The moment I walked into the Acadian Village (Take a left at Bathhurst, New Brunswick, and drive along the Acadian Peninsula an hour or so), I knew I was in for a long, tiring, but ultimately satisfying afternoon.
The Acadian Village was going to take some time. Fortunately, the $16 entry fee was good for two days.
The village is built on a model I’ve seen before—collect a group of historic buildings, add costumed interpreters, some authentic dining options, and some fun activities for the kids, and Voilà! The tourists will come.
Like Greenfield Village, it’s expansive, so you get the feeling of a rural countryside. These are real farms, real gardens, and real working fields. Like Vermillionville, it’s focused on one history and one culture—the Acadian story from just after the Great Upheaval (1770) to the mid-1900s. But for minor differences in dress, however, Acadian fields and farms look just like any other—only the backstory is different.
Each house in the village belonged to a real Acadian– sometime, somewhere. The interpreters represent that person—a farmer, a fisherman, a shopkeeper, the tavern owner. And these interpreters really know their stuff. Ask them anything; they got the answer.
They also bake the bread and pies that you can buy in the gift shop in outdoor ovens. (Begin to warm the oven 3 to 4 hours ahead. It’s ready when you can barely put in your arm up to the elbow for the length of an Ave. Scoop out the ash and coals and bake for 30 minutes.) Soup is made over open fireplaces and sold in the restaurant.
Hay is mowed for livestock; sheep are sheared for wool, which is dyed and woven and made into items, you guessed it, that are sold in the gift shop. Natural dyes from onion skins and walnut husks produce muted earth tones, but the Acadians imported indigo for its lovely blue color. Trouble was, indigo only dissolves in ammonia.
These enterprising folks figured out that the best ammonia comes from the urine of pubescent boys. I imagine Maman watching for the telltale signs—those spiky leg hairs, that creaky voice. Did peeing in the “special bucket” become a teenage right of passage? Like getting a driver’s license? “Here, Honey. You don’t have to go all the way to the outhouse at night. You can pee in this special bucket right here by the straw tick.
Because I am a geek, I was particularly thrilled to finally see how flax is processed. Flax is a plain-Jane plant that, in the village, is grown right in front of the Cyr Farm. After it’s cut, it lies in the field for a while and then is beaten to remove the tough outer layer, leaving a fine, inner pith, which is then carded and spun like wool, except that the fibers have to be kept wet during the spinning process. Then it’s woven into the strong, soft fabric we know as linen. I saw it all, from field to fabric. Pretty cool.
All of the explaining takes place in two languages. We few English speakers attempted to stick together so the interpreters weren’t constantly repeating their story in French, then English. It’s a cumbersome process, waiting your turn during the French version, the questions, the conversation, then getting the same story and probably asking the same questions.
By the time I got to the covered bridge, which represents the “crossing” into the 20th Century, it was late afternoon, I was done in, and the village was becoming a ghost town. Most of the visitors were gone; the animals were put to bed for the night. The woodshop, the mill, the tinsmith, the blacksmith, and the general store were closing.
But the Hôtel Château Albert was just getting started.
This swanky structure dominates the “modern” part of the village just as it did downtown Caraquet in the early 1900s. It has a dinner theater, a terrace bar (The French seem big on terraces), lovely simple rooms without phones or televisions, so you can hear the authentic quiet of the times. (I’m pretty sure the rooms have modern toilet facilities, however.)
So, here’s a deal. The hotel has a summer “Vie de Château” package in which you are picked up—wherever—in a Model T Ford. You get the musical dinner experience, a nice suite for the night, the continental breakfast, and the run of the village the next day. I’m not telling you how much it costs, but I am telling you it’s worth it. (And, no, I wasn’t paid by the establishment to say nice things.)
For me, the village blurred the lines between “then” and “now.” It feels authentic–a place where real people live their lives, and I was the Peeping Thomasina at the window.
To enjoy more great photos of the village (and of other places I’ve been), please go to my wanderingnotlost.org Facebook page. While you’re there, why not friend me? I can use all the friends I can get. Plus, you’ll know whenever I post more photos. Such a deal.