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Ancestor of Acadian folk hero shares family roots at genealogy fair

Bruce Murray holds a copy of his historical novel, “Piau: Journey to the Promised Land”, which details the life of Murray’s direct ancestor, Pierre Belliveau, who led a group of Acadians into exile in order to escape the expulsion. Murray spoke about his ancestry and the importance of preserving Acadian history during the recent P.E.I. Genealogy Fair. The foreword of Murray’s book is written by his sister, well-known Canadian singer Anne Murray, in which she says the stories of Belliveau were an important part of the family’s folklore.
Bruce Murray holds a copy of his historical novel, “Piau: Journey to the Promised Land”, which details the life of Murray’s direct ancestor, Pierre Belliveau, who led a group of Acadians into exile in order to escape the expulsion. Murray spoke about his ancestry and the importance of preserving Acadian history during the recent P.E.I. Genealogy Fair. The foreword of Murray’s book is written by his sister, well-known Canadian singer Anne Murray, in which she says the stories of Belliveau were an important part of the family’s folklore. - Mitch MacDonald
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Bruce Murray has always known his ancestor, Pierre Belliveau, even if he never had the chance to meet him.

Murray would often hear stories about his five-time great-grandfather, Acadian leader Pierre Belliveau, while growing up in Springhill, N.S.

Belliveau, known by his nickname “Piau”, was a folk hero who led hundreds into the wilderness to escape the Acadian expulsion and vowed to bring them to a “promised land” where they would never face deportation.

“I’ve known him all my life,” said Murray who now lives in Toronto and was the keynote speaker at the P.E.I. Genealogy Fair held recently at Charlottetown’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he told the story which he’s also shared in his novel, “Piau: Journey to the Promised Land”.

Murray’s book, published in late 2017 by Dundurn Press, is a historical fiction novel written in the first person.

“It’s historical fiction, but there are no fictional characters,” said Murray, who notes the story remains true to the dates and events of Piau’s life.

The members of Piau’s quiet rebellion spent their first winter of exile near Clare, N.S. They later sailed the Petitcodiac River to Moncton and joined a refugee camp.

They eventually ended up in Miramachi, N.B., where they hid out for about five years from British soldiers.

“They were hunting them down like animals. If the British found them, they’d just shoot them,” said Murray. “They were constantly on the run but, fortunately, they went up to Miramachi and the British had other battles to fight… so they were able to hide out for five years.”

However, the group did eventually become prisoners of war, and Belliveau was later deported to Boston, where he built a castle before finally leading his people to the “promised land” in Memramcook, N.B.

“It’s quite a story, and what they endured is just beyond what you can imagine,” said Murray.

Author and historian Bruce Murray, from left, chats with Daniel Boudreau of the P.E.I. Genealogical Society and Ricky Hitchcock of the 2019 World Acadian Congress during the genealogy fair held in Charlottetown. The fair featured a heavy Acadian presence, with thousands of Acadian planning to gather in P.E.I. and New Brunswick later this summer for the congress.
Author and historian Bruce Murray, from left, chats with Daniel Boudreau of the P.E.I. Genealogical Society and Ricky Hitchcock of the 2019 World Acadian Congress during the genealogy fair held in Charlottetown. The fair featured a heavy Acadian presence, with thousands of Acadian planning to gather in P.E.I. and New Brunswick later this summer for the congress.

One story in the book is about how Belliveau’s brother, who was expelled along with a group of about 300 other Acadians, was able to steal and commandeer the ship they were deported on. Around the same time, without either brother knowing what the other was up to, Piau also captured a British ship.

“They did it without knowing the other had done (the same thing),” said Murray. “They were really amazing people.”

Murray, who taught history in Ontario, also discussed the importance of preserving Acadian history.

He noted he was often annoyed how two chapters of his textbook were dedicated to the brief rebellion of Upper Canada in 1837, while the Acadian expulsion was reduced to “three pages and one of them was pictures.”

Although Murray and his family often heard stories of Piau growing up, he decided around 2012 the best way to keep his memory alive would be through a book.

“If I didn’t (write it), who was going to tell his story? Because the story was being passed down by word of mouth, but people forget.”

In addition to Murray, the fair saw several other speakers share their stories on family research, as well as resources available for individuals to learn about the methods of studying genealogy.

Daniel Boudreau, vice-president of Queens County for the P.E.I. Genealogical Society, said the fair included a heavy Acadian presence.
“We really wanted to showcase the Acadian genealogy this year, especially with the Congrès Mondial Acadien going on (this summer),” said Boudreau, adding that there were still many other cultures and families represented.

“With genealogy, there are all kinds of backgrounds that people come from, so we wanted to make sure that we represented everyone.”

“If I didn’t (write it), who was going to tell his story? Because the story was being passed down by word of mouth, but people forget.”

- Bruce Murray

Boudreau, who credits his interest in genealogy to growing up knowing multiple great-grandparents, said he has since discovered much about his own Acadian ancestry.
Since starting his family research, he’s discovered relatives in Louisiana and other details surrounding the Acadian expulsion. It’s also been a reminder of the differences compared to today’s world, with Boudreau noting he discovered some of his ancestors were unable to read.

“When you find out that stuff, it really kind of breaks your heart… That really has a big impact on you, and it makes you really appreciate of what you have.”

Boudreau said Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry, who also spoke at the fair, summed up the importance of knowing your roots.

“She spoke of the fact that one of the most important things is for people to know where they’re from and to have a sense of home,” he said. “That is really important because when you’re in the world and you don’t know where you’re from, it gives you a scattered sense. But when you find out where you’re from, it grounds you and gives you a sense of being. It makes you proud.”


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