Mr. Chancellor, I am authorized by the Senate of Acadia University to present to you, for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Barbara Anne Marie LeBlanc.
This truly remarkable Nova Scotian was born near Cheticamp, Cape Breton, receiving her early education in a number of regional schools, six different ones, she tells me, as her family was often on the move. Her junior and senior high school years were spent at Mount Carmel High School in New Waterford, Cape Breton, probably one of the longest periods of time she has ever spent in one place in an extraordinarily mobile life.
Mr. Chancellor, we are all shaped by the great and small events of our childhood, and for Dr. LeBlanc, this period had a profound effect on her later life and accomplishments. As a small child, she first learned Acadian French, the language of her parents and her home. However, due to the then lack of guarantee for instruction in French in this province, all of her formal education was in English; gradually she lost her mother tongue. Her parents continued to speak to her in French, but she replied in English; the process of assimilation was well underway, an experience repeated in countless Acadian homes in the 20th century. This childhood linguistic experience would very much mark the mature woman.
It was while studying theatre at Dalhousie University that she discovered how important language, and the way we use it, really are. She began the study of Italian, in which she became fluent, before moving on to Spanish. It was only after these major linguistic accomplishments -- English, Italian and Spanish -- that she came back to her mother tongue, deciding to relearn her native French which she had lost almost completely. In the process of relearning her family’s language, she rediscovered, or probably discovered for the first time, the richness of her Acadian heritage – and for her life would never be the same again.
This interest in, almost preoccupation with, language involved, for Barbara Le Blanc, much more than rules of grammar, long lists of vocabulary, and sentence structure. Her study of theatre took her, on scholarship, to study drama in Venice. Language became the vehicle into the culture of a society, as she immersed herself in life in Italy, just as she would a few years later, when she went to Mexico to live and work and explore the culture of that society.
It was not mere coincidence then that the relearning of her own language also led her into an impassioned exploration of the history and culture of her own people --the Acadians. She became, in her own words, a “born-again Acadian.” And with the zeal of the convert, she began an intense and rewarding journey of discovery into the past and the present. It is fashionable today to talk about “life long learning” – the ongoing education in which we should all be involved. Barbara LeBlanc epitomizes this lofty objective. Fifteen years after her BA in theatre from Dalhousie, she completed an MA in history from Université Laval, in Quebec, followed by a BEd in the teaching of French as a second language at Dalhousie, and then capped it all with a PhD from Laval, studying the ethnology of the francophones of North America. I am not sure what area she will choose to study next, although I do know that she is currently learning Chinese, so the Asian world may well be her next objective.
Dr LeBlanc has made it her life’s work not only to learn, but also to stimulate others to learn as well, through her teaching, her writing and her example. She has taught in Nova Scotia, Quebec, at a school of tourism in Mexico, for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Government of Italy, in Rome, at the University of Dublin, the Oxford School of English, Milan, and is currently a professor in the Education Department, Université Sainte-Anne, at Church Point, Nova Scotia. Although seen as an inspired, and inspiring, teacher, her role as educator extends far beyond the classroom. In 1988 she was appointed Director of Grand-Pré National Historic Site, a position she held for four years. There she did much to enhance the learning experience of visitors to the park, Acadian and non-Acadian alike, building vital links between the park and the broader community. Through her publications, she has explored language, and culture, and dance, bringing the history of the Acadians to the world. Some of the titles of these publications reveal the intermingling of her various interests and her passion for her people: All Join Hands: A Guide for Teaching Acadian Traditional Dances in Schools; Postcards from Acadie: Grand-Pré. Evangline and the Acadian Identity; “Learning a Second Language through Culture”; “Changing Places: Dance, Society and Gender”; “Candlemas in the Classroom: Relating Past Traditions to Present Realities” – and the list goes on and on. Through her publications, and her work at Grand-Pré, she has interpreted and presented the Acadian past and present for us all, and we are immeasurably enriched by her efforts.
As is fitting at a fully-wired university, I thought I should see what the world wide web had to say about Barbara LeBlanc. Having typed that name into a Google search, I was astounded to find that there were no fewer than 192,000 sites that mentioned Barbara LeBlanc. Now, I must confess that not all of those refer to our Barbara Le Blanc, but a remarkable number do. Throughout the Acadian, historical, educational and dance communities, she is renowned for her initiative, her enthusiasm for life, her passion, not just for her people, but for all people, her determination to build bridges in whatever endeavor in which is she engaged.
In conversation with Dr. LeBlanc, she told me: “I see the world as composed of two types of people – those who build bridges and communication, and those who tear them down. I want to be one of the builders!” And a builder of bridges she has indeed become.
In this remarkable career, with its many accomplishments and numerous diplomas, only one thing of significance is lacking: an Acadia University degree. Mr. Chancellor, it is to rectify this serious shortcoming in an otherwise exemplary and exciting life that I present to you Barbara Anne Marie LeBlanc, linguist, educator, student, writer, explorer of culture and builder of bridges, that she may receive honour at your hands.
Webmaster's note: It is with great pride that I count Barbara Le Blanc among my friends and cousins. Thank you Barbara for graciously accepting to be part of the Acadian Ancestral Home. To know you is to love you!