Bernette Albert; a personal view
I’ve tried writing about Bernette Albert several times since her death early last month, December 2016, but always managed to put my thoughts aside as not getting the right thing down.
She was one of the grande dames of the Madawaska Historical Society; a founding member, instrumental in setting the society on the right course and emphasizing the role of the Acadians in the settlement of the Madawaska area. It was her idea to honor those initial Acadian settlers to the region by erecting a marble cross on society land beside the St. John River. That cross is now an iconic feature on the Valley’s landscape, represented and reproduced in countless brochures, magazine articles, postcards and other media. I know something about it, having written some articles and making drawings of its conceptualization for her, even though I had initial misgivings about it. But that’s for later.
She herself was something of a Valley icon. The Bernette I knew could be gruff and irascible, impatient with my prodigal ways. Alternately, she could be thoughtful and warmly supportive, insisting I possessed talents that needed nurturing. Somewhere in there, she’d say, is a novel. I always failed to grasp that belief she had in me. Now, with her passing I feel the loss more acutely.
The marble cross was only one of her accomplishments. I leave it to others to enumerate and describe them in greater detail, only because I want to keep this in the realm of the personal. I trust I have more to say about this now that I hold the presidency of the Madawaska Historical Society; an office she held as well.
I recall us having heated discussions about the cross while she planned for its construction. I thought a symbol like the Acadian Cross should be wood, like the initial one. Local lore has it planted by an Acadian in 1785 in gratitude for having come to this place. I said I thought the cross should be ceremonially replaced every now and then, to continue being aware of that gratitude. She insisted on something permanent and won the argument. I concede her point, and besides, there was something stubbornly Acadian about her insistence. She had the force of conviction. Who am I to second guess?
A while ago, her grand-niece sent me an image she took of her children, Bernette’s great grand-nieces, in Bernette’s apartment. The image shows Bernette with a wampum belt spread across her lap; a gift to the Maliseet First Nation from the Madawaska Historical Society woven by the children. The belt was presented during the 2014 World Acadian Congress to the Maliseet as a symbol of gratitude by the Acadians for being permitted to live on Maliseet land.
The picture is singularly appropriate. Bernette always liked to point out the part the Maliseet played in helping the Acadian first families settle the region. What adds to its significance is that her blood relations had a hand in making the symbol of Acadian gratitude in the form of the wampum belt.
She probably saw it as closing a circle. History can be like that sometimes.
Bernette vowed to haunt me if I didn’t write and finish the novel before she died. Even at 90, I thought she would last forever. I am already haunted.
I will miss her.
Dave Wylie’s life and work experience runs the gamut from newspaper editor to carpenter to grant writer to boat builder with lots of other work wedged in-between. Born in 1953 in Canada, he admits not having found what he wants to be when he grows up. Wylie currently is president of a management company that oversees an elderly housing complex and president of the local historical society. He resides in Madawaska.