Significant changes started occurring for Island Acadians during the mid-1800s, reflecting changes that were occurring for Acadians throughout the Maritime provinces. Several institutions promoting community development were established. A small educated ruling class was formed, and important initiatives began to be implemented in the Acadian community.
The number of public schools started to climb. Private convent schools for girls, directed by the Congrégation de Notre-Dame de Montréal nuns, opened in some Acadian parishes. Many boys continued on to college education. Institutions were also emerging to support economic development, such as the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico. During this time, young Acadian men started going into business.
In 1881, Island Acadians attended the first National Acadian Convention in Memramcook, New Brunswick, to discuss the future of Acadian people. During this convention, they selected a national holiday, Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, to be celebrated on August 15th. The second convention was held in Miscouche in 1884. During this meeting, they discussed the importance of maintaining French education as a way to preserve the French language in the province. At the same convention, Acadians selected a flag, a national anthem, and a motto, “L’union fait la force”.
In the years that followed, several initiatives were taken to revitalize the Island’s Acadian community, including the Association des instituteurs acadiens de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard, the French-language newspaper L’Impartial and Société Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin.
Despite all this, maintaining French as the language in Acadian communities proved to be very difficult. School systems were giving limited space to teaching French, and many Acadian families were living among English-speaking families in their villages. Many Acadians moved to English-speaking cities such as Charlottetown and Summerside to find work and, generally, the French language was poorly valued by the Island population. Considering this, Acadians worked on acquiring English skills so as to better integrate Island society.
For a long time, the Acadian identity remained strong in many families and villages, especially until the mid-1900s. With the advent of radio and television, automobiles, electricity and road paving, Acadian communities became less and less isolated, and increasingly open to the English-speaking world. With the loss of the French language came the loss of many Acadian traditions.
In 1955, large patriotic demonstrations were held throughout Acadia to mark the bicentenary of the 1755 Deportation. These events reminded Acadians of their history and the importance of preserving their identity, culture and language. This bicentennial provided many benefits, including the creation, in 1955, of the Société historique acadienne de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard (Acadian Historical Society of Prince Edward Island) and the opening of École régionale Évangéline (Evangeline Regional School) in 1960. In a way, these events heralded another important awakening among Prince Edward Island Acadians.