14 January 2020 by Rachel Mostyn
Back at the start of the 17th century – 1604 to be precise – a group of French settlers landed on the island now known as Sainte-Croix, idyllically situated between New Brunswick in Atlantic Canada and the American state of Maine.
Due to a particularly harsh winter, they weren’t to stay long, resettling the following year in Port Royal. This inauspicious introduction to Canada’s Atlantic coast marked the start of a region known as Acadie – later Nova Scotia – whose tight-knit communities soon attracted more arrivals from across the Atlantic. And, where these new arrivals settled, a new culture grew, with a new language and cuisine. Here, we take a look at ways you can experience some of their unique culture for yourself when you holiday in this spellbinding region.
It’s fair to say that great food is always high on people’s holiday hit-list. And, for visitors to New Brunswick, it’s no exception. Indeed, with such a bounty of fresh produce, and a wealth of traditional dishes wrapped up in the traditions of the Acadian people, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out. From delicious and hearty stews to such regional delicacies as crêpes râpées – crispy potato pancakes – tasty treats abound. Of course, you’ll want to try the seafood, and the likes of battered clams and scallops broiled in a creamy wine sauce are not to be missed.
And, there’s plenty for the sweet of tooth, whether it’s a delicious pastry ball filled with baked apples, raisins and cranberries, topped with sugar syrup, or equally scrumptious pets de soeur, the Acadian cousin of the cinnamon roll.
Acadian historic sites
Scattered throughout New Brunswick are a wealth of historic sites with ties to the province’s Acadian roots. First among these is the Village Historique Acadian, a reconstructed village and living museum which perfectly showcases the life of Acadian families, as well as major events to affect the community, between 1770 and 1949. Here, bilingual guides, dressed in traditional costume, will lead you between everything from the village wood mill and blacksmith’s shop to the chapel, school and post house. There’s even the chance to join a traditional cookery workshop, perhaps recreating some of those delicious recipes we highlighted earlier.
Also well worth a visit is the Monument-Lefebvre National Historic Site. Built in respect of Acadian vicar Camille Lefebvre, this imposing sandstone building is something of a symbol of the 19th-century resurgence of Acadian culture. This followed the return to New Brunswick of French-Acadian settlers following their mass-expulsion to the colonies by the British in 1755. Today, it houses a treasure trove of Acadian exhibits, titled ‘Reflections of a Journey – The Odyssey of the Acadian People.
Last but in no means least, be sure not to miss star-shaped Fort Beauséjour – Fort Cumberland National Historic Site. Straddling the border of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, this 18th-century fort tells the story of the conflicts between the French and British, which eventually led to those British-led deportations and the temporary exclusion of the Acadians from the Maritimes.
Of course, visiting the sites and eating the food will go a long way to furthering your understanding the Acadian people and their customs. But, there can surely be no better way of experiencing their culture than with a stay in an original Acadian-era hotel. And, that’s exactly what you can do at our old favourite, the Village Historic Acadien. Here, at Hôtel Château Albert, every care has been taken to recreate a turn-of-the-century accommodation, from the architecture and furnishings, right down to the forgoing of TVs and phones – although WiFi is apparently available!
Then, throughout the region, everything from Victorian boutiques to seaside B&Bs offer unique stays in spectacular surroundings. A particularly fine example of 19th-century Acadian architecture is Hotel Paulin in Caraquet, which is still owned by the direct descendants of the family who built it back In 1891, making it the oldest family-owned hotel in Canada. Sticking with the Victorian theme, Le Griffon Bed & Breakfast in Shelliac pairs traditional Acadian stylings with easy access to what is reputed to be Canada’s warmest salt-water beach. And, also on the coast, the delightful Les Chalet de la Plage serves up a truly unmissable combination of lobster lunches, lighthouse views and lazy days spent swimming and sunbathing on the glorious, golden coast.