Curious about his family name and history, Nova Scotia writer Tyler LeBlanc discovered a connection to the Acadian Expulsion, a period between 1755 and 1764 when over 10,000 French settlers in what is now the present-day Maritime provinces were forcibly removed by the British.
It would be a discovery that would pique his interest and lead him to spend almost five years researching and writing his debut book Acadian Driftwood, published by New Brunswick’s Goose Lane Editions.
“It didn’t take a lot of digging to be able to find the genealogical thread that brought the family name back to the expulsion,” says LeBlanc by phone.
Acadian Driftwood was my chance to get to know my family history and to learn more about an important part of history from the province I spent almost my entire life in. – author Tyler LeBlanc
Rather than telling the story of the exploration through its major players, though, it would be LeBlanc’s more personal accounts that have resonated.
“It was an attempt to take readers into what happened during the expulsion through the eyes of those it happened to and the terrible fate that it brought upon them,” he says.
But while LeBlanc approached the book as a writer looking to tell a story rather than as a historian, accuracy was essential. “It was important to adhere to the facts and be presented as non-fiction so that nothing was up for debate,” he says.
That historical accuracy came from almost five years of research which began with a crash course on Acadian history.
“I had to get myself a thorough education before I could even start delving into the individual issues and stories,” says LeBlanc. “I had to gather everything I could find, but there isn’t a ton of information out there because my characters are just everyday people caught up in this thing.”
LeBlanc’s combination of research and personal accounts has led to an unprecedented quartet of 2021 Atlantic Book Award nominations, including in both the historical writing and non-fiction categories.
It has also helped fill something of a void as LeBlanc has been unable to promote his book in any traditional sense due to the pandemic restrictions.
“Being launched during the pandemic I have not had a chance to go out and share the book with people in person,” he says. “But the nominations have filled in a little bit of that gap, where it feels more like I’m connected. It’s very, very humbling to have the recognition and to have four nominations is really quite shocking.”
As for its title, while LeBlanc says it works on multiple levels, he admits inspiration also came from the 1976 song by The Band, which also recounts the Expulsion of the Acadians.
A self-described fan of the Toronto rock band, LeBlanc says he ultimately chose the title while completing his Masters of Fine Arts at the University of King’s College.
“I didn’t bother to call Robbie Robertson and asked if it was okay but my publisher never brought up the idea of changing it,” he says with a laugh.
Already working on his second book, a yet-to-be-revealed work of historical non-fiction with a global reach, for now, LeBlanc says he is stunned by the recognition Acadian Driftwood has garnered but is pleased to introduce this important part of local history to readers.
“I hope that people who want to learn more about the expulsion use this as a launching pad to do their own research because there are more people in this region like me with little connection to their Acadian heritage,” he says.
LeBlanc will find out if he will take home any of the four trophies on May 13, when the 2021 Atlantic Book Awards winners will be announced virtually as part of the Atlantic Book Festival. Visit atlanticbookawards.ca for more information. Acadian Driftwood is now available at book retailers and online.