L’Acadie is the place to be in 2004

Anna Hobbs for the Canadian Association of Retired Persons Magazine; May 2004

“Throughout the Maritimes this summer, celebrations mark the founding of Acadian culture, the 400th anniversary of the arrival in the New World of Samuel de Champlain along with some 80 sturdy colonists.

“It’s an occasion to say, ‘We’re still here, and we’re looking forward to the next 400 years,’” says Euclid Chiasson, president of the National Society of Acadians.

There are about 300,000 descendants of the early settlers in the Maritimes, 250,000 of them in New Brunswick. But they have not had an easy history.

Between 1755 and 1763, the British deported more than 10,000 French-speaking people who refused to swear allegiance to the crown. Family members were separated and sent to New England, Louisiana and as far afield as France and the Falkland Islands.

In a variety of ways, the Acadian Odyssey National Historic Site at Memramcook, N.B., tells the story of le grand derangement in gripping detail, including a look at Acadian life after 1763 when Acadians had the right to return to their land and re-establish their community.

Memramcook, about 20 minutes south of Moncton, is considered the cradle of Acadia. It’s a logical point from which to explore the picturesque Acadian Peninsula.

Head north to Shediac, the self-appointed Lobster Capital of the World, where Eric LeBlanc, operator of Shediac Bay Cruises, demonstrates the art of catching lobster, then cracking and enjoying every tasty morsel.

From here, Route 11 continues along the coast to Bouctouche to one of the last remaining great sand dunes on the northeastern coast. It is a world-class eco- destination. Visit the interpretation centre and walk the 1.8-kilometre long boardwalk built by the Irving family to preserve the dunes from invasion by ATVs and to protect the native plants, animals and birds.

Further north at Neguac, a great family adventure awaits. Gisele Robichaud, owner of Le Pain d’Acadie, invites you to make bread as it was done 300 years ago – in an outdoor red clay oven. While the bread bakes, Mme Robichaud entertains with the story of Evangeline and Gabriel, immortalized in Henry Wads-worth’s epic poem Evangeline and symbolic of the tenacious Acadian spirit.

“There are thousands of activities planned this year,” says Chantal Abord-Hugen, a co-ordinator of Acadie’s 400th Anniversary committee, “but none more joyful than the Festival Acadien de Caraquet on the province’s north shore.” The festival starts on Aug. 1 and climaxes with the Tintamarre 14 days later, on Acadia’s national holiday.

This year, a record 32,000 revellers are expected in the town of 5,000. They will come to celebrate their roots and reaffirm the survival of their people by taking to the main street in a burst of ethnic pride. “It’s an exuberant way to express our joy,” says Chiasson. “It’s our way of recognizing the struggles of the people as well as celebrating a country where there is respect for diversity.”

At 6 p.m., Caraquet’s church bells announce the beginning of the parade. The red, white and blue of the stripes and the yellow of star in the Acadian flag are the de rigueur colours for costumes and face paint. Noise becomes the order of the day. Honking horns, blowing whistles, ringing bells or banging pots and pans. The louder the better. “It’s like Mardi Gras, Halloween and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one,” says Paul Marcel Albert, artistic director of the festival.” At 7 p.m., the action stops as quickly as it began, and revellers scatter to listen to finger-snapping, toe-tapping music and just have a good time.

At the nearby Acadian Historical Village, visitors experience local life from the 18th to 20th century. Bilingual interpreters demonstrate old skills, such as blacksmithing and making shingles by hand. Wander along the roads and stop in at the one-room school, the little church and the village store. Then ride in a horse-drawn wagon to Le Chateau Albert, a Caraquet hotel built in 1910, now re-created in the village. Enjoy dinner and a show with some boisterous musical entertainment, and experience a hotel stay as it would have been 95 years ago – thankfully with the addition of modern plumbing.

No trip to Acadia is complete without a visit to Le Pays de la Sagouine on Flea Island in Bouctouche. The fictional village and the play of the same name are based on Antonine Maillet’s best-selling book La Sagouine and chronicle life from about 1910 to 1930. The heroine is a scrubwoman, the daughter and the wife of fishermen. Of her, Maillet wrote, “I give her to you as she is, without touching up her wrinkles, her chapped hands nor her language.” For the past 32 years, Viola Leger, now a member of the Canadian Senate, has been the only actress to play the role of La Sagouine.

Share their joie de vivre.”