I’m at the opening ceremony of the 53rd Acadian Festival in Caraquet and I’m feeling slightly uncomfortable to be British. Here in the Acadian peninsular, “Great Expulsion” is still very much on everyone’s mind.
That was when Charles Lawrence, the British Governor, decided to round up and expel the entire Acadian community, over eleven thousand French settlers, from Nova Scotia. He used the war with France as an excuse, but, in reality, it was really a land grab for the most fertile soil in the province. They were scattered to other British colonies, some went back to France, others went to Louisiana and some even ran away and hid in what is now the Acadian peninsula here in New Brunswick.
Of course, people tell me not to worry, after all it was a very long time ago, and I receive a wonderful welcome from these French speaking Canadians. Surprisingly, their culture is very much alive and over the course of my week here I’m treated to their traditional music, eat Acadian traditional dishes, and visit a village inspired by renowned Acadian novelist, Antonine Maillet. The land here is not much good for farming so the Acadians became skilful fishermen. It’s still very much a way of life which means that lobster, clams, scallops and fish are plentiful.
The Acadian Peninsula is in the North East of New Brunswick and I take the Via Rail overnight service from Montreal to Bathurst. This is a comfortable way to travel and I have a sleeper cabin with a shower and toilet to myself. From Bathurst, it’s a pleasant hour’s drive to Caraquet along a winding shore, populated by simple wooden cottages, many flying the distinctive Acadian flag. This is the French tricolor with a bright yellow star, representing the Stella Maris, the star of the sea, which guides sailors in storms.
Further down the coast, just outside the town of Bouctouche, Le Pays de la Sagouine is another reconstruction of a traditional fishing village on a tiny island. Antonine Maillet is a famous Acadian writer and her play, La Sagouine, deals with the life of an Acadian domestic. These characters are brought to life in the village with daily live performances of theatre, music, comedy, and dance. You can eat and drink here and it’s worth trying Poutine Râpée an Acadian specialty – a filling potato dumpling stuffed with salted pork.
From my base in Caraquet, I set out to explore the Eastern parts of the Acadian Peninsula. It’s about half an hour to Shippagan, New Brunswick’s commercial fishing capital, full of brightly colored boats. In the center of town is the New Brunswick Aquarium and Marine Centre featuring more than 100 species of fish and invertebrates from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the lakes of Atlantic Canada. A unique attraction is their collection of colored lobsters which can come in yellow, tangerine, white, and even blue. These are so rare that fishermen only catch one in a few million.