As promised in my last blog about that weird and wonderful dish called râpure (rappie pie), I said that I would give you 10 good reasons to visit my part of the world in Nova Scotia.
The #1 reason is the Acadian culture. This region, also known as Yarmouth & Acadian Shores, has so much heart and soul – it’s always a challenge to convey it in words. Part of it has to do with the Acadian joie-de-vivre; it’s addictive. Warning: if you travel here, you’re bound to get hooked.
Where I live in the southwest end of the province, there are two Acadian regions. Both are coastal; each is unique. The bilingual folks who live here are descendants of the first European setters who came from France in the early 1600s; roots run deep.
Clare is on the west coast. It’s situated on the Bay of Fundy and is also known as la Baie Sainte-Marie, or the “French shore.” It spans a 35-mile stretch that embraces over 50 villages and 10,000 people. It’s the longest main street in the world and hums and buzzes with spirit.
The Acadians here were originally farmers, but when they resettled in Clare after the Deportation the soil was poor and the landscape heavily forested. So they became fishermen, lumberjacks and woodworkers—evidenced today along thriving waterfronts, fish plants, lumberyards and shipyards.
The churches in the region are also a testimony to the Acadians’ superb craftsmanship. To wit: Saint Mary’s Church, located in Church Point, is the tallest wooden church in North America. It’s an engineering wonder designed by a person without any formal education.
Further up the road is Saint Bernard Church, which was built from 8000 blocks of stone that were brought 120 miles by train. Two men then took the stones by ox-team from the station to the site. One layer of stone was laid every year from 1910-1942.
Clare is also a hotbed of Acadian artists who work in a multitude of media including painting, sculpture, pottery, quilting, stained glass, leather, wood, and photography. Many have studios and love to talk about their art and the Acadian lifestyle.
If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you can golf, kayak, canoe, fish, hike, bird watch, beachcomb, swim, or just tickle your toes in the sand at Mavilette Beach, my favourite beach in the province. It’s simply stunning, and the sunsets over Baie Sainte Marie are dramatic.
And for all you music lovers, ask the locals where you can get a schedule of Musique de la Baie, a unique program that takes place in local restaurants during lunch and supper. Various musicians take turns performing in different venues, providing two hours of Acadian culture and folklore through music and story. Bonus: it’s free with every meal. Chez Christophe’s is my personal favourite, as chef Paul serves not only rappie pie (and fricot, another popular Acadian dish) but also makes traditional fish cakes.
Back on the road, head to West Pubnico, on the other side of Yarmouth. Drive through the community until you reach Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse (Historical Acadian Village of Nova Scotia). You’ll be greeted by the imposing hand hewn figure of Baron Philippe Mius d’Entremont, Pubnico’s founder.
The site depicts what it was like in the olden days. The stories will make you laugh or give you goosebumps. You’ll learn how and why the early Acadian homes were insulated with straw, and all about the fish sheds that were built on the water’s edge—the precursor of multi-million dollar fishing plants that exist here today. There are a number of vintage buildings and a handsome visitor’s centre.
For history presented in a different way, drop into Le Musée acadien & archives. There’s always something going on in this fully furnished homestead built c 1864, whether it’s a foot stompin’ kitchen party, a quilting bee, rug hooking, or a tour of the Acadian garden. You’ll also find an impressive camera collection, some awe inspiring (and internationally famous) hand carved duck decoys, a printing press and an excellent research centre and archives—great for genealogy buffs. This area is also famous for birding, especially for colonies of Roseate Terns, and the museum hosts an annual three-day Tern Festival, which draws lots of attention.
There are two great places to eat on the West side of Pubnico: the Red Cap Restaurant and Dennis Point Café, where you can count on fresh seafood and, of course, râpure. People drive for miles to eat here. These are also great places to meet locals and find out just how friendly and helpful they are. Don’t be shy to ask questions.
There, that’s at least 10 reasons to visit these Acadian shores. I can give you 100 more. In fact, my next blog will focus on another French Acadian community called Wedgeport — a place where the likes of President Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and Amelia Earhart used to visit. I hope you’ll check in to find out why.
“Acadian Dancers strut their stuff at one of many activities that take part in Clare” © 2010 Sandra Phinney
“Saint Bernard is one of the many magnificent churches built by Acadians in Clare” © 2010 Sandra Phinney
“Olen d’Entremont drives at Model T at Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse” © 2010 Sandra Phinney