Acadia, Canada

March 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

Russell Schulte discovers Acadia, Canada, the land of plenty

If you enjoy the spicy food, down-home feel and good people of Louisiana’s Cajun Country, then you will love the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Ancestors of Louisiana’s Cajuns originally settled on this land they called Acadia on the east North American seashore after leaving France; their influence forever changed the culture. To get there, we took a direct flight from Houston to Montreal, Quebec, just north of Vermont. From there, we took an overnight train to New Brunswick.

There is not a more romantic way to see a country than by train, and Canada boasts one of the world’s first-class railway experiences. VIA Rail Canada stretches across our northern neighbor coast-to-coast. Our upgrade to an Easterly Class car was worth the money. The package included a host of amenities that made the trip more memorable: members of the crew explained the history of landmarks and towns along the winding route; elegant, delicious meals were served with wines from Nova Scotia; sleeping accommodations included comfortable duvet bedding and plump pillows. We also had use of VIA Rail’s signature 360-degree Dome Car where we enjoyed panoramic views of the Canadian countryside.

After a restful night on the rolling train, we debarked and set out via automobile to the islands of Lamèque and Miscou near the northeastern point of New Brunswick and the Gulf of Lawrence. Rolling landscapes and majestic landmarks make these two islands sightseers’ dreams. Beautiful Miscou is home to the oldest operating wooden lighthouse in New Brunswick. Built in 1856, it still guides fishermen safely home. Île Lamèque’s Saint-Cecile Church is decorated with bright colors and designs that are reminiscent of the psychedelic 1960s. Its acoustics make it an ideal home for the annual international festival of Baroque music. The Ecological Park of the Acadian Peninsula, also on Lamèque, has a 500-meter-long footbridge leading to its nature trails and arboretum featuring 27 different species of native trees and plants. The sea is the heart and soul of this territory; an astounding assortment of displays feature local fish and aquatic life, including a collection of rare blue lobsters, at the New Brunswick Aquarium and Marine Centre.

We then headed west along the northern coast to the historic town of Caraquet, where they claim the Acadian heart beats strongest, and spent the night in the 117-year-old Hotel Paulin. The largest attraction in the area is Acadian Historical Village. Depicting Acadian life from the 1700s to the 1930s, it is a living museum; workers act out the lives of their ancestors. Visitors can even sample the simple, authentic Acadian food. Nearby is Kouchibouguac National Park — 87 square miles of dunes, beaches, salt marshes, and tidal rivers. “Kouch” is home to more than 250 species of birds, several of which are endangered. We took a boat to the barrier sandbars and saw North America’s second largest colony of harbor and grey seals.

We left Caraquet and drove south to Shediac, the “Lobster Capital of the World.”

A trip to this region is not complete without learning about lobster. Our educational experience was a two-hour Lobster Tales Cruise aboard the Ambassador. We saw traps pulled from the water and were taught the traditional maritime way to eat a lobster. For lunch, we were given one for practice. The meal was tasty and through our newly acquired skills, there was nothing left of the lobster but the shell. Acadians are proud of their culture; after our nautical dining experience we headed north to the town of Bouctouche to visit Le Pays de la Sagouine. Le Pays is an Acadian museum and entertainment complex all rolled into a daily social event where they display their heritage. Though Acadians speak French, almost everyone also speaks fluent English. They treated us to poutine (Acadian-style French fries) and a pet de soeur (cinnamon roll).

While in this area we stayed at a couple of unique old inns. Maison Tait House, built in 1911, boasts a cozy dining room, amazing chef-prepared seven-course dinners and a wrap-around porch perfect for drinking cordials and sharing stories with other guests. Château Moncton sits on the chocolate-colored Petitcodiac River. Reasonable prices, proximity to tourism centers and access to warm saltwater beaches make it an ideal vacation spot.

We flew from Moncton back to Montreal where we boarded a non-stop flight to Houston. We spent most of the flight dreaming about beautiful landscapes, clean air and bountiful seafood, just some of the highlights of our immersion into the rich culture of Canada’s Cajun Country.

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