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Literary Cities


Between Anguish and Happiness
by Marcel Barriault, Library and Archives Canada

Gisèle, I feel really stuck here / It seems I can't move anymore
But tonight / I was just calling you like this / Because it's boring / And there's nothing going on / In Moncton


-Marie-Jo Thério, À Moncton (1995)

Black and white photograph of woman sitting in a chair smiling

Antonine Maillet, photograph by Harry Palmer, December 12, 1984


Moncton continues to be a leading centre for the production of Acadian literature, and this despite the fact that the city was named for one of the architects of the Acadian deportation, British officer Robert Monckton (1726-1782). Located on the banks of the Petitcodiac River, nicknamed the "chocolate river" because of its muddy waters, Moncton sits on the cultural fence between two worlds, two cultures and two realities. Moncton is L'extrême frontière (1988) of Gérald Leblanc. It is a space between two worlds that one dares to inhabit, and even the language spoken here—"Chiac"—reflects the influence of these two linguistic groups. Trying to carve out an identity in this grey area brings on an existential crisis. The heroine of Antonine Maillet's La Sagouine (1971) cries out in anguish: "Fer the love of Christ, where do we live?" It is a cry repeated throughout the Acadian literature produced in Moncton, particularly in the works of Herménégilde Chiasson.

Moncton is also a painful wound that is borne proudly, like the scars from a long battle. It is Calixte Duguay's Les stigmates du silence (1975). This memory of a cruel past, a dream unfulfilled, will not be forgotten. At the same time, there is a sense of despair over the city's assimilating influence. In Petitcodiac (1972), Raymond Guy LeBlanc admires the "brown wave" of the river while contemplating the fact that "An entire people is being de-Acadianized at Albion's concrete doorstep / Aspiring to be part of an elite in the churning mud."[Translation] The chocolate river becomes here a powerful metaphor for the Acadians of Moncton, who are "stuck here", patiently awaiting assimilation.

White page with black print

Typescript of the lyrics to the song "Rue Dufferin," by Gérald Leblanc


But despite this anguish, or rather because of it, the authors often describe Moncton as a dynamic place not unlike a major city, a "minipolis" to borrow author Jean Babineau's expression. Gérald Leblanc, in particular, spent his entire life writing about what it means to live here, in works such as L'éloge du chiac (1995) and Moncton Mantra (1997). You may be "stuck" in Moncton, but this special attachment-midway between anguish and happiness-is hard to give up.