Outside of Louisiana’s Cajun country, Canada’s Atlantic province of New Brunswick is home to the world’s largest community of Acadians — descendents of French settlers who came to this part of the world in the early 1600s. I recently had the chance to travel the Acadian Coastal Route, a driving tour that starts on the New Brunswick coast east of the city of Moncton, meandering through French-speaking fishing villages and farming towns north to the Quebec border.
Nun’s Farts and Other Tastes of Acadian Culture
For an introduction to New Brunswick’s Acadian culture, my first stop was the excellent Acadian Museum on the campus of l’Université de Moncton, the region’s French-language university. Exhibits here begin with the earliest French settlers and include a detailed explanation of an event that transformed the early Acadian society — the “Acadian Expulsion” in the late 1700s when the British deported more than 10,000 Acadians from the region.
From Moncton, it’s an easy day trip to Le Pays de la Sagouine, an interactive music and theater experience in the town of Bouctouche. Acadian author Antonine Maillet wrote a novel about La Sagouine, a washerwoman, that became a classic tale of life in an Acadian fishing town.
Le Pays de la Sagouine, in a recreated 1930s Acadian fishing village, brings many of Maillet’s characters to life. While many performances are in French, English-speakers should look for special events like the traditional Acadian kitchen party that combines Acadian music with a cooking lesson. On the menu? Pets-de-soeurs, the sweet pastry that translates as “nun’s farts.”
You can sample other traditional Acadian dishes — like poutine râpée, a savory pork and potato dumpling, or fricot, a chicken stew, at the Acadian eatery, La Poutine à Maman, in Dieppe, which borders Moncton. You can also find Acadian fare, and plenty of other tasty snacks, at the Dieppe Market, held on Saturdays.
Where to Stay in Moncton
I generally prefer to stay away from middle-of-the-road chain properties, because they’re so, well, middle-of-the-road. But Moncton has a very good chain hotel: the Moncton Residence Inn.
Moncton’s Residence Inn is centrally located in the middle of the small, restored historic downtown. Its 133 suites, including studio, one- and two-bedroom units, are cheerfully appointed with colorful linens that make the property feel less corporate-beige.
The guest rooms have lots of handy features, too, for both business travelers and families, including sitting areas that are separate from the bedrooms, flat-screen TVs, and well-connected work desks, with free Wi-Fi throughout the property.
A buffet breakfast, including cereal, fruit, toast, yogurt, waffles, eggs, and more, is included in the rates. The property also has a heated indoor pool, a fitness room, and a laundry for guest use.
The Residence Inn’s onsite restaurant is a branch of The Keg, a Canadian steakhouse chain, but just up the street, the Tide & Boar Gastropub serves delicious creative pub fare, from gnocchi with smoked haddock to fiddlehead soup. And you can always cook in your own room, since all the units at the Residence Inn have full kitchens.
Kouchibouguac National Park
Along the Acadian Coastal Drive, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of Moncton, is one of New Brunswick’s two national parks. Kouchibouguac National Park (above) has a beautiful sand beach, as well as hiking trails through the woods.
If you want to stay at the park, you’ll have to camp. The South Kouchibouguac campground, which has restrooms and showers, has 311 wooded and fairly secluded sites; 127 have electrical hook-ups. There are also 32 sites at the more rustic Côte-à-Fabien on the Kouchibouguac River.
The largest town along the Acadian Coast does not have a predominantly Acadian population. Miramichi, a community of 17,000 set on the Miramichi River about 45 minutes north of Kouchibouguac, was settled by Scottish and Irish, as well as Acadians, and today, descendents of the English-speaking settlers are in the majority.
Caraquet and the Village Historique Acadien
Continue north to the town of Caraquet and the Village Historique Acadien, where you can step back into the Acadian past. The village has more than 30 buildings from the late 1700s to the mid-1900s, where interpreters in period dress demonstrate weaving, blacksmithing, cooking, and other aspects of daily life.
If you really want to get into the historic Acadian spirit, stay in the Village at the Hôtel Château Albert, a recreated 1907 lodging that’s open from June to September. Just don’t expect modern conveniences like TVs or telephones — after all, you’ve gone back to the early 1900s. Several of the simple rooms have en suite baths (CAD$110/double); others have private baths down the hall ($80). Rates include Continental breakfast.
During your stay the Village, you can dine on traditional Acadian dishes at La Table des Ancêtres, a restaurant set in an Acadian home. And yes, they have nun’s farts!
Hotel review by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller. Le Pays de la Sagouine photo courtesy of Tourism New Brunswick. Kouchibouguac National Park photo courtesy of Parks Canada. Other photos © Carolyn B. Heller. Tourism New Brunswick provided support for my Acadian Coast travels.