During my university days, I dreaded taking a Canadian history course. Sitting in a lecture hall, learning about my own country didn’t inspire me. But in order to graduate with a history degree, it was mandatory to take at least one Canadian history class. So I took the intro course, ended up with the degree, and didn’t give it a second thought. Since, I’ve been grateful to have travelled across Canada, appreciate its treasures and yes, inevitably, regret taking only that one course. Blame it on youthful ignorance.
As I grew older, I became deeply passionate about travel experiences, culinary adventures, and cultural immersion, especially within Canada. I was eager to visit New Brunswick — a place that had everything I was looking for — and its magical Acadian coast, a stretch of about 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the city of Moncton to the northeast tip of the province. It wasn’t long before I discovered a fiercely proud and knowledgeable people, within another beautiful, cultural, and historical layer of the mosaic that is Canada. Sprinkled within was a quintessential friendliness that seems only Maritimers possess, and an inspirational Acadian joie de vivre in the air.
Inventive Fun in Coastal Acadia
Translated from French, le pays de la sagouine means the “Country of the Washerwoman”. It’s also the name of a memorable, engaging, and entertaining experience in Bouctouche, a coastal town on the east side of the province. At first glance, it may appear as an unusual name for a popular attraction but upon arrival, you come to understand the meaning behind it. Visitors step back into a reproduction of a Prohibition-era fishing village inspired by novelist Antonine Maillet and her most celebrated character, La Sagouine (aka the Washerwoman). Costumed characters perform entertaining interactive plays and musicals that teach you about Acadian culture while making you laugh and dance along the way.
Visitors also have the chance to step inside the Le Pays de la Sagouine kitchen, strap on an apron, and make pets-de-soeur, or “Nun’s Pastries”. A traditional Acadian dessert akin to cinnamon rolls, these treats are filled with butter, cinnamon, maple syrup, and even molasses. It’s a hands-on activity so expect to help measure the flour and roll the dough all while a fiddler plays Acadian music.
Admission: $7 for adults; $6 for seniors and students; free for kids aged 0-12.
Authentic Acadian Village Experience
Acadian history and culture are front and centre at the Acadian Village, a lovely and interactive living museum that illustrates the daily life between 1770 and 1949. Located just outside of Caraquet, a town of 4,250 people on the northeast tip of New Brunswick, the village is set on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and includes nearly 50 historical buildings, each with a story and each occupied by interpreters in costume, ready to illustrate their craft. It’s so real I felt I had travelled back in time, experiencing Acadian life first-hand.
There are several things to see and do, including a cooking workshop with Madame Savoie. She gave me the tour of the 1861 replica house and explained how the family lived during the long winters — all while we made meat pie, a dish Acadians devoured during Christmas Eve celebrations. During my visit, she did all the work. I only pretended to know what I was doing.
The village also has accommodations. L’Hôtel Château Albert is an accurate reproduction of a circa 1907 hotel in Caraquet and features 15 authentic, charming, and beautiful rooms, each with its own style, antique furniture, and decoration. You won’t find televisions or telephones in the room but you will find a bar/restaurant in the lobby. There, you can order an Acadian drink called Pijoune, which is made with molasses, ground ginger, a pinch of gin, and warm water.
Speaking of Caraquet, if you’re lucky enough to be in the capital of Acadia in August, you can catch the Acadian Festival. Going strong for nearly 60 years, it’s a celebration of everything Acadian with plenty of food, music, and dance.
Village Admission: $22 for adults; $16 for students (6-18); $17 for seniors; free for kids aged 0-6. 2021 Dates: June 8 to September 18.
Fils du Roy Distillery
At 14, much to his mom’s shock and surprise, Sebastien started to experiment with different chemical combinations and fermentation, in his bedroom closet! He was creating joy, though, not suffering through anguish. Three decades later, mom and son own and operate the first distillery in Acadia and one of the most popular businesses in New Brunswick. The Fils du Roy Distillery feels like a family living room — and visitors are the guests of honour.
More than happy to give you a tour, Sebastien is eager to explain not only the evolution of the distillery but what he’s brewing. An incredibly engaging and natural storyteller, I couldn’t help but hang on to his every word, acutely absorbing his intense passion and enthusiasm for both his roots and products. While pouring samples of his spirits and beers, he eloquently explains the inspiration behind all of them, revealing both his passionate, humble personality with deep knowledge of his Acadian roots, his people’s history, struggles, and triumphs. Every bottle, every flavour, every pour is attached to a story that he feels is his duty to share time and again.
Have You Tried Acadian Poutine?
Known for its incredible seafood, including lobster, mussels and scallops, New Brunswick also features its own, little known version of poutine. I was lucky enough to be invited to a dinner where this was served for dessert. I was told it was an acquired taste, which intrigued me more!
Poutine Râpée, aka Acadian Poutine, doesn’t feature French fries, gravy, or cheese curds. Instead, it is simply a boiled potato dumpling, stuffed with pork and sometimes topped with white or brown sugar and even maple syrup for easier digestion. Because it takes such a long time to make, it’s generally considered to be a dish for only special occasions and popular around the holidays. I loved it right away and couldn’t have asked for a better last meal on the Acadian coast, a place I yearn to visit again soon to learn more about the history that I regret not exploring earlier in life.