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

By Cleo Paskal
February 27, 2007
John Sylvester

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

In the middle of this vista, defiantly facing down the sea, sitsa 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 Acadianflag, writ large and proud.

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

The Acadians dominate the northeast corner. As a result,visitors notice a distinctive joie de vivre, with stompin' fiddle music, lovingly preparedtraditional foods, and that famous laid-back attitude. Aresemblance to the Cajun culture of Louisiana is far fromcoincidental: When the English expelled most of the Acadianpopulation from Nova Scotia in 1755, many fled south, eventuallysettling in Louisiana. Years later, some Acadians did return to thearea, settling in New Brunswick.

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

Kids can forgo video games for cow milking and ironmongeringwhile parents lounge at Château Albert, a reconstruction of aturn-of-the-last-century hotel that picks up guests in a 1923 ModelT Ford. (Thankfully, the authenticity does not extend to theplumbing.)

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

For family and music, the many regional Acadian reunions welcomeall visitors. On August 15 in Caraquet, for example, comes theannual Tintamarre. "Tintamarre" translates roughly to "louddisturbance," which is probably what disapproving parentsoriginally thought of all that fiddling. A good, noisy time is hadby all.

Just up the road from Caraquet, in Grande-Anse, an unusualmuseum testifies to the region's enduring Catholic faith. The PopesMuseum contains portraits of all the popes, as well as a scalemodel of St. Peter's Basilica and original paintings of every oneof the area's churches.

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