Picture this – sunsets that leave you gasping, folks so friendly you feel you've been adopted; and music that makes your toes tap involuntarily. Oh yes – tuck in some kitchen parties, majestic churches, amazing art and a weird (but wonderful) dish called "rapure." It's all in the coastal Acadian communities of Southwest Nova Scotia.
Between Yarmouth and Digby (on Route 1) spans a 35-mile section of coast made up of scores of Acadian villages. This region is called Clare, and it hums and buzzes with a "joie de vivre" that is downright palpable.
Churches in Clare testify to the tenacity and craftsmanship of the Acadians. To wit: Saint Mary's Church, the tallest wooden church in North America, is an engineering wonder designed by a person without any formal education. Further up the road is Saint Bernard Church, which was built with 8,000 blocks of granite stone-one layer was laid every year from 1910-1942. These are only two of the many magnificent edifices in the region, and each has its own unique story.
Clare is also a hotbed of Acadian artists who work in various mediums including paintings, sculptures, pottery, quilts, stained glass, leather and wood. Many have studios and galleries, and love to talk about their passion and lifestyle on the "French Shore."
From Yarmouth, on and off Route 3, are several intriguing Acadian communities in the municipality of Argyle-like Wedgeport. It doesn't take long to figure out why President Roosevelt, singer Kate Smith and gangster Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo spent time there trying to land a huge bluefin tuna. Fishermen and retired captains at The Wedgeport Sport Tuna Museum and Interpretive Centre recount yarns a-plenty.
Further down the coast is a double treat: Église Sainte-Anne Church and the Chapel Site at Rocco Point. The church is built in the form of a cross and features hand-painted vaulted ceilings, original oil paintings and some unique artifacts. The chapel site, less than a mile away, has a short nature trail and is a haven for several species of birds.
A must-see/must-do area is Pubnico-the oldest Acadian village still inhabited by descendants of its founding families. Dennis Point Wharf, one of the busiest fishing ports in Canada, is a great place to poke around. Close by is Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse which became a reality largely due to the community banding together. Buildings were relocated and restored and local fundraising events were held including one at which 1,000 apple pies were made and sold. This event continues as an annual fundraiser! Another hot spot is Musée Acadien & Research Centre. There are "good bones" here. It's also a place that hosts lots of traditional activities, from quilting bees to kitchen parties.
No doubt about it, you'll be spoiled for choice on both Acadian Shores. To introduce you to the region, look for 25 interpretive panels that have been erected between Saint Bernard and the Pubnicos. Each one showcases an Acadian site. Some are along main roads while others will take you off the beaten path. A map brochure titled "Acadian Shores Interpretive Tour" is available at provincial Visitors Information Centres, local attractions and various accommodations or online here: www.yarmouthandacadianshores.com
(Caution: The Acadian spirit is infectious. Be prepared to stay longer than you planned.)