Miscouche, Prince Edward Island, Canada
The Acadian Museum tells the history and culture of the Acadian community of Canada, with an emphasis on the Acadian community in Prince Edward Island (Acadians also live in New Brunswick and the U.S. state of Louisiana.) This simple, but well-presented museum, begins telling its story in the entryway to the museum, where four original woodcarvings depicting Acadian life two and three centuries ago replace windows on the outside of the building next to its main entrance.
The staff recommends starting the visit with the opening video, which provides a comprehensive history of the Acadians (in about 15 minutes or so). The video serves as an overview of the permanent exhibition, which covers the same content but in more depth.
The main exhibition tells who the Acadians are, how they came to Prince Edward Island, and provides a glimpse into their early lives. Then it explains how the British conquered the area and, despite the neutral position of the Acadians, decided to remove them from the territory. Some returned to France, others went to Quebec, and still others went south, many making their way to what is now the U.S. state of Louisiana. (Most other museums seem to make more of the Louisiana connection than this Acadian museum.)
What I did not know is that within two decades, many returned.
The museum illustrates this history with objects, photos, and documents. Labels not only explain these objects, but also tell the stories of individual Acadians through the ages that bring this history to life by personalizing it.
Although the physical space for the exhibition is somewhat limited, it not only covers the highlights and documents them well but told me a lot of Acadian that I was not familiar with, such as the tragic drowning of hundreds of Acadians on boats deporting them to France.
The exhibition also explores life after the return, but this section is more cultural than historical. It explores the challenges the Acadians face as a cultural minority, including the painful issue of whether to assimilate, if so, to what extent, and how assimilation affects the long-term viability of the community. The exhibition explores the rise of communal institutions like the Acadian World Congress, and the challenges of continuing to live in French on an island dominated by English, The part of the exhibition unwittingly introduces a contradiction—saying that the French language is threatened then, through a combination of words and evidence from the census, saying it’s alive.
A special exhibition of photos of everyday life of Acadian men followed the life cycle of a typical Acadian man and showed many of them at particular phases of their lives, from childhood to parenthood to old age. In doing so, the exhibition documents the diversity within this community.
Unusual for a photography exhibit, however, the exhibition designers placed objects from the collection in the center that further illustrate topics raised in the photos, such as household implements, farm machinery, and musical instruments.
Limited but helpful labels provided an overview of each phase and some of the customary practices associated with those phases.
The temporary and main exhibitions together affirmed the challenges of retaining a distinct cultural identity. But also affirmed the success of those determined to do so. But the museum also explores the flip side of this issue: that for some to maintain their identity, they stay aloof from the rest of the community. This balancing act is not unique to the Acadians. But they seem to have found some way past their isolation and aloofness by assert their needs in the larger community in a way that builds respect for the culture.
|Type of Museum: History and culture
Highlights of Permanent Collection: Illuminates the Acadian experience, especially in Prince Edward Island.
Documents relating to Acadian history, artifacts from everyday Acadian life from the 1700s to today.
Note abut Special Exhibitions: The museum has two galleries for special exhibitions. They seem to focus on themes of Acadian history and everyday life and rely on photos and other objects from the collection.
Also, visit the website for virtual exhibitions.
Special amenities: Small gift area, video.
Admission discounts: Students, groups.
Issues to consider including time: 1 to 1.5 hours for a complete visit
About 45 minutes to an hour from Charlottetown on Route 2; extremely visible from the highway.