My Acadian parents grew up in Southwest Nova Scotia — my mother in a tiny village between Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau and Tusket, my father a 25-minute drive away in Pubnico. 

My dad’s military career meant that growing up, we lived in many places across the country and moved every three to five years. Whether we lived in Alberta or Ontario, the one constant geographical tie my brothers and I had was the southwestern corner of Nova Scotia. 

Every summer we’d pile in the family van and make the trek, knowing we were getting closer when we began seeing lupins scattered along the sides of the highways. We’d spend a couple of blissful weeks with our Acadian grandparents and aunts, uncles, and many, many cousins. I remember playing late into the warm summer evenings and being outside much later than we’d ever be allowed in the cities we called home. 

We’d swim in the ocean and nearby rivers, take in the annual Acadian festival, hear people other than our parents speaking the patois of the region, and enjoy the bustle of being surrounded by extended family. And there were always stories. So many stories.

The Acadian childhood he would’ve experienced

Monday was Journée internationale de la Francophonie (International Francophonie Day). I was looking for a small way to mark the day, and a newly released film, Raconte-moi un souvenir (Tell me a memory), fit the bill. 

The hour-long production is a delightful and touching documentary about growing up in Pubnico between 1930 and 1950 as told through the memories and stories of local seniors. 

My father was born in Pubnico in 1941. He died in 2018, and this was the Acadian childhood he would’ve experienced. I have a connection to this place and its stories, but even without it I’d have been hooked.

It’s a legacy

The seniors interviewed in the film share memories ranging from home, school, and church life to leisure activities, food, and important events. Their childhood stories are seamlessly interwoven with historical photos and re-enactments from actors who bring them to life. 

“A child today has more toys at Christmas than all of Lower West Pubnico had in 1950,” Laurent d’Entremont, 81, says in the film (translated from French).

An older man with glasses, a green and white plaid shirt and dark blue zipper vests sits in a green chair.
From the new documentary, Raconte-moi un souvenir (Tell me a memory). Credit: Raconte-moi un souvenir

Officially launched to a full house at Salle Père-Maurice-Leblanc Theatre in Tusket on Sunday, the French language film was made publicly available Monday on YouTube.

The documentary’s creator and artistic director, Yvette d’Entremont, said the screening felt like a huge family picnic or reunion where everyone was watching family videos. 

“Lots of people from not even from that generation but maybe 10 or 20 years younger were nodding their heads in the theatre, recognizing themselves in some of their stories even though they weren’t that old,” d’Entremont said in an interview. 

“It’s (the documentary) for generations to come. It’s a legacy, and that is so important for our young people.”

For the record, d’Entremont is the second person with my name that I’ve interviewed in my career, and we aren’t related. 

A smiling woman with short blond hair wearing a dark jacket stands in front of a marshy wooded area.
Yvette d’Entremont, creator and artistic director of the new documentary Raconte-moi un souvenir. Credit: Allison d'Eon

Important light-hearted yarns

But I’ve long wanted to chat with this particular Yvette d’Entremont.

On Monday, as I found myself midway through the film, she responded to my request and was more than happy to oblige. A retired Acadian teacher, singer-songwriter, and playwright, d’Entremont pitched the documentary idea almost two years ago. 

She’d begun writing a novel about her great aunt who served as a nurse in the Second World War. Despite the diaries and scrapbooks and “tons” of information left behind, d’Entremont discovered there were still some holes in the story. 

Although she’d love to uncover them, she realized she likely never will. Her mother’s 2008 death also left her with a longstanding yearning for information she’ll never have. That got her thinking about stories from Pubnico that might soon be lost to time.

“These people are not going to be here forever, and you need to record these stories down. I was just thinking of a way in which we could preserve all these precious stories that the seniors have… Even though they’re light-hearted yarns, as we call them, they are still important in that you’ll get a sense of what life was like at that time,” d’Entremont said. 

“Even though it’s not a factual, statistical type of documentary…you’ll learn history, and that history is brought to life through the reenactments of some of these stories by young and older actors.”

Her documentary pitch was accepted by Luc d’Eon, general manager of la Fédération culturelle acadienne de la Nouvelle-Ecosse (FéCANE). That provincial non-profit promotes Acadian arts and culture in Nova Scotia. 

