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Acadia OK

Years of exile can't keep a great culture down

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VILLAGE HISTORIQUE ACADIEN, N.B. -- With fiddle music in the background and Acadian performers dancing up a storm, history is enlivened with a rhythmic step.

Taking a stroll back through time at the Village Historique Acadien in northeast New Brunswick, you'll find it tough not to keep your toes from tapping.

On this particular sunny day, more than 40 historical buildings are open for visitors to tour. Staffed by bilingual interpreters dressed in period costume, this village is a living, authentic museum that portrays Acadian life from 1770 to 1949.

Myriam Leger, the facility's public relations officer, bubbles with enthusiasm when she describes the recreated settlement outside the pretty fishing town of Caraquet on the northern end of the Acadian Peninsula.

"We have all the trades that existed back then, like the blacksmith, the cooper's shop, the flour mill, and we have farm animals around the site all the time," she says.

Most of the buildings are original or built using traditional construction methods with the tools of the era they represent. Today's Acadians have been passed down a rich legacy from their ancestors, and it's the village's task to help portray that past, Leger says.

The pioneer Acadian people arrived in the first half of the 17th century. They came mainly from the western regions of France, but were joined by settlers from the Basque Country, Flanders and elsewhere. Putting down roots principally around the Bay of Fundy, they formed one of the first European Over time, the group prospered and grew. After a few generations they considered themselves a distinct people and named their territory Acadie. They avoided taking sides in the French and English colonial power struggle. Even so, after the eventual English victory, Acadians who didn't manage to escape and hide in the forests were deported in 1755. They were shipped to France, to settlements along the East Coast of the United States and to other distant spots. Out of the estimated 15,000 Acadians thought to be living in the region, more than 10,000 were exiled.

The remaining Acadians were forced to live in hiding, and remained silent for many years. Slowly, they rebuilt a new country out of the destruction and overcame their trauma, Leger says.

With about two million people claiming Acadian heritage around the world, there is now a renaissance of the culture. In Canada's Maritime provinces, Acadians have been especially energetic in affirming their identity.

"We are still very much alive and well, and very proud of our ancestors and our past. That's why we love telling our story here," she says. If you can squeeze yourself into one of the 19th-century desks, you can take an impromptu lesson in the one-room school, or, if you're looking for a little spiritual solace, spend a few moments in the lovely church at the end of the street.

The blacksmith's forge is a popular place to watch some fire-filled action, while the weavers in your group might want to get a few tips on 18th-century wool production across the trail.

Walk in anywhere and chat with the costumed interpreters, maybe get a sample in one of the cottages of the lunch cooked over an open fire and served by colourful custodians. A horse-drawn carriage can take you from building to building, or you can walk around the property.

Children are not forgotten. The village runs both day camps and five-day experiences for youngsters. Dressed in 1860s cotton and linen fashions and wearing moccasins, they get to eat Acadian food and learn the crafts of those long-ago times such as spinning, weaving, carpentry and printing.

Open early June to the end of September, the village also features occasional special events in the winter. The winter setting is magical, Leger says, and with no vehicles allowed on the site, the seasonal mood is captivating.

"The interpreters, who are dressed in period costume, are very respectful. You will not see ladies with jewelry or makeup or highlights in their hair."

The historic village has become a major attraction for tourists, drawing about 100,000 visitors a year. The site also won a prestigious Phoenix award in 2006 from the Society of American Travel Writers for its authenticity.

The historic site will be part of a major event on the Acadian calendar this year. Le Congres mondial acadien (the World Acadian Congress) will be held Aug. 7 to 23 in the Acadian Peninsula. The gathering takes place every five years, and will feature family reunions, outdoor concerts, thematic and community events, as well as popular and scientific conferences.

For more information, visit cma2009.ca.

-- Canwest News Service

 

 

If you go

The Village Historique Acadien is located near Caraquet, in northeastern New Brunswick, about 50 kilometres east of Bathurst and 130 kilometres north of Miramichi.

 

For more information, visit vhanb.ca.

 

For other New Brunswick highlights or to plan your trip, visit tourismnewbrunswick.ca.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 18, 2009 E5

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