Making family connections with Cajun cousins
ST. JOHN VALLEY AND BEYOND- Janet Hebert Gonneville welcomed a surprise visit from extended family she had recently discovered through a World Acadian Congress Hébert reunion group on Facebook. John and Kathy Hébert of Prairieville, Louisiana have been active participants in family reunions since 2005 and made a detour on an autumn foliage sightseeing vacation to meet family members from Madawaska and St. David.
Janet Hebert Gonneville, her husband John, daughter Leah, mother Joan and father Reginald met with John and Kathy Hébert of Louisiana for the first time on Oct. 3. The following day they gathered at the family camp on Hebert Hill in St. David to share their stories and get to know each other. Another family member from across the river joined them - Don Hébert of Cocagne, close to Moncton. Janet Hebert Gonneville’s cousin Amy Hebert Castonguay was also there, along with Gonneville’s niece Kristin Hebert.
“We started planning for the 2014 reunion. We have a Facebook group. Kathy [Hébert] had been in touch with [Maine regional coordinator for the World Acadian Congress] Lorraine Pelletier and she connected us. [Kathy Hébert] emailed me as a contact person.”
Kathy and John Hébert planned on an autumn foliage sightseeing vacation in Acadia National Park for late September and early October.
“We started off going to Acadia to see the leaves. At one point, when we were in Calais, we realized we were close Moncton. We heard the leaves were nice up there and we had some friends in that area, so we decided to follow the leaves,” said Kathy Hébert.
She continued, “We met up with Don [Hébert] in Moncton and on our way back from New Brunswick, we decided to stop in and say ‘Hi’ to Janet.”
The Héberts of Louisiana and the Heberts of Maine planned to use their time together to get to know each other and start planning for the World Acadian Congress Hebert reunion in 2014.
Janet Hebert Gonneville said, “John and Kathy have been to a Congress before, so they can share their experience with us and tell us what to expect. It’s given us a boost of energy for what’s coming up.”
The Louisiana Héberts have attended the World Acadian Congress in 2004 and 2009. At Caraquet in 2009, the Hébert family reunion had 600 participants at its peak.
Don Hébert said, “Our hall was packed.”
During the 2014 WAC, the Héberts plan to host the family reunion in the field at the family camp site on top of Hebert Hill.
“Nothing is set in stone yet though,” said Janet Hebert Gonneville. “We haven’t started the registration process yet, but we think anywhere from 400 to 500 people may attend.”
Kathy Hébert added, “They’re going to come from all over.”
The Facebook group has created a buzz among Héberts from outside the St. John Valley. Janet Gonneville Hebert said, “I’ve had more inquiries from those that are away than from locals.”
John and Kathy Hébert are members of the Hébert Association in Louisiana. Their plans include networking at upcoming Hébert reunions by inviting travel agents to the reunions in hopes that they will be interested in filling up buses to transport Héberts up to Maine.
The Hébert Association in Louisiana, or L’Association des Hébert, tries to hold one reunion per year, according to John Hébert. He said, “We have a reunion in 2013 and will have one early in 2014 and we’ll try to get as many people to come up here as possible.”
“It’s our job to increase awareness of what’s going to happen,” said John Hébert “It’s part of our function to promote and help.”
Much like the St. John Valley’s celebration of Acadian culture through festivals and reunions, the Héberts of Louisiana participate in festivals and Mardi Gras to help keep their culture alive.
John Hébert said, “One of the things drawing people to [WAC] events is that they want to see where their ancestors lived.”
He continued, “In 2004, I walked the land that my ancestors walked thirteen generations ago [in Nova Scotia]. I sat at this stream and thought about one of my great-great-great-something grandfather sitting at that same stream.”
Kathy Hébert said, “I’ve enjoyed meeting everybody here and am excited to come back in 2014.”
The Héberts were able to enjoy the expansive view from the top of Hebert Hill and planned on meeting that evening with more Heberts in the area for discussions about the family reunion.
The Louisiana Héberts are traveling back to the coastal region to see more fall foliage before they return home.
Kathy Hébert said, “Our leaves don’t change color like this down there.”
The Louisiana Héberts and the Maine Heberts will continue to increase awareness about the upcoming World Acadian Congress through local advertisements and social networking. For more information on the Hebert reunion or for inquiries regarding volunteering or reunion meetings, contact Janet Gonneville Hebert at (207) 436-0624.