“It was definitely a story about how the Acadians lived here in the early to the mid 1900s,” d’Entremont said. “Everything, every aspect of our Acadian living, was in that film through the anecdotes.”

‘Transformed by these stories’

The FéCANE project received federal funding, and d’Eon served as the film’s cameraman and editor. The pair filmed interviews in Pubnico last July, and the film shoot with the actors took place over five days in September. 

“Both Luc and I were transformed by these stories and by what they had to say,” d’Entremont said.

Part of that transformation was the knowledge that life seemed to be so much simpler in that Acadian community in the early to mid-20th century. But d’Entremont said it went beyond that.

I guess it’s an ache that we have about going back in time, about realizing how wonderful childhood was, even though maybe sometimes as a teenager, you didn’t think so. 

But I think it’s in all of us, this melancholy, this nostalgia that if you go back, you relive that childhood in a great way. It made us also realize that we’re all human and our childhood is a big part of who we are…Some of them said technology definitely has changed the world and most all felt that they didn’t have that (technology) to complicate their lives. I guess that made us think a lot. 

Even though we think of ourselves as very much advanced, sometimes that tends to complicate our lives. It’s just a transformation of how lucky they were and how lucky both Luc and I were to be part of this wonderful legacy, having them share their stories with us. I guess it’s the sharing of all these wonderful stories that they opened themselves up to tell us. 

Emotional moments

Despite being born and raised in Pubnico, d’Entremont said she learned a lot from her interviews with the community’s more senior residents. 

“Things like having to watch someone being carried away on a stretcher because they have asthma and there’s no solution except to send them to Arizona where the air is dry and watching the communities get together to raise funds for that specific event,” she said. 

She points to one of the interviewees who recalled what it was like preparing to do the hay at nine years old having recently lost her father. 

“She was unable to picture herself preparing that hay if papa is not here?…When I asked her the first time, she became very emotional. This was when I was recording her at her house. She didn’t get as emotional this time,” d’Entremont said. 

“I think it was those moments where they got emotional that really struck me. One of them fell in a well when he was very young, and I think that traumatized him a lot. And you get that from the documentary.”

A young boy in a plaid shirt and dark cap clings to a rock face trying to keep himself from falling in a well.
A still from the new documentary, Raconte-moi un souvenir (Tell me a memory) that shows a young boy clinging to rocks in a well. Credit: Raconte-moi un souvenir

‘Their stories become our history forever.’

One thing d’Entremont hopes people take away from the documentary is the importance of preserving family and community stories. 

“I hope it triggers curiosity so that when younger people visit their grandparents or great grandparents, they will ask about these things, what life was like, tell me stories about when you were young. I hope this encourages that,” she said.

“Their stories become our history forever. We learn from the past, we learn that we were all kids at one point and we all have valuable stories to tell. These seniors have wonderful stories to tell, and they have something important and valuable to share with us. We should never forget that.”

‘Keep these memories’

The production was widely supported by the community. Every time d’Entremont found herself in need of a photo to accompany a specific story or event, she’d put the word out on social media. She said they delivered on every request.

An old sepia photo of a very large family posing in front of a wooded area.
A family photo shared in the new documentary Raconte-moi un souvenir. Credit: Raconte-moi un souvenir

With the Congrès mondial acadien (Acadian World Congress) happening in Nova Scotia next year, d’Entremont’s goal is to have two additional versions of the documentary available–one with English subtitles and another with standard French subtitles. 

“With everything that’s digitized, what better way to take advantage of our technology and keep these memories forever,” she said. “We know memories live in our heads and our hearts, but if you can add an extra dimension to that and keep it digitized, that’s even better.”

A smiling white woman with long straight dark blonde hair and bangs, with half her face in dramatic shadow

Yvette d'Entremont

Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor, covering the COVID-19 pandemic and health issues. Twitter @ydentremont

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  1. Merci pour ce reportage Yvette! I’ve often thought about writing down some of the stories I’ve heard from my grandparents (whose lives were spent in an Acadian village in NB). It’s so critical to understanding who we are, culturally. I’m looking forward to watching the documentary!