Dreams of Evangeline: The Acadian Coast of New Brunswick

24 Nov

Restigouche Sam, the world's largest salmon

Restigouche Sam, the world’s largest salmon

The J. C. Van Horne Bridge spans the Restigouche River.

The J. C. Van Horne Bridge spans the Restigouche River.

The world’s largest salmon leaps from a concrete pool, its stainless-steel scales glistening in the early morning sun as the dark waters of the Restigouche River flow into Chaleur Bay. Crossing the J. C. Van Horne Bridge from the Gaspé into Campbellton, New Brunswick leaves Quebecois culture behind and I enter that of the Acadian.

 

The Acadian Coast extends from the mouth of the Restigouche River east along the southern shore of Chaleur Bay to the tip of Miscou Island, then south along the Gulf of St. Lawrence into the Northumberland Strait between the mainland and province of Prince Edward Island. The Acadian Coastal Drive is clearly marked by red signs with a white starfish logo. Most of Route du littoral acadien avoids the main highways favored by truckers and people in a hurry so it’s perfect for motorcycling.

 

Following a coastline that is almost the mirror image of the southern Gaspé peninsula I reach the city of Bathurst. This is the southernmost point in Chaleur Bay and Miramichi is the westernmost point on the province’s gulf coast. The later lies directly south of the former city with only 43 miles separating them via NB Hwy 8. Everything to the east is the Acadian Peninsula and The Acadian Isles.

Acadian coastal scenic route sign.

Acadian coastal scenic route sign.

All official signs are posted in both French and English. The province’s Bureau of Redundancy Department has neatly solved translation problems by combining both languages: Île Miscou Island; Baie Miramichi Bay; rue Water St; chemin Mountain Rd; and so forth. This is good news for Anglophiles.

Salmon Beach on Chaleur Bay

Salmon Beach on Chaleur Bay

 

From Bathurst the road runs east along the edge of a billiard-table landscape that abruptly ends at orange sandstone cliffs that drop into the blue water of Chaleur Bay. The views are stunning while riding towards Grande Anse. Caraquet is the unofficial capital of Acadia and the location of Village Historique Acadian, a living history museum that is probably the best introduction to the culture that you’ll find anywhere. There’s a working 19th century gristmill, schoolhouse, and working farms at the site.

 

In the early 1600s the French settled Arcadie–what we now call Nova Scotia and the coast of New Brunswick. The isolated culture they developed was torn apart by the British who, from 1755 to 1763, confiscated their lands, imprisoned and deported them while dividing families. Called le Grand Dèrangement or the Great Upheaval, it was an ethnic cleansing in which a third of the population died. Some escaped to Louisiana where they became known as Canjuns. Other families hid in places like the Madeleine Islands and along Chaleur Bay. At the end of the “French and Indian War” in 1763, many returned and settled along the Gulf of St. Lawrence and their story was popularized by Henry Wadsworth Longellows’s epic poem, “Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie.”

Welcome to Shippagan

Welcome to Shippagan

Once again I leave the main highway, traveling on county roads 335 and 345 to reach Route 113. The peninsula ends at Shippagan, but the causeway crosses to Lamèque Island. It’s late June and barely a week before the influx of tourists begins and well before the region’s major festivals that take place during July and August. Traffic is sparse, so this is obviously the best time to tour the region.

 

Orange dust clouds rise from a staggered formation of machines inching across an expansive field like giant snails. They’re harvesting peat moss, the second most important industry in Shippagan and Lamèque. Telephone poles painted with the tri-color bearing a gold star apparently identify property owned by Acadians, while blue, red, and yellow is a reoccurring theme for lawn ornaments in this region.

The Acadian flag makes this property as owned by Acadians

The Acadian flag makes this property as owned by Acadians

I cross to Miscou Island, a place that Basque and Norman fishermen used as a base of operations decades before the famous explorer Jacques Cartier made his first trans-Atlantic crossing. Cartier got the credit for discovering and claiming the land for the King of France when he published an account of his first voyage in 1534. I’m sure the Basque fishermen weren’t happy having their lucrative secret divulged, but on this subject history is silent.

