CNSA Member Profile: La Société St. Pierre

Member profile by Heidi Schiller, CNSA’s Member-at-Large for Communications & Awards

2022 marks the 75th anniversary of La Société Saint-Pierre, which is an Associate Institutional member of the CNSA. The Society’s mandate is to promote and preserve Acadian culture and language in the Cheticamp region of Cape Breton. They also own and manage a cultural centre, which is home to Les Trois Pignons, the Museum of the Hooked Rug and Home Life, and the Centre de généalogie Père-Charles-Aucoin. The centre, built in the late 1970s, is an important asset to the Acadian community of Cheticamp.

Overhead view of the Genealogy Centre
La Société Saint Pierre Genealogy Centre & Les Trois Pignons

Q&A with Lisette Aucoin-Bourgeois, Executive Director

Volunteers at the Centre de généalogie Père-Charles-Aucoin
Some of the shelves and cabinets in the archives.

Is your archive open year-round or seasonally?

We are officially open to visitors from mid-May to late October, but because our offices are open year-round, we do have visitors coming in throughout the year. Official opening is the long weekend in May until Celtic Colours, but this year we’re thinking of closing a little later, at the end of October.

How many paid staff do you have? Regular volunteers?

The museum/gallery is staffed with 2 students and 2 adults. This allows us to remain open 7 days a week during the season. We also have 4 volunteers in our Genealogy Centre. 

Everyone here is bilingual. We’re also the Visitor Information Centre (VIC) for the Community and occasionally get calls from other VIC’s that need someone who can speak French.  

What is the approximate size/volume (linear metres) of your archives? 

The museum/gallery space is about 310 square meters (3332 square feet). Our Genealogy Centre holds the old documents and our offices have about 15 cabinets of documents.

What is the scope of your archival holdings?

Our collection is mainly promoting the Acadian region of Cheticamp through our collection of local artifacts and a collection of hooked rugs particular to the area. Most of our collections are from Elizabeth LeFort and Marguerite Gallant.

Over 40 years of work and research has been done by our team of very dedicated volunteers. Three years ago, we started talking about finding ways to convert handwritten genealogical records to a database. We hired a local programmer to design a bilingual database that will allow us to enter our index cards and create family charts. Our goal is to assure a succession plan is in place when the time comes to replace our present volunteers. 

This photo was taken at the site of the new campground at Cap-Rouge. The woman in the middle in navy capris is Laurette MacGillivray, who had to leave her home before the park's construction.
This photo was taken at the site of the new campground at Cap-Rouge. The woman in the middle in navy capris is Laurette MacGillivray, whose family was expropriated from their home.

Is there anything interesting/notable about your building or site?

Our building in its Acadian colours is very distinctive with its red roof. The building is a testament to the community’s pride in its culture. Our Genealogy Centre is an asset to the community and a wonderful resource to have. 

As you walk through, you will see the evolution of the hooked rug showcased. As you get closer to the end, you will be captivated by the huge rugs hanging on the walls such as Canadian history, American history, religious pieces. We love to see the awe on the faces of the visitors as they do their walk through and come face to face with these masterpieces. 

La Société Saint-Pierre works closely with Parks Canada in the promotion of living culture within the boundaries of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Before its construction, between 1864 and 1936, a vibrant Acadian community existed in what is today the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. These families were expropriated from their lands and were moved to Cheticamp. Much research has been done on the subject by our Society, a book was published, and just this spring, a children’s book was released too. The children’s book is the story of a young girl named Laurette and her life in Cap-Rouge before moving to Cheticamp. It so happens that the youngest person who actually did leave Cap-Rouge was named Laurette, and she still lives here in Cheticamp. Her family was home last year, and we took them on a tour of the new campground, which opened this year on the former lands of the Acadian families, and we were able to announce that the children’s book’s main character is loosely based on her. Needless to say, Laurette was proud. To add to the story, her granddaughter was married this summer at that same, exact location.

What document in your archives do you wish people knew more about, that tells an interesting story from your community’s history?

A proclamation of land, (c.1790), granted to 14 founding families of Cheticamp, whose names are the following:  Pierre Bois, Peter Aucoin, Joseph Boudreau, Joseph Gaudet, Paul Chiasson, Basile Chiasson, Joseph Desveaux, Grégoire Maillet, Jean Chiasson, Lazare LeBlanc, Raymond Poirier, Anselme Aucoin, Joseph Aucoin & Augustin Desveaux.

This precious document was handed down through the years from father to son.  The last descendant to own it as per this tradition was Willie Aucoin, son of Amédé Aucoin.  Willie only married well into his senior years and did not have children of his own.  He worried about the future of the “land grant” document.  It was his goddaughter, Yvonne Noël (à Richard Aucoin) who convinced Willie to donate it to La Société Saint-Pierre, before his death.

The land grant has yellowed with age. c. September 1790.
Oval wreath made with mostly brown tones of human hair woven into several different shapes and sizes of flower petals and leaves.
Oval wreath made with mostly brown tones of human hair woven into several different shapes and sizes of flower petals and leaves.
Boots that belonged to Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.
Boots that belonged to Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

What is the most strange/unusual thing in your archives’ holdings?

We get many comments from our wall hanging of a glass covered, fancy needlepoint wreath made with human hair! This family hair wreath is from the Hooper Estate in Framboise. Hair art was a popular art form starting in the 1400s and remaining through the 1800s, both in Europe and in North America. A family member would often collect hair from many generations of family members, which could then be used to create a hair wreath. It was also commonplace for friends to trade hair and make hair wreaths as mementos of their friendship. This form of art is associated with memorials, as wreaths were commonly made from the hair of deceased family members, collected after death.

Also, in the Marguerite Gallant collection, we apparently have the boots worn by Douglas Fairbanks when he played Robin Hood in the 1920’s & 1930’s! Ruth Allan, co-actress with Douglas, gave the boots to Mary Cahill, who in turn gave them to Marguerite Gallant, whose collection of artifacts we were given.

Does the archive have a common or unique request?

“Can you take a picture?” is the most popular question.  We have many who are skeptical at first that our beautiful, hooked rugs are, in fact, handmade.  Once we show them the technique and they actually try it themselves, they have a great appreciation for the work involved in rug hooking.

What is your largest fonds/archival collection?

Our masterpieces of hooked rugs are what brings us the WOW moment when visitors go through the museum/gallery. The artifacts showcased help us tell the story of the rug hooking industry from its humble beginnings to the present and is what makes up the theme of the tour. 

What are you and your staff/volunteers most looking forward to once restrictions are lifted? 

We look forward to having our buses come back, to having a busy tourist season with visitors happy to be travelling. We hope to be able to chat with visitors without a shield and mask separating us. 

Which Social Media platforms are used by your repository?

Facebook and Instagram are the two most popular ones. Twitter is used less, and our web site is linked to all other marketing efforts. In this fast-changing world, we need to make sure our society will be as pertinent in another 25 years as it is today and as it was in its humble beginnings back in 1947.

1 Comment

  1. Hansel Cook on November 4, 2022 at 11:01 am

    This is a great feature for the CNSA website, and a very interesting archives to cover for your first feature. Look forward to seeing more of these!