about their family histories going all the way back to France where the two families lived only a few miles apart.

 

Hid in the Forest

“The Robichaud family came here from La Chaussée, France around 1642,” Lise says. “They left from the port of La Rochelle with many other (French) families and came to settle in Port Royal.”

They established themselves and became successful merchants. Even though her family later collaborated with the English, it didn’t matter. Many of the Robichauds were deported.

“I suspect they did get some special privileges and favours from the English at times. But at the end it didn’t matter. Their homes got burned just like everybody else. They had to flee. So in the end it didn’t matter.”

But her Robichaud line, with the help of the Mi’kmaq people, hid in the forest until it was safe – until the English allowed them to have land in the Baie Sainte-Marie area.

“I think that was in the late 1780s and at that point they established themselves in the French shore on Baie Sainte-Marie and my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather founded the village of Meteghan which was where I was born. That’s where I’m from.”

Lise says the story goes back further than Port-Royal.

“Back in France, in the early 1600s, before the LeJeune and Robichaud families came over to settle in Port Royal, they actually lived in neighbouring villages,” she says. “The LeJeunes lived in Martaizé and the Robichauds live in La Chaussée which are actually only about three miles apart in France. So it’s quite possible that our ancestors knew each other, because three miles is not much.”

She believes they would have certainly known each other in Port-Royal.

“I always like to say Brad is my Gabriel that I’ve been searching for since the Deportation,” she says. “We were separated through the Deportation and brought back together hundreds of years later.”

“Despite all of the attempts to eradicate and erase the peoples that were here, both the Mi’kmaq and the Acadians, they were never able to do that. Our wedding is proof that we’re still here and we will continue to be here.” – Brad Lejeune

 

Port-Royal

“People associated Port-Royal with being a French settlement, but that’s not exactly true,” says Brad. “What we believe it was, was a joint venture between two people. There was an agreement between the indigenous people and the people who came. And they shared together cultural experiences, economic trade. They even married one another. I truly believe that this is the distinction between what it is to be Acadian and French.”

Later was a dark time. Le Grand Dérangement, The Great Upheaval. The Great Expulsion. The Deportation. It goes by many names. Brad calls it something else.

“It was the first time that you had government-sponsored genocide in North America,” he says of the deportation. “And it was the template that would be used across the continent after that. Despite all of the attempts to eradicate and erase the peoples that were here, both the Mi’kmaq and the Acadians, they were never able to do that. Our wedding is proof that we’re still here and we will continue to be here. This is our home. This is where we intend to marry, have children, and carry on.”

Lise believes the Acadian culture is alive and well.

“I’ve written a book. My mother’s written several and we plan to continue doing that,” says Lise. “My mother has run a theatre company to perform plays in the Acadian dialect, about the Acadian lives, about everyday things.”

Her mother, Marie-Colombe Robichaud, a Chiasson from Chéticamp, wrote the book The Robicauds in Acadia and was a newspaper columnist.

 

‘We’re Still Here’

Lise carries on her mother’s passion.

“Now that I have eight-year-old twin girls I want to show them our living culture. I want them to experience Acadie and Port-Royal,” Lise says. “I think that’s a really, really valuable thing -- to be eight years old and be part of a wedding at Port-Royal in 2017. I think that’s amazing. It just goes to show that Governor Lawrence failed. We’re still here.”

“Lise talks about the importance of teaching our children our culture, and that her children are eight years old,” says Brad. “Ironically this was a belief of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau when he brought his son Justin here when he was eight.”

Brad and Lise sit in front of the big fireplace in the dining room. The room is dark but it’s out of the wind. It’s safe.

 

The Wedding

Lise and Brad are getting married on public parkland at Port-Royal at 2 p.m. on June 17. A private reception and Acadian Kitchen Party with a Cajun flare, will be held in Annapolis Royal.

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