The countdown to the Congrès Mondial Acadien is in hours now, but Claudette Thériault—president of this international event that will see thousands of Acadians and appreciaters from around the world converge for events in 20 communities in southeastern New Brunswick and across PEI—counts the planning in years and generations.
“People are coming from all over,” Claudette says. Not only will there be Acadians from France, Louisiana, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada, but “then you have the visitors—anyone who has the love of Acadie!”
Everyone is welcome, she emphasizes, at events that will include music, dance, and multimedia, as well as family reunions, special events for youth and women, historical lectures, genealogy opportunities, and even a midnight run on the Confederation Bridge. Thanks to the Congres, Claudette reflects, “People feel a renewed sense of belonging to the Acadian community.
“When I went to Louisiana (for a past Congrès) I had my family tree with me, with more than 1,000 names on it…” Someone else at the event pulled up his family tree on his computer, and sure enough, they were fifth cousins. “That’s what the Congrès is all about: finding this big Acadian family we’re all a part of,” Claudette says.
This will be the sixth Congrès, the 25th anniversary of the first, held in southeastern New Brunswick in 1994. In 2012, when communities across the Northumberland Strait were considering another bid, Claudette says, “They wanted to add a special touch, so they invited the Francophone community of PEI.”
Claudette remembers, “We were uncertain if we had the capacity to organize such a big event,” but Island Acadians embraced the chance anyway. When the bid was successful, “They identified the communities that wanted to partner”—on PEI, primarily the communities where there is a French-language school—“and decided to designate a day of the Congrès for each community…
“All the communities are doing their best to welcome visitors, as Islanders know so well how to do.” Et voilà!
Claudette retired from Veterans Affairs Canada in 2011, and she has been part of planning for the Congrès from the bid onwards. “It is a retirement project,” she smiles. In 2014, she became the chairperson for the whole Congrès, the first woman to chair the major international event. She was inspired by PEI participation in past Congrès: “I saw the impact it had on PEI, in the pride of the people,” she recalls.
The Congrès opens in Abram-Village, Claudette’s home community, though she insists this wasn’t a case of preferential treatment. “When I was born,” Claudette says, “there were four generations in my house, and they were very, very engaged in the community, in culture and education, so I was also engaged from the time I was very young.”
She says, “Even though I am not from a musical family, I was surrounded by music everywhere. It’s in your blood. It’s part of who you are.” She cites Acadian food traditions as important to her as well, and, of course, the French language, though for Congrès events, she is quick to reassure non-Francophones, “Most events are bilingual, and language will not be a barrier.”
Claudette is touched by multiple moments she has seen people identify their Acadian roots for the first time, as they have discovered with pride, “Oh, well, my grandmother was a Gallant—I guess I am an Acadian.”
That pride—la fierté—and the collaboration between Anglophone and Francophone communities “is here to stay,” Claudette says. It will endure in big and small things, such as a new bilingual welcome sign in the village of North Rustico: “Legacies are very important.”
Claudette is also thrilled with a partnership with Old Home Week. The Gold Cup and Saucer Parade theme will be “Vive l’Acadie!,” with Lieutenant-Governor Antoinette Perry as Grand Marshal. Claudette herself will present to the winner of the Gold Cup and Saucer harness race.
“Even ten years ago, you couldn’t imagine it,” she says. The Congres “will give a nouvelle élan to la communauté francophone de l’Île,” Claudette says, and a welcome to all who live and love Acadian culture.