Peninsula travelling guide

I’m at the opening ceremony of the 53rd Acadian Festival in Caraquet and I’m feeling slightly uncomfortable to be British. Here in the Acadian peninsular, what they call the 1755 “Great Expulsion” is still very much on everyone’s mind.

That was when the Charles Lawrence, the British Governor, decided to round up and expel the entire Acadian community, over eleven thousand French settlers, from Nova Scotia. He used the war with France as an excuse, but, in reality, it was really a land grab for of the most fertile soil in the province. They were scattered to other British colonies, some went back to France, others went to Louisiana and some even ran away and hid in what is now the Acadian peninsula here in New Brunswick.

Of course people tell me not to worry, after all it was a very long time ago, and I receive a wonderful welcome from these French speaking Canadians. Surprisingly, their culture is very much alive and over the course of my week here I’m treated to their traditional music, eat Acadian traditional dishes and visit a village inspired by renowned Acadian novelist, Antonine Maillet. The land here is not much good for farming so the Acadians became skilful fishermen. It’s still very much a way of life which means that lobster, clams, scallops and fish are plentiful.

The Acadian Peninsula is in the North East of New Brunswick and I take the Via Rail overnight service from Montreal to Bathurst. This is a comfortable way to travel and I have a sleeper cabin with shower and toilet to myself. From Bathurst, it’s a pleasant hour’s drive to Caraquet along a winding shore, populated by simple wooden cottages, many flying the distinctive Acadian flag. This is the French tricolour with a bright yellow star, representing the Stella Maris, the star of the sea, which guides sailors in storms.

I’m soon installed in the boutique Hotel Paulin, my home for the next few days. Karen Mersereau, the co-owner is an excellent cook and one morning she leads me on a foraging expedition on the seashore.

After the opening ceremony of the Acadian Festival, I nip into the Acadian Museum of Caraquet to brush up on the history, then it’s off to the Village Historique Acadien, just down the road. This is a clever reconstruction of Acadian life from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth, and brings together more than forty historical buildings, saved from destruction elsewhere.  Even better, they’re stocked with interpreters in period costumes, carrying out what would have been their daily chores and they’re only too happy to explain what they’re doing. You can even stay in the elegant L’Hôtel Château Albert, eat a traditional meal and be entertained by Acadian musicians.

Further down the coast, just outside the town of Bouctouche, Le Pays de la Sagouine, is another historical reconstruction of a traditional fishing village on a tiny island. Antonine Maillet is a famous Acadian writer and her 1971 play, La Sagouine, deals with the life of an Acadian domestic. These characters are brought to life in the village with daily live performances of theatre, music, comedy and dance. You can eat and drink here and it’s worth trying Poutine Râpée, an Acadian speciality – a filling potato dumpling stuffed with salted pork.