Miscou Island lighthouse

Miscou Island lighthouse

Route 113 narrows as it winds across the peat bog reserve known as Miscou Plains and ends at the Miscou Lighthouse. This barn-like construction was built in 1856 and has been moved twice; the heavy steel tie-down cables are to prevent the wind from moving it a third time. For a small fee you can climb to the top, inspect the third-order Fresnel lens, and get a stunning view of the islands.

 

Returning to Route 11, I take a shortcut via CR 355 into Tracadie-Shelia, the economic center of the region. Did my eyes deceive me? I make a U-turn to check out a road-registered Bricklin SV-1. This was the only car ever manufactured in New Brunswick (1974-76) and this example is much nicer than those I’ve seen in museums.

A Bricklin registered for the road

A Bricklin registered for the road

The next 44 miles of Route 11 are rather boring. I can smell the sea, but it’s somewhere off to the left and out of sight. Highway signs warn of whiteout conditions from high winds, but there’s definitely no risk of snow today. Ramshackle piles of twigs crown many electric poles, but which are osprey nests and which those of herons is hard to determine.

 

Once across the wonderful steel-arched Centennial Bridge into Miramichi –or rather Chatham, the sector that’s located on the east bank of the Miramichi River—I head directly for the Rodd Miramichi Hotel. Walking around the restored historic town center, I discover Ben’s Lunch Room, a rather run-down appearing hole-in-the-wall. This fast food joint has been in operation since 1937 and the fries are cooked to perfection, proving the success isn’t always about outward appearances.

 

Route 11 cuts across another peninsula, but continuing to follow the scenic route, I leave Miramichi on Highway 117. There’s very little traffic while cruising around the headland to Miramichi Bay and south through Kouchibouguac National Park.

Riding into St. Louis-de-Kent

Riding into St. Louis-de-Kent

A naked covered bridge crosses the Kouchibouguacis River into Saint-Louis-de-Kent where a giant Acadian flag is being flown. It seems that the first Acadian flag was made here in 1884 and these wooden bridges are a feature of the region. In the town of Rexton, on an island in the Richibucto River, there is a living theater based on enactments from Antonine Mailler’s novel “Le Pays de la Sagouine.” The monologues are spoken in Chiac, a relatively new dialect that uses French grammatical rules but with a vocabulary of Acadian French and English. From here south, Chiac becomes more prevalent and English is spoken more frequently than French.

 

Route 475 runs along Bouctouche Bay, a stretch of placid water guarded by a 7-mile-long sandbar. Ahead are the masts of a ship, so I slow down and pull into a small parking lot. If you want to carve a figurehead, but don’t have a ship, what do you do? Well, the Woodchuck Carver transformed his seaside workshop into a 17th-century schooner. This eccentric character—a former hardcore biker turned preacher—creates some of the finest modern folk art I’ve seen. The shop is absolutely crammed with fascinating stuff.

Woodchuck Carver's shop

Woodchuck Carver’s shop

 

Crossing the Bouctouche River, a left onto CR 535 turns out to be a delightful road that follows the shoreline around Caissie Cape. Then it’s back to Route 134 to cross another river, out along CR 530 for more scenic views, and back to the highway to cross the Cocagne River. This is how it’s been since leaving Miramichi this morning: in to the main highway for the river crossings and out to the headlands for the views. There’s just one more stop on my journey along the Acadian Coast and I leave Route 134 for the last time, following Route 133 for just over a mile to find it.

Scenic Rt. 530

Scenic Rt. 530

 

Shediac is known as the “Lobster Capital of the World” and so an 18-ton crustacean somehow seems to be an appropriate monument. I now have the choice of continuing to Prince Edward Island by way of the 8-mile long Confederation Bridge, riding into Nova Scotia and on to Cape Breton or Halifax, or heading to Maine by way of the Fundy Coast. The city of Monkton is only 12 miles away and my decision is made: I point the Street Glide west and head into the sunset.

Traditional Acadian houses are small, but this one is tiny.

Traditional Acadian houses are small, but this one is tiny.

World's largest lobster in Shediac.

World’s largest lobster in Shediac.

 Entering Campbellton in the rain

Entering Campbellton in the rain

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One Response to “Dreams of Evangeline: The Acadian Coast of New Brunswick”

  1. Francois Gariepy November 24, 2015 at 10:01 pm #

    Hello my friend, always very good. It’s always a pleasure to read you. I hope you are well. Take care. François >

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