Monday January 06, 2014 | 09:33 AM

             Marguerite Blanche Thibodeau Cyr (1735-1810) was an Acadian heroin who saved her village in Northern Maine’s Aroostook County, from starvation, in 1797, during a winter famine and brutal snow storm. Her reputation for bravery and compassion continues to be recognized as an example of the Acadians’ resolute determination to overcome extraordinary adversity. 

Tante Blanche in winter of 1797 by Don Cyr

(photograph from the website www.francoiseparadis.com)

As a matter of fact, Cyr’s personal astute judgment and heroism will be portrayed in a film currently in production titled, “Acadians of the St. John Valley”. It’s produced by Brenda Nasberg Jepson, of Stockholm, ME, and President of Crown of Maine Productions, Inc. The film will be shown at the international Congres Mondial Acadien, scheduled for August 2014, in Northern Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick, Canada

In particular, Cyr is revered for her rescue efforts in the Madawaska region, when a deadly winter storm nearly caused her community to starve to death in a famine known as misère noire.

During her response to the winter disaster, Cyr became widely loved as “Tante Blanche”. Her valiant winter rescue efforts notwithstanding, Tante Blanche continues to be a metaphor for the energetic resilience of the Acadian people, who were victims of another terrible historic incident in 1755, known as “le Grand Derangement”.

Indeed, Tante Blanche was with her family during le misère noire because of le Grand Derangement. Tante Blanche’s family members were among the Acadian who were brutally displaced from Nova Scotia by the British. Acadians were deported by the British because they refused to pledge loyalty to the King of England, during the daunting colonial wars fought with the French for control of Canada.

Acadians in Nova Scotia (or Acadie as the land was called by the French) were “scattered to the winds”, families were separated, placed in boats and sailed away to many ports in the American colonies and in Europe.

Indeed, many victims of le Grand Derangement were Cyr’s relatives.

Compounding the 1755 tragedy, many Acadians were again displaced, when they tried to find their way back to reclaim their confiscated lands. Some of the refugees settled in New Brunswick, Canada. Nevertheless, the British again revoked their lands, to give to British loyalists who opposed the American Revolution.

Francoise Paradis is a native of Aroostook County who is now a resident of Buxton, Maine. She writes about Tante Blanche in her website article, “Tante Blanche: The Savior of Her People”. Paradis reports how Tante Blanche courageously saved her village from starvation during an 8-day snowstorm in 1797, during a vicious winter storm, after 2-years of the St. John River flooding and early frosts had devastated crops. While the men in the village were hunting for food, Tante Blanche’s mission was to ensure that no one went hungry. She traveled from door to door on snowshoes to check on the status of each household. If the people in the home seemed to be doing fine, she would ask if there were extra provisions they could share. As these small extra provisions were accumulated, she distributed them to those with greater need.  She also cared for the sick and cooked meals for families when necessary, writes Paradis.

Don Levesque is on the Board of the Congres Mondial. He says Tante Blanch embodied the spirit of sharing and community that seems to be inherent in Acadians and Franco-Americans. “I believe she is revered and honored because she went above and beyond caring for her family and immediate neighbors. She cared for the entire community,” he says.

When news about Tante Blanche’s brave and charitable deeds became known, her reputation grew as a healer and comforter.  “She was a heroine who continues to be a legend,” writes Paradis. Tante Blanche died on Marcy 29, 1810, at 72 years old.

In the film, “Acadians of the St. John Valley”, the segment on Tante Blanche is portrayed by Patricia Theriault Ezzy of Van Buren.

The Madawaska Historical Society in 1972, named its long cabin museum in her memory, “Tante Blanch Historic Museum”.  http://www.nps.gov/maac/planyourvisit/acadlanding.htm

Crown of Maine Productions Inc. link is http://www.crownofmaineproductions.com/index.html

Tante Blanche: Savior of Her People”, by Francoise Paradis, is at this link http://www.francoiseparadis.com/documents/tante-blanche.pdf

About this Blog

Juliana L’Heureux is a freelance writer whose articles about Maine’s Franco-American history and culture have appeared in Portland newspapers for 25 years. She serves on the Maine Franco-American Leadership Council.

Juliana and her husband Richard live in Topsham ME. Feel free to contact her at Juliana@mainewriter.com.

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