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Phillipe Basque, village historian & curator with home spun and dyed wool at Historic Acadian Village.

New Brunswick’s francophone community sure knows how to throw a party

Acadian New Brunswick wears its heart on its collective sleeve—and on its mailboxes—and in face paint during Tintamarre, the noisy August 15 festival… and in one case, on a lighthouse.

Painted in the Acadian colours of red, white and blue with the signature yellow star on each side and a small red tower at the top, the faux lighthouse at Grand-Anse on the Acadian peninsula stands as a bold symbol of pride, proclaiming this people’s persistence against great historic injustices and their collective efforts at a cultural revival.

When immigrants from France sailed to Acadia (now the Maritimes) in the late 17th century, as a group they took on the name of their new home. For nearly a century, they worked hard to survive, and with the help of indigenous peoples, to thrive. Then in 1755, because they would not swear allegiance to the British crown as England and France struggled for control of the continent, the British stabbed Acadia in the heart with a systematic and violent deportation of the French speaking population.

During le Grand Dérangement or Great Expulsion, nearly 12,000 Acadians lost everything and were deported, many to New England and parts of Louisiana where they became known as the “Cajun” people. Many died. A decade after it began, the Great Expulsion ended, and many Acadians returned. Some settled along the northern coast of New Brunswick. Today, about 250 years later, the French speaking people of the Acadian peninsula are here to stay.

Nowhere is their post-expulsion history on this coast told more thoroughly (between the years 1770 and 1949) than in the Historic Acadian Village between Grand-Anse and Caraquet.

Phillipe Basque, the village historian and curator, is touring me around the site. We meet Roger Theriault, an interpreter who plays an historic character in the 1770 Martin House (the oldest Acadian house in New Brunswick), and who moved here from Fredericton. He says he’s fallen in love with the place. Phillipe describes the house as more a shelter than a house with its single room and few windows. It represents the precarious position of the Acadians upon their return after the expulsion.

Interpreter Gilbert Landry playing Lucille Theriault making Pet de Soeurs or Nun's Favourite at Historic Acadian Village.

“I like it because I can cook and eat here,” says Roger, in character as Martin. “The river is right there. I have a garden.” He tends his character’s garden of potatoes, cabbage, turnips and corn. He also grows pumpkin, but they are for the animals.

“I came here for four weeks 13 years ago,” Roger says of his time at the village. While he says he falls in and out of character, what he enjoys most is meeting visitors. “We get to speak to people, interact, tell them the story. I’ve learned a lot about the Acadians, where we came from, what we’ve been through.” Every day, he gets a half hour history lesson with Phillipe Basque.

From the oldest house, Basque escorts me to others like the 1890 Theriault House, the 1900 covered bridge, the farm, the mill, the 1824 Dugas House where traditional Acadian food like râpée (a starchy potato pie with game and herbs) is served at La table des ancêtres and the 1936 Irving service station with antique gas pumps and cars. Next to it is the Hôtel Château Albert, a faithful reconstruction of the hotel as it existed in 1907 Caraquet. An antique car delivers guests from the parking lot to the door of the hotel. As then, there are no telephones or televisions in the rooms.

“There’s no distraction,” says Basque. Reminiscing about a recent stay and the sense of removal from contemporary life, he recalls, “It was the silence that woke me up. It takes a certain clientele to appreciate the hotel.” Because the hotel isn’t for everyone, rooms are usually available. Basque says the only time it’s guaranteed to be fully booked is for Tintamarre.

On August 15 every year, the nearby town of Caraquet erupts in a raucous expression of pride during the Le Grand Tintamarre du Festival acadien de Caraquet, a noise-making parade during which marchers bang pots with wooden spoons, sing, shout, blow whistles, honk horns, play musical instruments—anything they can do to make the kind of racket that says, “We are back and we’re not leaving!”

The event has spread to many other Acadian communities and is now so popular, upwards of 100,000 people attend all the associated events like concerts, feasts and the blessing of the fishing fleet—all leading up to and including the big day in Caraquet and other coastal Acadian towns. Tour companies seek them out as major attractions. Journalist René Lévesque wrote of the first Tintamarre, “Listen! It is the sound of the heartbeat of French-speaking Acadia in 1955—two centuries after it was supposed to have been extinguished.”

Recommended stops

  • Stay at the Victorian Hotel Paulin owned and operated by the same family since 1891. Be sure to dine in the restaurant where chef Karen Mersereau prepares upscale dishes with fresh, local ingredients.
  • Discover Acadian culture through fictional characters at Le Pays de la Sagouine (The Country of the Washer Woman), an island theme park dedicated to the works of world renowned Acadian writer Antonine Maillet.
  • For a dash of colour, visit Saint Cecile Church Lamèque. Inside this simple church is a riot of pastel colours. The barrel ceiling makes the room look like an Easter egg turned inside out.
  • Kayak the lagoons and walk miles of wild beach at Kouchibouquac National Park.
  • Try traditional Acadian foods like râpée, Fricot au poulet and Tart aux coques (clam pie) at La Sagouine restaurant in Bouctouche.

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