Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Amazing voyage to Acadia

Family trip full of fun and fine seafood

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Our destination is the Acadian Coast of New Brunswick, where my wife was born and grew up with 15 siblings. Some are gone, but many remain living and/or working in the area.

This is the big reunion. We've been there a couple of times over the decade but for my wife Rae's girls, they remember little of their first and last visit a long time ago.

Rae's daughter Kerrie from Edmonton will meet us in Moncton at the same time as our flight.

Even though her other daughter Jennie lives in Winnipeg, she will arrive via a different route, travelling in their "vegetable truck," as I dubbed it.

Jennie's husband Chris has retooled his 2002 Ford 4X4 pickup so it can be fuelled with vegetable oil collected from supportive restaurants and associates.

With their six-month-old baby Lucie, and extremely excitable dog Sipi, that tends to relieve itself whenever it meets someone it hasn't seen for awhile, they will haul a camper trailer that will be their accommodation of choice during the Journey.

They will park at the cottage-type home we have rented near Richibucto for the duration of our stay, just a few hundred metres from the ocean,

From the day the idea germinated I was not convinced this family would thrive well in the relatively confined environment of the cottage, or how all the relatives were going to relate to this patchwork family.

But this would prove to be much more than an ordinary family reunion.

From the moment we arrived, there seemed to be a determination that we were going to have a tourism experience like no other, shepherded by the best tour guides one could hope for.

These are the people who know and care about their province and its rich Acadian history, and are enthusiastic about sharing it all with us, especially the girls who have not been "home" for a very long time.

Just a few kilometers away from Richibucto is one of the most challenging golf courses in the province.

Built in no small part with the labour of Rae's brothers and others in the community, the St. Ignace Golf Club layout running up, down, and sideways over some of the most picturesque landscapes, has become a "must play" course for golf enthusiasts who visit the province.

It is not long before the boys are chasing balls around this track as the ladies reacquaint themselves.

While fresh lobster is readily available in seafood shops, the season for this particular area will not open for a few weeks. So the family has arranged for a relative with a working lobster boat to take us on a day's excursion in and around the world-famous Kouchebouguac National Park.

The park is a protected area that is home to the second largest Tern colony in North America, and as its website (http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/nb/kouchibouguac/index.aspx) promotion states, is "a fascinating mosaic of bogs, salt marshes, tidal rivers, sparkling freshwater systems, sheltered lagoons, abandoned fields and tall forests."

What the site doesn't tell you is that for a few dollars, you can get a day licence to dig for up to 100 clams in one of those sandy bogs.

Later in the day our captain Bobby treats us to the fresh taste of these delicate morsels he has prepared on board his vessel. But first Bobby has a special treat for us that does not involve our taste buds.

"Get your cameras ready," Bobby shouts as he directs our attention to the shore line ahead. What looks like seaweed along the beach from a distance turns out to be hundreds of seals tanning themselves under the hot sun.

As we get closer a curious seal pops his head up in the near distance. Soon we are watching a continuing symphony of diving, rolling, playful sea creatures, perhaps secure in the knowledge they will not be bothered in this protected area.

Later using nothing more than hooked lines attached to foot-long cut sticks, in almost a primitive fashion we will add a batch of fresh mackerel to our clam basket. "I got one", "I've got one," is the cry repeated as each of us aboard is successful in catching at least one fish.

This trip is turning into much more than I imagined and I keep wondering what might be next.

During the week many of the relatives are working, so Chris and I travel along the coast to test out other golf courses between Moncton and Richabucto.

Those sisters who aren't working take Rae and the girls to some of the shopping and dining areas nearby.

For most vacationers, dining experiences are an integral part of what constitutes a memorable holiday. And while you don't have to like seafood, to visit a Maritime province and not take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy the fresh catch every day seems a travesty.

Nevertheless, with no seafood in the recipe, one of our best meals was cooked by Rae's sister at our cottage. Chicken-based fricot with pates is as traditional Acadian as food comes.

Simple but tasty, it is popular throughout the region and is still served in homes for important social occasions. See how to make it yourself at http://www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca/Do/FoodAndWine/AcadianRecipes.aspx .

While baby Lucie is being passed around like a turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, the rest of this visiting family become satiated with extra helpings of fricot.

At noon on the day before we would leave for home, we undertake a magnificent drive that takes us through winding roads, picturesque seaside towns and historical sites that form the foundation of what is Acadia today.

We drive our vehicles onto a working dock just as one of the big lobster boats arrives.

Watching the workers offload the mornings take and begin the sorting that would see these clawed delicacies delivered to restaurants and chain stores all over the world is absolutely fascinating.

This experience is available to anyone simply by asking the location of the docks where lobster will be coming in each day. It is worth the effort for the countryside exploration and the experience of watching the arrival and unloading of the various lobster boats.

Negotiating for the large batch that would feed the entire family on our last night in New Brunswick proves to be the highlight of the trip, perhaps only equalled by the feast that was to follow shortly thereafter.

While we added the appropriate salads and condiments, not much more was needed beyond the stacks of fresh steamed lobster that would fill the plates of each of us, with a few left over to transport cooked back to Winnipeg.

All good things come to an end. Our Griswold's journey would have another happy ending without the strife and confusion of the original movie.

As Kerrie encapsulated, "This has been an amazing voyage of discovery."

Our family had grown beyond the blood relatives to embrace an entire culture. We want to go back to build upon these new foundations and extend ourselves to discover more of this one region that holds such a precious place in Canadian history.

IF YOU GO:

What to Do

The Acadian experience can be yours first hand. Le Pays de la Sagouine in Bouctouche is a living memorial to the traditional life of the area. http://sagouine.com

Opening in late June it runs into the fall with shows, displays, and loads of interactive opportunities from which to learn.

In Rexton you can visit the original home of Bonar Law, the only British Prime Minister not born in the U.K. http://www.bonarlawcommon.com

There are plenty of golf challenges to be faced at Fox Creek and Royal Oaks just outside Moncton, in addition to the St. Ignace Golf Club. http://www.foxcreekgolfclub.ca http://www.royaloaks.nb.ca http://www.golfst-ignace.com

There is simple too much to do in Kouchebouguac National Park not to invest at least one day visiting its beach, boardwalk, or walking and biking trails.

Where to Stay:

Les Chalets du Havre in Richibucto has a wide range of cottage style options right on the beach. They are will appointed and furnished for most of your needs for a stay of a week or more. http://www.chaletduhavre.nb.ca

A number of traditional hotel and motel style accommodation units are available nearby.

Where to Eat:

Fisherman's Paradise Restaurant in Dieppe, a suburb of Moncton, is an excellent place to satisfy your cravings if you want to go there shortly after your flight sets down in New Brunswick.

Moncton has all of the usual brand-name restaurant chain outlets so choice is not a problem.

Only a few kilometers from Moncton is the tourist town of Shediac, whose reputation has been established as the Lobster Capital.

At the historic Auberge Gabriele Inn nothing was left behind on my fisherman's platter, while others raved about the chowder and seafood options.

In Bouctouche, try the fried clams or Acadian specialties at Restaurant La Sagouine at 43 boul. Irving

The Seaside Restaurant in Richibucto, right on Main Street, is an excellent breakfast and lunch hangout for the locals. We found out why over a couple of meals.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2012 D1

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