Brusly is not the first place to come to mind when it comes to thinking about Acadian hotbeds, but over 200 people gathered there Sunday to rejoice in their culture at the second annual West Baton Rouge Acadian Heritage Celebration.
Margaret Canella, who has been a member of the West Baton Rouge Genealogical Society for over 15 years, says it was Acadians who first settled in the parish.
“Brusly was settled by Acadians because they were given tracts of land called arpents by the Spanish,” she said, talking about large, long, narrow pieces of property that generally stretched westward from the Mississippi River.
Canella said Spain had sent seven ships filled with Acadians to the area when it was under its rule, “because Louisiana needed settlers.”
“As people found out there were a lot of Acadians here, many more came,” she said.
“It’s a wonderful tragedy to triumph story,” said Debbie Doiron Martin, continuing the tale of a people who were first exiled from France, then from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and St. Edward Island in Canada and finally coming to Louisiana in droves.
The event Sunday was another triumphant chapter in that story, said Billy Hebert, one of the original “Core Four,” as he called the original four people who came together in an effort to raise awareness about the parish’s Acadian history.
“It was all that we hoped for, it really was,” he said of the Acadian celebration held at the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church Activity Center. “Last year, we had a little over 100 people.”
“We were hoping if we moved to a bigger venue, we would get more people and that’s exactly what happened,” Hebert said, adding last year’s celebration was held at a the West Baton Rouge Senior Center. “This year, we had well over 200 people.”
“It was a great turnout and a wonderful event,” he continued. “We certainly consider it a success.”
So successful was Sunday’s event, that the Core Four, plus new committee member Frank Foret, has already scheduled meetings to begin organizing the 2020 celebration. “We certainly want to continue this event,” Hebert said.
The event has its roots in a Facebook page called “Our Ancestors in Photos” and filling out the Core Four are Debbie Martin, Douglas Labauve, Lucy Landry and Hebert.
The group was assisted by other organizations with the West Baton Rouge Museum making what was likely the largest contribution.
Museum Executive Director Angelique Bergeron offered a suggestion that the Acadian group seek financial sponsors and she and all of her staff volunteered at Sunday’s celebration.
While the event offered a wide range of activities and displays, any time a group of Acadians gathers, there’s going to be conversation and socializing.
“In addition to the socializing and visiting and catching up with family members who hadn’t seen one another in a while, I think the most popular aspect was sharing their genealogical information and their photographs,” Hebert said.
“People gathered and they did exactly what we hoped they’d do—they shared photos, stories and family lines and long lost cousins were reunited,” he said.
Debbie Martin said she was most pleased with the number and involvement of the children at the event.
“I really enjoyed that we had children who were enjoying themselves,” she said. “It was wonderful to see the spirit of the children doing whatever they might have been doing,” whether it was crafts at the museum’s table, listening to the tales told by the elders at the gathering or dancing to Cajun music.
“We love to see the younger generations get involved,” Debbie Martin continued. “I just hope that the older ones will share their stories and keep their families’ history and the Acadian heritage alive.”