The Heart of Acadia

Visit New Brunswick's northeast corner for grand vistas, tuneful violins, and classic joie de vivre.

Acadia -1

John Sylvester

Years of strong winds have given the foliage atop this cliff a crew cut. The brave shrubs that cling to the tired earth lean at sharp angles, trying to survive through sheer aerodynamics.

In the middle of this vista, defiantly facing down the sea, sits a stone house. Its front is painted in three vertical bands: blue, white, and red―the French tricolor, with an added yellow, five-pointed star in the upper left corner. This is the Acadian flag, writ large and proud.

Welcome to New Brunswick's Acadian coast, where survivors of Canada's earliest French colonies found shelter from the storm of politics and safely set down roots. (For more on the "Great Expulsion" of French Catholic settlers, see the sidebar.) The province today is an amalgam of cultures, with strong Mi'kmaq (pre-European indigenous people), English, and French communities intermingled within its borders.

The Acadians dominate the northeast corner. As a result, visitors notice a distinctive joie de vivre, with stompin' fiddle music, lovingly prepared traditional foods, and that famous laid-back attitude. A resemblance to the Cajun culture of Louisiana is far from coincidental: When the English expelled most of the Acadian population from Nova Scotia in 1755, many fled south, eventually settling in Louisiana. Years later, some Acadians did return to the area, settling in New Brunswick.

From a visitor's point of view, the centerpiece of the Acadian experience in Canada is the massive Acadian Historic Village. Yes, it's a guides-dress-up-in-ye-olde-clothes sort of place, but with surprising authenticity. The buildings are all genuine local landmarks, dating from 1770 to 1939, that were moved to this site in the 1970s. During the summer, locals with actual skills populate the place―from tavern keepers and cobblers to barrel makers and printers. You can wander through shops and houses, dodging sparks flying off the just-forged horseshoes in the smithy and dropping in on a family eating bread made from wheat they grew, threshed, milled, and baked. If you're lucky, they'll even share.

Kids can forgo video games for cow milking and ironmongering while parents lounge at Château Albert, a reconstruction of a turn-of-the-last-century hotel that picks up guests in a 1923 Model T Ford. (Thankfully, the authenticity does not extend to the plumbing.)

The village reveals the vital elements of Acadian culture in this region, especially family, music, church, nature, and food. One of the best places on the coast to eat is in the nearby town of Caraquet. The bayfront Hotel Paulin, built in 1891, serves local fare―oysters, lobsters, crabs, maple syrup, salmon, rhubarb, berries―in innovative combinations.

For family and music, the many regional Acadian reunions welcome all visitors. On August 15 in Caraquet, for example, comes the annual Tintamarre. "Tintamarre" translates roughly to "loud disturbance," which is probably what disapproving parents originally thought of all that fiddling. A good, noisy time is had by all.

Just up the road from Caraquet, in Grande-Anse, an unusual museum testifies to the region's enduring Catholic faith. The Popes Museum contains portraits of all the popes, as well as a scale model of St. Peter's Basilica and original paintings of every one of the area's churches.

That leaves just nature. Bucolic fields fill the landscape, and lazy cows cut green swaths through a rainbow of wildflowers. White-sand beaches exchange brief, tidal embraces with the steel-blue ocean. Osprey nests top telephone poles, and salmon throng the rivers. The salty-sweet air can flush the city out of your lungs in a few deep breaths. This land gets into the bloodstream. You never want to leave. But if forced to, you, like the Acadians, will long to come back and build your house in stone. The type of flag you paint upon it is up to you.

 Exploring Acadia 
 
 getting there: You can fly into Moncton and drive north, or take The Ocean sleeper train from Montreal to Halifax, passing through the Acadian coast; 888/842-7245 or viarail.com.

 staying: Packages at Hotel Paulin in Caraquet start at about $425 for two nights, double occupancy, with breakfast and three-course dinner and wine; 866/727-9981 or hotelpaulin.com. Metepenagiag Outdoor Adventure Lodge is a bit down the coast on the Miramichi salmon river. One night's lodging, along with a day of fly-fishing and dinner, starts at about $300 per person, double occupancy; 800/570-1344 or metepenagiaglodge.com.

 playing: The Acadian Historic Village, open early June through mid-October, is a short drive outside Caraquet. A night at Château Albert, including passes to the historic village, dinner, and live Acadian music, costs about $200 for two. Seven hours of ye-olde-activities for the kids costs about $30 Canadian. The village also offers fishing trips on the river; 877/721-2200 or villagehistoriqueacadien.com. The Popes Museum; 506/732-3003.

 learning more: Call 800/561-0123 or visit tourismnewbrunswick.ca.

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