First of all, bless their little hearts, everyone is bilingual here. New Brunswick advertises itself as the only officially bilingual province. I sense a little self-promotion, but so far so good in our dealings with the Acadians.
Base of operations is Camping Colibri. Fronted by an enormous waterslide, it’s an enormously popular stay-all-summer spot for Acadians. Campgrounds, by and large, are divided into two sections: those who view them as places to stay for a few days and those who park their units, build decks and populate garden areas with gnomes who live amongst an assortment of shiny, fluttery ornaments in a ten-square-foot yard for the entire summer. I imagine their home bases as permanent garage sales, which is unkind because, as previously noted, Acadian homes are meticulously maintained and warmly evocative of pride and culture. But the proximity to next door means you better love thy neighbour.
Acadians are easily spotted, their campsites are festooned with red, white and blue lights, ribbons and other paraphernalia. They are loud and enthusiastic. To my ears the rapid-fire French leaves absolutely no opportunity to eavesdrop by pick out a few words to interpret the conversation. I simply nod and throw out a couple bonjours and bon nuits to fit in. I am tempted to buy a jaunty Acadian baseball cap to solidify my street cred.
We’ve all been to them. Those historical villages with staff dressed in period-appropriate garb, with the fake gunfights or spontaneous dance-offs with the town-folks. Invariably there will be opportunities to feed your face with ice cream or buy a t-shirt logo’d with a snappy slogan related to the venue.
We’ve settled for a week at Bertrand a tiny village outside of Caraquet, the heart of Acadian country. One of the main attractions is the Acadian Historic Village which is like experiencing a master’s class in how to showcase historical content in an entertaining way.
The site is enormous, surrounded by old growth oaks and pines, the pathways are dirt roads in keeping with the authenticity of the place. No made-in-China costumes and fake old school furniture here. Employees who work here toil for their wages churning butter, baking bread, making shoes, forging horseshoes, tending crops and farm animals, even milling their own wood, all while providing little anecdotes about the history of the Acadians who settled here beginning in 1770.
A shoemaker explains that each pair of the leather moccasins he makes by hand take about eight hours to complete. The price of $35 seems a bargain in relation to the work involved.
Our inner child comes out as we moo at cows, make faces at sheep grazing near the fences and throw out a few cock-a-doodle-doos at the Roosters strutting through the hen house. The animals, used to the asinine antics of humans, largely ignore us.
Even the restaurant remains true to the time period. It serves only food that would have been consumed in the 19th century with ingredients on hand at that time. I am picturing whole pigs roasted on an open fire with a side helping of ‘head cheese.’ (Truly the most disgusting food on earth and a horrific childhood memory, but I digress.)
The menu turns out to be much simpler: beef stew or vegetable soup with freshly baked bread served by a waitress in traditional dress on the wooden deck surrounding the building. We have a clear view of the community church where a group of men in period costume appear to be hosting a town hall debate. We hurry past the crowd gathered around the men as I fear The Dude will jump into the discussion with a few Rene Levecques to stir up the crowd.
Day-tripping around Caraquet and surrounding area we search for an authentic seafood restaurant without cutesy lobster bibs or names like Lobster Mania or The Crab Crawl. You know the type, tourist traps with a McDonalds line-up of tried and true food that non-locals think are authentic East Coast dishes.
We head towards Miscou Island, a lobster and fishing mecca and the historic Miscou lighthouse built in 1856, one of the oldest in the region. The island is home to around 650 residents and we counted four churches during the drive. The Island, once a hotbed of hallelujahs, is now strangely mute about organized religion. Despite their pristine appearance, many churches appear barely used, their congregations dwindling and with them the ability to maintain them. We suspect many of them function mainly as tourist stops. Some may be turned into condos as we’ve seen in other towns.
As we drive back, we spot it, perched on the bay, surrounded by working boats, decks piled with lobster traps and fish nets. Terrasse a’ Steve, a veritable shack, surrounded by aged lobster traps, the terrace essentially a sand pile with picnic tables under a thatched roof. It looks so authentic we expect a peg-legged pirate to emerge from the kitchen.
The Dude is excited, the Dame cautiously optimistic about fish and chips or a non-shelled food item. A childhood where fish dinners were pre-packaged stick-like items has not prepared her for actual seafood. It starts well, a big platter of steamed mussels that The Dude slurps down with enjoyment. With trepidation the Dame opts for mackerel, served with potatoes, reasoning that anything that comes with potatoes can’t be bad. A lobster roll for The Dude, which in these parts is the New Brunswick equivalent of a P&J sandwich.
Steve, you of the cool terrace and funky lobster cage décor, maybe your reviews have gone to your head, maybe undercooked microwaved potatoes, dry fishy tasting mackerel and, horror of horrors, a lobster roll served on what appears to be Wonderbread folded around a mound of mayonnaise and lobster, are what passes for authentic seafood. I gotta hope it gets better than this. Really enjoyed the view though.
Next..the land of the Spud