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Collection « Les sciences sociales contemporaines »

The Acadians of Portsmouth: A Study in Culture Change (1954)

Une édition électronique réalisée à partir de l'article de M. Marc-Adélard Tremblay, The Acadians of Portsmouth: A Study in Culture Change. A Thesis presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Cornell University for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. (Roneo) Thèse de doctorat. [M Marc-Adélard Tremblay, anthropologue, retraité de l’enseignement de l’Université Laval, nous a accordé le 4 janvier 2004 son autorisation de diffuser électroniquement toutes ses oeuvres.]


Part I – The Background
Chapter 1: Introduction

1. Definition of the Problem

This thesis will concern itself with a description and analysis of the degree of acculturation of individuals of Acadian ancestry living in Portsmouth [1]. Portsmouth is a bi-cultural community located at the border of Saint-Malo and Bristol Municipalities in Stirling County, Nova Scotia. Saint-Malo is settled by Acadian Catholics, while Bristol is inhabited principally by English Protestants.

The dissertation attempts to answer the following questions:

(A) What is the direction of acculturation in a community where the Acadian Catholics and the Anglo-Protestants are present in approximatively the same numerical proportions?

Conceivably, in a mixed community, acculturation can operate in one of three ways. The Acadians may accept elements of the Anglo-Protestant culture. The Anglo-Protestants may adopt Acadian cultural characteristics. Or there may be a mutual interchanges, with each cultural group yielding some of its constituents to the formation of a new composite culture different from either original.

Despite the fact that there are important effects on the English Protestants, as exemplified by the unwillingness of a Portsmouth Protestant group to build a new church because of the perceived imminence of Acadian invasion, the acculturation process is unfolding mainly in one direction. The Anglo-Protestant society is dominant, and their values pervade the lives of Acadian inhabitants in a great majority of social situations. As a result, the Acadian culture is altered in some of its major constitutive elements, with concurrent changes in the traditional Acadian patterns of sentiment.

(B) What is the nature of the acculturation process affecting Acadian Portsmouthites? In order to answer that question, it is necessary to examine patterns of sentiment [2] for Saint-Malo as well as Portsmouth Acadians: the comparison will enable us to determine the extent to which Portsmouth Acadians are departing from their traditional culture. We shall analyze socio-historical events which have influenced the sentiment patterns in Saint-Malo: geographical isolation, the growth of educational institutions, the role of an Acadian University in leadership and revival of Acadian culture. A community of Saint-Malo, L'Anse des Lavallée, will be described briefly and will be used as a basis for comparing relatively unacculturated and acculturated Acadians.

(C) In a bi-cultural community what are the factors which account for the basic shifts in value-orientations attitudes and behavior of Portsmouth Acadians? The nature of a mixed socio-cultural environment is analyzed by examining such social phenomena as class systems, the leadership patterns, the organizations, the ideologies, the channels for communication ; in brief, all the various institutions and agencies which intensity Acadian-English contacts and promote acculturation. The emphasis is clearly on demonstrating the complex heterogeneity of the bi-cultural milieu; what this heterogeneity means in terms of social organization leadership stability, Acadian participation in voluntary associations, group identification, and solidarity; the channels through which Portsmouth Acadians relate themselves to the Acadians of Saint-Malo and the rest of the province; the effectiveness of the Catholic Church as an agency for social control.

(D) How does the acculturation process operate for Acadians living in Portsmouth? What are the new cultural elements (English language, out-group mate selections, departure from organized religious activities, weakening of family traditions) affecting the Acadian group? Is there any general order in which those alien values are adopted? What are the factors promoting and limiting acculturational influences in a mixed community? Is the resistance to replacing traditional cultural elements an individual phenomenon or is there organized opposition? What is the significance of intermarriage for the acculturation process of the Acadians?

(E) What are the patterns of inter-ethnic and inter-denominational relations in a mixed milieu? What are their implications for community organization as well as for efficiency of these institutions in achieving the purpose for which they are established? To what extent does a mixed institution, like the Portsmouth public school, reflect inter-ethnic and inter-denominational, struggles? What are the main issues at stake?

(F) Can we measure by quantitative methods, the acculturation position of the Portsmouth Acadians? If we can, what is the instrument used, how was it built and how effective is it in distinguishing between various acculturational levels?

These are some of the most crucial questions examined in this dissertation, they do not exhaust the field of questions which could have been raised in a study of this nature, nor do they cover thoroughly the limited aspect of acculturation which I have chosen as the scope of this inquiry.

