Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

New Brunswick’s North Coast and Acadian Village

By Charles Shugart Jr.

One of the fun things on this extended trip to Canada's Atlantic Provinces was trying to deal with the concept of my fuel consumption rate. Figuring out mileage while driving through Canada goes something like this: "Let's see, it took 45 liters to go 200 kilometers. How many liters are there in a gallon? And is that a U.S. gallon or an Imperial gallon? How many miles are there in a kilometer? Or is it how many kilometers are there in a mile? And will the answer be mileage? Or kilometrage?" Most people finally conclude with: "I think I'll just wait until I get back into the States and figure out my mileage then."

And that's not even talking about converting Canadian dollars (expenses) to U.S. dollars (capital). Truly I was not in Kansas.

I'd never seen houses and yards that were better cared for than in New Brunswick. The term neat and tidy barely begins to describe how neat and tidy they were. With plentiful rain and the long summer hours of sunshine, those huge grassy lawns needed frequent cutting. Many of the front yards were so big that owners didn't walk behind their power mowers. They rode tractor/mowers. And their lawns were lush green perfection.

Additionally, New Brunswickians love lawn ornaments. Brightly painted ornaments. Fortunately, plastic pink flamingos haven't migrated that far north. Please understand, I'm not saying people's yards had three or four lawn ornaments; it was more like thirty or forty. They seemed to like the idea, because many families had them.

A few miles west of the town of Caraquet I came to a sign saying "VILLAGE HISTORIQUE ACADIEN." I parked my truck and travel trailer, walked to the ticket booth and entered the village. What an enchanting surprise!

This kind of historic park is based on the realization that most pioneer log buildings will eventually be torn down and replaced with more modern and functional ones—all in the name of "progress." But how can we save them and preserve those parts of our early history? In many countries and regions, selections of these buildings have been moved from their original locations to pioneer–type settings. Acadian Village is like that.

About 250 years ago, when the English were trying to dominate what are now the Maritime Provinces of Canada, they removed all French–speaking Nova Scotians who wouldn't swear allegiance to the English king. Some were sent to the Mississippi River Delta and became the Cajuns. Others moved north and west to regions that later became New Brunswick. They became the French–speaking Acadians.

The 40+ buildings that make up the village are about 200 years old, and they represent the first houses, barns, mills and other work buildings that the displaced Acadians constructed (later, as they became more settled in, the people made nicer, more solid structures). The village buildings represent the more primitive aspects of the Acadians' difficult beginnings here.

Found in the village are farmhouses, a general store, tavern, woodworking shop, print shop, blacksmith shop, mill, school, chapel, and cobbler's house. All have interpreters who explain the immediate surroundings, the way of life, and so forth. At many of the buildings there are skilled craftsmen and craftswomen demonstrating such things as hand–splitting cedar shingles, woodworking, spinning wool, and blacksmithing.

Watching the young man making roof shingles impressed me with the labor–intensive nature of the activity. Although I don't know how it's done in present times, that man worked long and hard just to make one shingle. Apparently he had already sawn an 18–inch diameter log into pieces about 2 feet long. When I came upon him he was using an L–shaped splitter to cleave off the pieces that he would be shaping. He pounded and pounded on the splitter with a rough–looking wooden mallet, lifted the whole thing and pounded it down some more, and then pressed down and twisted with his whole upper body, straining to tear the piece loose. Finally he got some flat pieces that were acceptable. Taking them one at a time, he held them in place with a homemade wooden clamp–thing (is my terminology too technical for you?) that operated according to how hard he pressed down with his left leg. Then he took a two–handled draw knife and pulled it along the flat part of the wood, shaving off bits and pieces. After working this knife–like shaver for a good five minutes, he proudly showed us the shingle and a rather large pile of shavings that had accumulated around his feet. The whole process took a good 10–15 minutes, although to be fair, he was also explaining each step in French and English.

In one farmhouse a woman was spinning wool. Taking a handful of the loose material, she worked it with two wire carders (brushes), getting all the fibers aiming the same way. Then she used a foot–powered spinning–wheel. It was a lot harder to do than tell about, because obviously if she didn't pull hard enough as she was spinning the yarn, it would clump up and not go through the eye of the spinner. If she pulled the wool too hard, then the yarn would be too thin and weak. Great skill was involved in the process. The woman intentionally broke the yarn so she could demonstrate how to repair it.

The blacksmith shop was great fun because of the fire, which the smithy regularly pumped up with the bellows. Part of the appeal were the banging and crashing noises and the sizzling as the burly man doused the finished product into a bucket of water. The making of a simple nail was very time and energy consuming. First he put a steel rod into the fire, pumped up the flames and waited for the steel to get red–hot. Then he bent and broke off the right length for a nail. Grabbing the nail with his tongs, he placed it on a steel anvil and banged it with his heavy hammer, beating it into a four–sided nail with a tapered point. Heating it again to a glowing red, he pounded a four–sided head on the nail, doused it into water, and gave it to the nearest person. After shoving aside two old ladies and a small child, I was that lucky person.

All the village interpreters wore period clothing as they demonstrated everyday skills of the time. I learned that pioneer country people did most of their own work because hiring others was prohibitively expensive.

The buildings themselves were not only authentic, but there were the appropriate barnyard animals behind wooden fences. Cows, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, and a horse–drawn cart. Plus the blended aromas of cows, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, and horses.

The interpreters were French–speaking, but they also spoke English. Since visitors wandered around at their own pace, the interpreters automatically gave their spiels in French and English. They would say something in French and, without hesitating, say the same thing in English. The blacksmith was amusing, because he was speaking to a French–speaking family only (I was across the room, silent); yet he still said everything in both languages. I'm sure he had done it that way so often that it would be practically impossible for him to make his presentation in just French, even though it was obviously his native tongue.

Leaving the Village, I continued along the north New Brunswick coastline. There were many rivers flowing into the Atlantic Ocean, plus numerous small bays and inlets. Also many private boats of the speedy variety. I was watching the boats speeding under a bridge when, because hunger pangs told me it was lunchtime, I sought out a nearby fish and chips restaurant.

"What kind of fish is it?" I asked.

The woman replied, "Oh, we make it ourselves."

"No, I meant what kind of fish was it when it was still swimming freely in the ocean?"

"Oh, it was cod."

After three weeks in Canada, I still couldn't speak Canadian.