Yarmouth Vanguard, 14 August 1990
Tomorrow, August 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the National Feast Day of the Acadains. As many of our English speaking friends, just as a number of Acadians, do not know how this feast was chosen, just as they might not know what is the origin of the Acadian flag that they see mostly every day, nor of the Acadian national anthem, that they hear now and then, I profit from the occasion to trace their history.
In 1880, the French Canadians of Quebec organized a national convention which was to take place in Québec City on June 24. The Acadians of the Maritime Provinces had been invited to attend; about fifty of them answered. It was the first time that the Acadians representing the three Maritime Provinces had ever met as a group.
In 1834, the French Canadians had chosen the feast of St. John the Baptist as their National Feast Day. At this convention, they asked the Acadian delegates to adopt also the feast of St. John the Baptist to be likewise their National Feast Day. Although the Acadians are Canadians and are of French origin, they have always considered themselves to be, as a people, different from the French Canadians (the name which designates usually the Québecers only). In fact, their forefathers settled in a different territory, their history is entirely different, they have always regarded themslves as being grouped together as separately from the French Canadians, their mode of living has always been different, not to mention their dialect. That is why, at this convention, they resolved to have their own separate convention the following year, for the purpose of choosing an Acadian National Feast, when as many delegates as possible from the three Maritime Provinces would be asked to attend.
It took place the 20th and 21st of July, 1881, at Memramcook, N.B. as it had been proposed in Québec City the previous year. Five thousand Acadians answered the invitation. It has been said that it was the largest gathering of the Acadians since the days when they were rounded up in 1755 and the following years to be sent into exile.
As a people of great faith, the Acadians have always considered that their return alive from exile and their survival ever since have been a miracle, which they attribute to the Blessed Virgin Mary. That is why their devotion towards her has been one of their predominant traits. Thus, it is not surprising that at this convention it was proposed that one of the feasts of Our Lady should be that of the Acadians, instead of the feast of St. John the Baptist. At the time that the forefathers of the Acadians were leaving France to establish themselves in their new abode, Louis XIII had just designated, as the National Feast of the French people, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, which falls on the 15th of August (August 15 being still up to this day a holiday in France). Thus at this convention, after much debate, it was agreed that the Acadians should celebrate their Feast Day on the 15th of August, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A few weeks later, September 16, this choice was officially approved by the Catholic Bishops of the Maritime Provinces by the following proclamation: “The Bishops of the Ecclesiastic Province of Halifax declare that the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary is to be the National Feast Day of the Acadians.”
At this same convention, Our Lady was chosen as the Patron Saint of the Acadian people. This was also to be approved officially, although many years later. Early in 1938, Archbishop Arthur Melanson of Moncton asked the Holy Father, Pope Pius XI, to ratify the choice that the Acadians had made of the Blessed Virgin to be their Patron Saint in heaven. A few days later, January 19, the Vatican issued the following proclamation: “The Holy Father gladly approves that all Acadians, wherever they might be, honor and venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary, in her Assumption into heaven, as their special Patroness, entrusting them all to the care and to the protection of such a Great Mother, so that they may preserve faithfully the Catholic faith and show it in their way of life.”
Three years later, the Acadians were to choose a national emblem and a national anthem. It was to take place at the convention of Miscouche, Prince Edward Island, which had been set for the 15th of August, 1884. Again, all the Acadians of the Maritime Provinces were represented, as well as those of the New England States.
When it came to choose a national flag, the choice fell on the Red, White and Blue of France, with a golden star in the azure or blue of the flag. The French Tricolor was chosen to underline the French origin of the Acadian people. The star stands for the “Star of the Sea,” a title which is given Our Lady, wha had been chosen as Patroness of the Acadians, who lived mostly of the sea. The star was placed in the blue stripe of the flag, as blue is, among the colors of the rainbow, the one attributed to the Blessed Virgin. The star is of gold, to show the veneration of the Acadians towards the Holy Father, whose heraldic color and metal is yellow gold.
As this choice was unanimous among those whom the whole Acadian population at the time had sent to Miscouche as their representatives, this flag became by that very fact the official flag of the Acadians of the Maritime Provinces.
After this choice had been made, it was proper that the national anthem to be chosen should be the hymn dedicated to Our Lady, whose first words are: “Hail, Star of the Sea.” It comes from an old Latin church hymn, that used to be sung in the form of a Gregorian chant. Even now, most of the time, it is still sung at celebrations with its Latin words and in its Gregorian form: “Ave maris stella, Dei mater alma, atque semper virgo, Felix caeli porta” — “Hail Star of the Sea, Mother of God, Always a Virgin, Happy portal of Heaven!”
And thus, since those days of the two first conventions or congresses of the Acadians, they have celebrated their national Feast on the 15th of August, have flown as their emblem the French Tricolor with the golden star, and have made known their devotion to the Blessed Virgin by singing at their festivities their National Anthem, the “Ave, maris stella.”