It would seem pertinent to mention some of the aspects of acculturation which have been omitted from this work. There has been no systematic attempt at finding a “causal sequence” in the chain of interrelated events which lead to the advancement in acculturation positions each one reinforcing the other. I have not tried to determine “what causes what, under what circumstance?” This would have required, on the one hand, the building of a scheme by which the dependent variable of acculturation could be related to a series of independent variables; and the gathering of life stories of acculturated individuals, on the other, for locating this chain of interwoven events in its proper time perspective. The magnitude of the task as it stood in addition to the complexities inherent in establishing that scheme prevented me from pursuing such an ambitious goal. Thus, I have narrowed and confined the problem, hoping to gain in clarity what is lost in this selective process.

The psychological adjustment of acculturated individuals is another item in the acculturation field which has not been included within the scope of this inquiry. Despite the fact that this piece of research was conducted within the framework of a larger study which concerns itself with examining the meaningful relationships between social environment and mental illness, the problem of the psychological adaptation of the acculturated was considered to be of a clinical nature. It was therefore omitted from this analysis.

Another limitation is the emphasis which has been given to the Acadian Catholics as compared to the Protestants. The negligible impact of the Acadians on the Anglo-Protestant culture, in addition to the French background of the writer, led me to focus my attention, both in the field and in this report, upon the Acadians more than the English. However, efforts have been made to give an accurate and objective picture of the problem faced by both groups. As a matter of facts, I deal with the English inasmuch as it is necessary for an understanding of the processes of acculturation of Portsmouth Acadians.

2. The Main Findings

The mixed community: 

(a) The Acadian Portsmouthites hold a minority group status in relation both to the English Protestants of Portsmouth and to the Acadians of Saint-Malo.

(b) French and English class systems are built around ethnic and religious loyalties. The Irish are marginal because they have their ethnic loyalties with the English and their religious loyalties with the Acadians. To rise in the scale of social prestige they have to divorce themselves from either one or the other group.

(c) The English Protestants dominate most of the community organizations.

(d) Segregation of Acadian Catholics and English Protestants is a function of class: the lower in the social scale the freer the interaction between the two groups; the higher, the larger the breach between them.

(e) The Catholic pastor in a bi-cultural community cannot directly promote Acadian nationalism because of the restrictions which are imposed upon him by the structure and the beliefs of the Church.

(f)  The most important factor in Acadian-English disputes is that of religious differences. Much of the inter-group friction is located at the school level, a symbol of power and a place where both groups have vital interests at stake.

(g) The most important factor counterbalancing, the influence of acculturation is Acadian leadership. Its efficiency is reduced because of the presence of two Acadian factions having different orientations.

(h) The Acadian group has been gaining strength in the last decade, especially in the areas of economic activities and politics.

About acculturation process and position:

(a) It is not the individual that acculturates but the family as a unit. Individuals of the same acculturation levels marry each other.

(b) Intermarriage is an index of social propinquity between two groups and the frequency of their interaction.

(c) In the intermarriage situation, the majority of conversions are nominal.

(d) Acadian-English contacts take place mainly at the neighborhood level, on the job and in leisure activities, in this order of frequency.

(e) Faith is the preserver of the tongue and the tongue is the preserver of the Faith in the acculturation situation.

(f)  Catholicism is one of the very last elements of Acadian culture to be dropped.

(g) Males are more acculturated than females; the young, more than the old; low socio-economic status is associated with a high degree of acculturation; place of birth is related to acculturation in this fashion: those born in the ecological area occupy a higher acculturation position than those born in the Saint-Malo Municipality.

3. Portsmouth and the County

Stirling is a rural county in southwestern Nova Scotia. It has a population of approximatively 20 000 people, half-speaking French-Acadian and half-speaking English. The population is about equally divided between the French municipality of Saint-Malo and the English municipality of Bristol. Each constitutes a distinct administrative unit.

The county was settled in the late seventeen sixties and seventies by (a) Acadians who returned to Nova Scotia after the expulsion, (b) Acadians who were kept prisoners in Halifax or who had been hiding in the woods and (c) American Loyalists who remained loyal to the British Crown after the American Revolution.

The economy of the county is based mainly on fishing lumbering, farming and associated industries. Geographically, the county has three distinctive units: the Shore, Inland and Backwoods.

