Réjean Thomas, the Acadian doctor
by Luc Boulanger – Montréal, Quebec
At 18, Réjean Thomas left his village, family and house on Tilley Road, in New Brunswick, to study medicine, and then practise in Quebec. He would later become one of the most well-known and beloved doctors in the province.
The "good doctor" thought he had left Acadia behind for good. However, after his mother’s passing in 2000, he got back in touch with his relatives, friends and Acadian roots. He even bought a house in Tracadie-Sheila, on the edge of the water, which he visits as much as possible and which his father calls home.
"When my mother died, my family thought I would never come back to Acadia because I was very close to her. However, the opposite happened: I have never felt more proud of my Acadian roots!" says Dr. Thomas.
But what does Dr. Thomas like so much about the Acadian Peninsula? "The values of solidarity, reciprocity, simplicity and Acadian pride," he explains. "Acadians were raised differently. They pass on their sense of belonging to their children. My nieces and nephews are very proud of their Acadian identity; it’s very important to them. When I was their age, I was dreaming about Montréal."
According to Dr. Thomas, in Tracadie, Shippagan or Caraquet, "the cultural life is very dynamic" for a region that is far from the major centres. "It’s full of young musicians, painters, poets and other artists who participate in local artistic events. Acadian pride is apparent as soon as you arrive in the Acadian Peninsula," he lauds. You can see Acadian flags everywhere: in front of houses, on roadside poles, car bumpers, lobster cages, etc.
And let’s not forget the warm welcome given to visitors. "They say that about a lot of other communities or regions across Canada, but here it is confirmed all the time: Acadians are very welcoming," says the doctor, who has travelled around the world many times.
Service in both languages
For Dr. Thomas, New Brunswick’s official bilingual status, which is also celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, helped the plight of Acadians throughout the province. "When I was young, my mother, who didn’t speak English, would ask me to phone for her if she had to contact public or government services. Today, you have the right to be served in French."
In his opinion, Acadians have a lot in common with the people of Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands, who, like them, have loved, feared and lived by the sea for generations. Despite the economic situation in the region and the harsh climate, Acadia has a laid back yet lively atmosphere that you don’t often see in Montréal or Toronto. "When I’m at home in Tracadie, the stress of the city disappears instantly. And every time I’m there, I don't want to go back to Montréal," he laughs.
Two years ago, Dr. Thomas even reinstated his licence to practise medicine in New Brunswick so that he might one day practise in his hometown.
Who knows? Maybe in addition to bringing homesick Acadians a little piece of home, he could also treat the ones who never left.
Réjean Thomas has been a doctor for over 30 years. As Chair and Co-Founder of Clinique médicale l'Actuel in Montréal, and Founding Chair of Médecins du Monde Canada , he has received many awards and honours throughout his career, including being named a Knight of the Ordre national du Québec and receiving an honorary doctorate from Université de Moncton.
Credits: Michel Cloutier