Have you been to Acadia?
You could be thinking of the national park in Maine or a Cajun community in Louisiana to answer that question. There is another Acadia, though. The one I have in mind is in Canada.
Acadia in Canada is in more than one place. Caraquet, Cheticamp, LaHave, Baie Sainte Marie, Moncton — those are just a few of the communities across the provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island where Acadian culture flourishes.
A bit of history to set Acadian culture in context: explorers and later, settlers from France began coming to what are now the Maritime provinces of Canada in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Wars and political changes in Europe meant that, by the early eighteenth century, England ruled the Maritimes. At first they required that members of French communities take oaths of loyalty to the English crown; twenty five years later, it was decided to deport most French identified residents. Some went to France, some to England, some across the border to Maine and Vermont in the US, some south to Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns. Some few were able to stay on, and in later years as political winds changed, some emigrants returned
One thing to gather from this history is that the Acadian communities of the Canadian Maritimes are resilient places. Across the centuries, Canadian Acadians have valued and expressed their culture through music, art, craft, food, religion, story, and other aspects of day to day living. The language and traditions those early settlers brought from France have been honored, shaped, and changed by time, geography, and connection with neighbors from different traditions.
You will find the people of Acadia welcoming and ready to tell you their stories, offer you a meal, and invite you to a celebration. What experiences you might have, and where might you find them?
You may find Acadian festivals and celebrations through the year. One of the major festivals is in Caraquet in southern Nova Scotia in the first half of August, leading up to Acadia’s Fête Nationale/ National Day, on 15 August. This is marked by many festivities including the Tintamarre.
Tintamarre is. a parade: people march with improvised istruments (think pots, pans, sticks, jingle bells, tin cans, and the like) often dressed up in the Acadian colors of red, white, blue,and yellow.The intent is to make as much noise as possible. The idea goes back to a medieval French custom of making a lot of noise to mark a joyous event. In the mid 1950s in the Maritimes this also became a way to assert and celebrate Acadian identity. In addition to Caraquet, you will often find Tintamarres in Clare in southern Nova Scotia, in Halifax, in Moncton in New Brunswick, and in Summerside in PEI.
Looking for something a bit less noisy? There are a number museums and community centers relating to Acadian life in the Maritimes. At Les Trois Pignons Museum in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia, you may learn about day to day life of the region across history, see antiques, research geneaology, and explore an extensive collection of historic and contemporary hooked rugs, a craft that is especially associated with Acadian culture .In Mischouche, Prince Edward Island, You’ll find the Acadian Museum of Prince Edward Island, with exhibits which trace the history of Acadians in PEI from 1720 to the present day, and a changing roster of temporary exhibits as well. At Church Point, the Rendez-Vous de la Baie Visitors Centre has exhibits on Acadian life in the region.
New Brunswick, which has the largest population of Acadians in the Maritimes, has several museums of Acadian culture. One you may especially want to visit is the Village Historique Acadien, which celebrates Acadian life from 1770 to 1949. It is in in Bertrand, which is near Caraquet. Historical interpreters staff more than three dozen buildings, and there are activities such as cooking workshops and kids’ camps to enjoy. Across the Maritimes you will find historic churches and other buildings which reflect Acadian tradition, and other outdoor museums as well.
There are places to eat at the Village Historique Acadien. Of course, they are not the only places to try Acadian cuisine.
I’d especially recommend you try fricot, which is a slow cooked stew made with onions, herbs, and potatoes and chicken (though other meats may be used, and there’s a vegetarian version too). Rappie pie is a dish which also features chicken, potatoes (grated, usually – rapee means grated in French), and onions baked in a way that creates a dish rather more like a casserole than pie. You will also find poutine rapee, which includes grated and sometimes boiled potatoes made into dumplings, and which is made made savoury with meat or sweet with maple syrup, fruit preserves, and sugar. Other places to try out these dishes – though you will surely find your way to your own favorites – include Le Gabriel Restaurant in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia, Chez Memere in Moncton, New Brunswick, and Resto-Bar La Trappe in Abram Village, PEI.
Then there is the music…
There is music for dance – think many fiddles – and music for storytelling, with singers and guitars. Piano often plays a part in both sorts and the styles do overlap.
For dance, one top group to look out for is La Swing du Suête. In music, there are many fine Acadian performers, among them Hilda Chiasson, whose instrument is the piano, singer Lennie Gallant, and the group Vishten. Singer and guitarist Keith Murphy, who is from Newfoundland, includes Scottish, Irish, and francophone elements in his work.
Acadian artists are always part of the Celtic Colours International Festival, which takes place across Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, every autumn – just reading their artist roster is a good way to encounter Acadian artists who may be new to you. Acadian communities take part in Celtic Colours through offering meals, workshops, and craft exhibits, too.
Food, music, history, language, geography: all this is just a taster of what you will be able to explore in the Acadian communities of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. The Maritimes are a tapestry of cultures, among them First Peoples, a very strong culture of Gaelic Scotland, Irish, and many more. The descendants of the settlers from France, the Acadians, make up their own bright thread in this tapestry.
There will be more about the Celtic Colours Festival coming up. There are certainly other things (French immersion courses, historic cooking demonstrations, lobster dinners) in Acadia which warrant their own stories. Perhaps it is time for you to plan your own explorations of this aspect of Canada’s Maritime provinces…
Photograph of chicken fricot courtesy of Tourism New Brunswick
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