There are over ninety communities in the whole county (see Map of the County on the following page [3]). Some of them are mere crossroads settlements some others are, rural communities with their own church and school, and still others we semi-urban centers with all utilities generally found in small towns.

The population is mainly concentrated along the shore of St. Elizabeth’s Bay, with semi-urban centers at Bristol and Portsmouth in Bristol Municipality and Maltapan in Saint-Malo. The only town in the backwoods is Deer River in the English Municipality.

Portsmouth was picked to be the focus of our study because it offered unique opportunities for a study of inter-group relations and culture change. Unlike the Acadians in Bristol Municipality, Acadian Portsmouthites have their own leadership and have closer relationships with people of Saint-Malo. Furthermore, the leaders from the French Shore want to re-orient the Acadians of the English Municipality, many of whom have already been assimilated by the English. These leaders have selected Portsmouth village as the location of their initial attempt to test the feasibility of increasing the participation of its inhabitants in Acadian affairs with the ultimate purpose of re-integrating them in the larger Saint-Malo. The results of such a colossal task are not expected to be and are not immediately visible, by the author, but he hopes to understand at least the mechanism by which it operates, and, on that basis, predict, its success.

4.   Acculturation and Social Disorganization

Acculturation (equated as marginality here [4]) in one of the socio-cultural variables of the Stirling County Project in Social Psychiatry directed by Alexander H. Leighton, thought to be significantly associated with and important in the genesis and development of mental illness.

The central aim of the study is to discover meaningful relations between the distribution of mental illness and the presence of fourteen social variables.

Communities are social wholes. A factor which directly influences the degree of social cohesiveness of community members and allows for the achievement of harmonious relationships among themselves is the nature of the values held by its members qua their cultural orientation. If members of the same ethnic group hold common and similar values regarding group expectancy, community aims and goals will be perceived in the same fashion and coordinated action is likely to follow. Therefore, it is the commonality and the sharing of cultural values (as exemplified in Saint-Malo) that provide ground for more cohesive organization and greater achievement. Thus an acculturated community is one in which there are two (or more) independent sets of ethnic and cultural values, or a composite set of standard stemming from both cultural systems. The merged communities of the economically depressed areas in Stirling County have cultural characteristics different from any of the other communities of “pure” English or relatively “pure” French Acadian cultures. The members of these sub-cultural pockets are cultural hybrids of various kinds who have not yet found organization of their own. They live at the periphery of both cultures without fully accepting or gaining acceptance in either of them.

It is feasible to conceive of Stirling County as having, more or less, two relatively “pure” cultural types of communities and marginal types of communities. The latter are communities in which there are acculturated Acadians, the majority of whom are quite advanced in their acculturation process. Keeping this in mind, four types of communities can be derived.

1. Saint-Malo communities like Lavallée

2. English communities of the Stirling Islands

3. Bi-cultural communities like Portsmouth

 4. Merged communities like the Bog

Community types diagrammed immediately above give an idea of the range of the cultural (value-orientations) setting in which individuals of Acadian descent are living. These, of course, represent ideal types and only approximate reality. There is in Stirling County not a single community where all individuals can be characterized as marginals. The merged community type is a useful category inasmuch as it characterizes communities resembling it. At any rate, communities in which the majority of individuals are located at the bottom tip of the V-shaped diagram would give the maximal degree of social disorganization we could possibly find qua cultural-value-orientation of its members.

Disorganization, in such communities, is generated by (a) the cultural marginality of its members, (b) factionalism and inter- and intra-group hostility, (c) lack of definition or perception of community goals, and (d) poor communication and cooperation.

Thus, to make clear how acculturation and marginality are related to social disorganization, the degree to which community members hold in common certain well-defined goals tells us about the extent which they will organize themselves to achieve them. Achievement of goals presupposes their definitions, their perception and the channels for implementing them. A lack of definition or confusion in perception is likely to promote a state of social disorganization, as would lack of appropriate channels.

[1]     Communities and people have been given code names.

[2]     See following chapter for definition of sentiments.

[3]     [Not available. MB]

[4]     By marginality we mean – confusion of cultural values, hardships of learning new ways of life and confusion in ethnic identification and participation.

Retour au texte de l'auteur: Marc-Adélard Tremblay, anthropologue, retraité de l'Université Laval Dernière mise à jour de cette page le dimanche 12 février 2006 20:17
Par Jean-Marie Tremblay, sociologue.

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