Dr. Ronald Labelle will speak at the next meeting of the Old Sydney Society on Thursday, January 26, at the Lyceum, Sydney. The title of his talk is “Sydney’s First Refugee Community: Acadians at Baie des Espagnols, 1749-1758”.
Between 1713 and 1758, after having lost control of the Acadian heartland, French authorities chose to establish their control over Cape Breton Island, renamed Ile Royale. At the same time as they were building Louisbourg, the French were encouraging Acadians to relocate from the mainland to their island colonies. They hoped that by moving to French-held territory, Acadian farmers would begin to produce much-needed food for Louisbourg. At first, few Acadians accepted the invitation, having little inclination to give up their rich farmlands to settle in a much harsher environment.
After the founding of Halifax in 1749, however, many Acadians began to fear for the safety of their communities, and decided to relocate. In a move that parallels 21st century refugee asylum programs, French authorities officially welcomed Acadian refugees, establishing provisions to help them survive during a period of one year or more. This talk will describe how Baie des Espagnols (Sydney) became one of the largest refugee Acadian settlements, though temporary in nature.
Dr. Labelle, Associate Professor in French at Cape Breton University, is a specialist of Acadian traditional culture who completed his doctoral studies in Ethnology at Université Laval. He worked at the Université de Moncton’s Centre d’études acadiennes, first as Folklore Archivist and then as Director. He later held the McCain Research Chair in Acadian Ethnology in the same institution, before becoming Associate Professor of French and Acadian Studies at Cape Breton University. His publications include The Acadians of Chezzetcook and Au Village-du-Bois (France-Acadie Literary Prize, 1986).
In 2011, Labelle curated an exhibit held at the Université de Moncton’s Acadian Museum, The Art of Storytelling in Acadie, and in October 2013, he was the principal organizer of an international traditional music conference, Carrefour acadien et celtique / Acadian-Celtic Crossroads, held at CBU. Since coming to CBU in 2012, Ronald Labelle has been actively carrying out research on the Francophone presence in Industrial Cape Breton.