Along the dented east coast of New Brunswick, a house painted in the blue-white-red vertical stripes of the Acadian flag stands on a bluff, shouting a proud message, "We are Acadians!"
Three friends and I decided to become
Acadians for four days. We set out to immerse ourselves in this out-of-the-way corner of New Brunswick by following the Acadian Coastal Drive, a winding, often eccentric, road. Crammed into "Mimi," a bright red Volkswagen beetle, we drove from east of Dalhousie at the north end to
Shediac in the south, a distance of about 680 km, almost always in sight of the sea. We discovered, happily, that this region has a delightful, distinct French dialect and an irrepressible joie de vivre. And, of course, we also experienced, rather heartily, the Acadians' love of good cuisine, especially sea food.
The perfect way to start was at the
Village Historique Acadien west of
Caraquet. We wandered about more than 60 historical buildings, and chatted with friendly, bilingual interpreters in period costumes as we learned about Acadian life from 1770 to 1949. It was here that the Acadians re-settled after having been expelled from Nova Scotia in 1755. I loved seeing wool being spun and woven on large, complicated-looking looms, and related to the simple way of life in yesteryear.
That evening the restaurant at Hotel Paulin, east of Caraquet, introduced us to Acadian cuisine. We savoured
oysters, both natural and smoked, followed by wild mushroom soup with leeks. The soup was superb and no wonder: the restaurant has its own mycologist who gathers wild mushrooms in the forest! A salad of crab claws, shrimp, and endives was the warm-up for the main course of classic Peking duck and
lobster. Ah, those Acadians, they certainly love their food! And so did we.
Next morning Mimi transported us onto the peninsula that juts out in the very northeast corner of the province. We were drawn to the village of
Sainte Cecile because of its church, Catholic, of course, which was painted in an unusual style that might be called the bubble-gum school of decor. The priest, perhaps short of funds, decided to paint the church himself, although he was totally lacking in artistic talent. I wandered amongst gaudy pink and pastel loops and whirls that were a vivid and light-hearted contrast to the traditional sombre, dark look.
We had an impressive, and generous, lunch at Deja Bu Restaurant in Caraquet. Their macaroni and cheese was pretty classy; it included lobster and truffle. Many other courses were served, but the highlight was bar-clam poutine cooked in duck fat. Yummy!
We waddled back to Mimi and, protesting at our newly gained weight, she carried us to the
New Brunswick Aquarium and Marine Centre. We toured the displays of more than 100 species of underwater life, the largest in the Maritimes. I enjoyed seeing enormous
blue lobsters and
harbour seals performing tricks in the pool. Wow, the seals went wild when the dinner bell rang! It seems everyone in Acadia loves food.
We followed the winding road past several fishing villages until we reached Miramichi, and were impressed to learn the Miramichi River is one of best salmon-fishing waterways in the world.
Further south, we entered
Kouchibougac National Park; the Mi'kmaq name means "river of long tides." We swam in the warmest salt water in the northeast, then wandered along endless stretches of sand dunes. Surprise! A fox appeared along the boardwalk and instead of taking to the bush, slunk right past us, only a yard away.
Mimi drove further south to
Bouctouche, where we entered the
Le Pays de la Sagouine, an Acadian cultural entertainment complex. I strolled along a boardwalk to an island where a fishing village and daily theater performances describe early Acadian life, especially as seen through the eyes of internationally renowned Acadian novelist
Antonine Maillet. The characters dressed in period costumes speak a colourful patois and portray prohibition-era Acadia. I especially enjoyed hearing the earthy yet wise talk of the crusty, cleaning-lady character of La Sagouine herself.
Our Acadian Coastal Drive ended in Shediac, where we hammed it up for photos under the statue of the largest lobster on the planet. Since the town proudly calls itself the "Lobster Capital of the World" we thought it appropriate to attend a traditional lobster dinner thrown by the local church. Wearing a plastic bib with a picture of a lobster, tongs cracking bright red claws, my taste buds rejoicing, and butter dripping down my chin, I quietly vowed to return to explore Acadia more completely, and especially
Shediac's Lobster Festival.
Acadian Seacoast New Brunswick: Seafood Travel Video Postcard
Acadian Historical Village | Caraquet, New Brunswick, Canada
Hans Tammemagi has written two travel books: Exploring Niagara - The Complete Guide to Niagara Falls & Vicinity and Exploring the Hill - A Guide to Canada's Parliament Past & Present. He is an environmental consultant.