It is encouraging to see more books (either fictional or non-fictional) being written about the Acadians and their lives and way of life before and after 1755. That was the year of “Le Grand Dérangement” when they were the victims of cultural genocide by the occupying British command and put on ships to be dispersed around the globe, never to return to their beloved Acadia. Some stayed, only to be enslaved, forced to work the land they once farmed as their own, but now for British landowners. Others fled inland to what is now New Brunswick, aided by the Mi’gmaq to survive the hardships of the forests.
Bruce Murray has penned a fine historical fiction novel entitled Piau: Journey to the Promised Land (2017, Dundurn). It documents the life of Pierre Belliveau, better known as Piau, as he grows up in a peaceful and unthreatened Acadia while the French hold rule over the colony. Mr. Murray, himself a descendant of Piau, has drawn on family history to flesh out the life and character of this popular Acadian folk hero. Mr. Murray explains in the Foreward:
“I have collected a lifetime of stories about him and the Acadians, from my maternal grandparents, whose own parents and grandparents and earlier ancestors had never married outside the Acadian community; from stories passed on by word of mouth by others; and from other stories published by uncles and cousins who happened to be Acadian historians.”
Piau was best known for leading his large family and other members of the community to safety while the British carried out what has been described as ethnic cleansing. He wisely foresaw the need to escape before they were incarcerated and put on ships by the British.
The book is written from the point of view of Piau himself. While the entire book was enjoyable to read, I still found the conversations a little stiff, or formal, and it was difficult to warm up to any of the characters, aside from Col. Frederick DesBarres the famous cartographer and lieutenant-governor of Cape Breton who befriended Piau and hired him to help build his mansion, Castle Frederick in Falmouth, Nova Scotia. (For more on Castle Frederick, see “Walk through history at Castle Frederick Farm” at the Kings County Advertiser website here.) Aside from these two items, the book certainly fills a need to tell the Acadian story to those who may have never been taught about it in school, and so had no knowledge of this important part of our nation’s troubled past.
Piau: Journey to the Promised Land comes with helpful maps, appendices with place names, a family tree, and historical sites visited by the author for his research for the book.