Inverness Centennial
Acadians in search of a safe place

By JIM ST. CLAIR*

INVERNESS, Cape Breton (27 April, 2004) -- In the sandy soil along the river, the coltsfoot has made its annual early appearance -- the first of the blooming wild flowers. But the mayflowers are still unwilling to raise their blossoms to the sun.

But maple trees are showing their magenta flowers for all to see. And the forest floor is littered with branches which fell victim to the wind and snow and the tender ends of spruce boughs as well may be seen on top of the traces of snow lingering in dark corners. Beneath the tamarack trees, the needles which turned yellow last autumn are now a bright rusty hue and look rather like a special carpet. People are welcoming the end of winter.

All are rejoicing in the prospect of lobster newly take from the cold water. Many people who have been traveling when asked about their journeys reply, "Oh, a fine trip -- good connections and comfortable accommodations."

But surely the responses of members of the Acadian communities were quite different two hundred years ago. People such as Marie-Henriette LeJeune and Charles Gallant must have experienced may discomforts in their journeys before they settled down in the Margarees.

For Marie-Henriette (LeJeune) (Comeau) (DeGong) Ross, life had been a series of uprootings. Before her birth, her parents, Joseph and Martine (LeRoi) LeJeune had been deported from their home in the Annapolis Valley. After two years at French Village, Cape Breton (now Little Bras d’Or), they sailed across the Atlantic. Louisbourg had been captured by the English, and Isle Royale became Cape Breton -- and people who were of French ancestry were expelled.

While living in Rochefort, France, they came to be the parents of Marie-Henriette in August of 1862. The next year, they sailed across the Atlantic, back to North America, to take up residence in the French possession of St. Pierre-Miquelon. This journey was the first of three that the young girl named Marie-Henriette would endure in a small sailing ship on the Atlantic Ocean.

The family moved back to their former home at French Village as the post-war agreement permitted. Fishing and farming, the LeJeunes were part of a sizeable Acadian community. But the American Revolution brought change as French (who might be favorable to the American cause) were removed from Cape Breton.

Fourteen years old, Marie-Henriette once again saw the land where she was born -- a refugee, the victim of political winds of change. Four years later, she married for the first time. With her husband, Joseph Comeau, and her relatives, Henriette saw St. Pierre-Miquelon for the second time. There Comeau drowned. The twenty-one-year-old widow and her family then took up residence once again at French Village -- for the third time. Did anything remain of their old house? Did they have to start clearing land all over again? Did they learn once again from the First Nations people what plants found in the woods were medicinal?

From the Inverness Oran. Historian Jim St. Clair writes a weekly column entitled, Then and Now: The Heritage of Inverness County



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