Circular Migration Between Southwest Nova Scotia and New England

Clint Bruce (Université Sainte-Anne), Carmen d’Entremont (Université de Saint-Boniface), Centre acadien (Université Sainte-Anne) et Société historique acadienne de la Baie Sainte-Marie

This research is an extension of a project at Université Ste-Anne’s Canada Research Chair in Acadian and Transnational Studies (CRÉAcT), which is dedicated to exploring the development of transnational and translocal connections between communities of the Acadian diaspora. Between the mid-nineteenth century and the start of the Second World War, thousands of Acadians from the Maritime Provinces emigrated to the United States. They mainly settled in New England, some temporarily, others permanently. However, compared to the extensive research on French-Canadian immigrants in the United States, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Acadian emigration has received little attention. Our research focuses on transnational cultural flows involving two regions in Southwest Nova Scotia: Clare (Baie Sainte-Marie) and Argyle (Par-en-Bas).

What was the extent of emigration to New England? What was the impact of these migration patterns on ways of thinking, material life, and the social fabric in the Acadian communities of Southwest Nova Scotia? To what extent did family, economic, and community networks shape the migration experience? What situations did migrants encounter during their time in the United States and, in the context of circular migration, upon their return to Nova Scotia? What forms of Acadian community life developed in New England? These are just some of the questions we are  seeking to answer.

Although the study focuses on the interwar period (1918–1940), we remain interested in migratory flows from the nineteenth century onward, insofar as earlier migrations established the networks and conditions that supported later ones, not to mention the memories and connections that continue to shape Acadian life in the regions covered.

We are employing a mix of macro-analytical and micro-historical approaches. A quantitative component involves cross-referencing data from multiple sources: censuses U.S. and Canadian), parish records, passenger lists, and newspapers (including Le Courrier de la Nouvelle-Écosse and the French-language press in New England). A qualitative component is partially based on oral research involving members of the community. In addition to collecting historical information, we aim to assess the role played by the memory of migration in forging Acadian identity beyond the period of study. We are also drawing on written accounts (published or unpublished), correspondence between the two regions, and documentary sources dealing with transnational interactions and connections at the level of civil society.

In collaboration with the Association Madeleine-LeBlanc, a committee of the Société historique acadienne de la Baie Sainte-Marie has launched a study designed to shed light on diverse experiences of those single women who came to be known locally as les tantes des États (the aunts from the States). Although many of these individuals worked in factories or as domestic servants for wealthy American families, such “typical” profiles fail to capture the full range of migration journeys undertaken by Acadian women from southwestern Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile, postdoctoral researcher Carmen d’Entremont is working on issues of identity. Combining historical and ethnological methods, she aims to explore the factors driving circular migration in the Par-en-Bas region, as well as the local impacts of the phenomenon. After mining collected migration narratives for historical data, she plans to index and analyze the anecdotes scattered across the various accounts. This will allow her not only to undertake a historical reconstruction of the migration experience (oral history), but also to unravel the views, traditions, feelings, and values of the culture under study (oral traditions).

It should be noted that the research activities of the CRÉAcT team are coordinated with researchers and partners at the Université de Moncton.

Among other benefits, our research outcomes will enrich the programming of the next Congrès mondial acadien, a major international gathering of Acadians to be held in the Clare and Argyle regions of Nova Scotia in 2024. Study results will also contribute to TSMF’s efforts to foster reflection and discussion on contemporary issues surrounding immigration and xenophobia.