Acadian group in N.B. praises life of Jackie Vautour, who resisted expropriation

·3 min read

FREDERICTON — An Acadian man who fought to remain in his home on New Brunswick's eastern shore is being recalled as a symbol of the francophone minority's resistance to unjust expropriation of their lands.

Jackie Vautour died on Sunday at the age of 92 after being hospitalized with liver cancer and pneumonia.

He was known for battling against the federal expropriation of land from Acadian and other local families to create Kouchibouguac National Park in the late 1960s.

Alexandre Cedric Doucet, president of New Brunswick's Acadian Society, said in an interview Monday that Vautour never gave up on his battle to remain on his family's land, and he became a symbol that inspired generations who followed.

"It was easy to detect the determination and strength of this man the moment he entered a room," said the 26-year-old Doucet. "He leaves us a legacy of activism and perseverance .... He fought his whole life."

About 250 families were displaced from villages to create the coastal park north of Moncton, which was authorized under the signature of Jean Chretien, who at the time was minister of Indian affairs and northern development.

The federal government proclaimed Kouchibouguac National Park on Jan. 15, 1979, just over two years after the Vautour family home was bulldozed on orders from the New Brunswick government.

Vautour wasn't able to get any satisfaction from the courts, but in 1987 he accepted 50 hectares of provincial Crown land near the park, a $228,000 cash payment, and another $50,000 to cover his legal bills.

The deal, one of Richard Hatfield's last actions before leaving the premier's office, specified that Vautour had to move out of the shacks he erected illegally in the park. But Vautour continued to live in the park.

He also led protests at the park over the years, struggling alongside other former residents against those he called the "big guys."

In an interview when he was 61, Vautour told The Canadian Press, ''It was all done by those big guys who always ... overrule and overpower the people. I can't accept that."

The creation of the park meant the destruction of seven Acadian fishing villages and the relocation of the families, with only Vautour continuing to resist.

"Their encampment is a jarring sight in the midst of the beautifully groomed seaside park — a jumble of scruffy huts and outbuildings, cars and trucks," a July 1991 Canadian Press article reported. "In front of Vautour's place, there's a sign warning park officials to keep off his land."

Vautour pushed for a commission of inquiry into the expropriation, a request backed by a citizens' committee representing people who lost their land.

Historians have said that the battle by former residents against the Kouchibouguac expropriations helped shift Parks Canada policy away from forcing people off their lands to make way for national parks.

Ronald Rudin, a professor emeritus of history at Concordia University in Montreal, said Parks Canada "will never do what they did at Kouchibouguac again."

The author of "Kouchigouguac: Removal, Resistance and Remembrance at a Canadian National Park" said Vautour "was a living symbol of what had gone wrong there" and came to represent a more nationalistic Acadian attitude.

"There was Jackie, a guy who was often photographed with his gun and wasn't going to be pushed around," Rudin said. "He represented a different kind of attitude: less passive and more assertive."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2021.

— Written by Michael Tutton in Halifax.

The Canadian Press