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New Brunswick on a budget

Low-cost options abound along coast

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Bonjour, hello!

Along the Acadian Coast of New Brunswick, this is pretty much the standard greeting we heard each time we entered a restaurant, gift shop, fuel stop, or any other place of business.

Our response directed the course the language would take. My wife is French so it was interesting to see the reactions when we both replied at once.

The people of Acadia tend to be mostly of French descent, but, with the influence of Scottish, Irish and English early settlers whose descendents are also today's residents, this region may be the most genuinely bilingual in all of Canada.

We decided our stay in New Brunswick would not be at hotels or motels. Rather, we hope to find a seaside cottage along the Acadian coast and use it as a base to tour this historic region of the country.

Budget considerations aside, my wife and I like the idea of leisurely breakfasts by the seaside, an occasional home-cooked meal of fresh lobster purchased from a local seafood store, and the opportunity to watch the setting sun's reflection on the waters before us after a day of touring.

Surprisingly, a simple Google search for cottages on the Acadian Coast yields a number of options. We found accommodation in a small but cute cottage between Richibucto and Saint Louis-de-Kent, with only a short drive to both. It turns out we were in the heart of the Acadian Coast, an hour's drive from Moncton and close to just about all areas we hope to visit.

After settling in to our temporary home, I headed out to Richibucto for groceries. Since lobster and deep-sea fishing are still important to the local economy, I decided to immediately do my part to support it. I returned with our first treat of the week, several small canner-size lobsters that were into the pot and on our plates faster than you can say "pass the butter please." We were able to snack on the leftovers for most of the week.

Travel through any U.S. town or state, and you are likely to pass dozens of American flags hanging on posts in the yards of homes and businesses. New Brunswick makes those overt displays of patriotic fervour pale in comparison.

We found ourselves regularly surprised and amused at where we saw the Acadian flag during our travels. With its distinctive yellow star standing out on its blue, white, and red background, the design can be seen everywhere and anywhere, and not just on huge flags waving in the wind. On the cottage properties near ours, we saw it painted on a canoe, a water tank and on benches. Many of the homes have the family names of the residents painted on the traditional flag background.

Adapted from the colours of the French flag with the addition of the bold yellow star, it is still a symbol of both pride and pain. Great pride from the heritage the Acadians have fought successfully to preserve, and pain from an era when those families who would not swear loyalty to the British were summarily expelled to areas throughout the United States - particularly to Louisiana, where the Cajun culture is still celebrated today with frequent Acadian pilgrimages to the region.

Our exploration begAN at two significant eco-centres that anchor this part of the Acadian coast. Only minutes from St. Louis-de-Kent sits Kouchibouguac National Park. While a protected area that is home to endangered species such as the piping plover, it has also become a family recreation centre for residents and tourists alike.

Access to the beach is by boardwalk, ensuring the preservation of shoreline plant life. Even though the beachfront is long, during weekends it is packed with people, most of them from the surrounding communities. During the week, there is lots of space for games, water sports and tanning. Beyond the beach, the park has become an activity magnet for canoeing, kayaking and swimming enthusiasts.

Birdwatchers from across the country also migrate here, while campers, tourists, and locals take advantage of the 60 kilometres of cycling and hiking paths.

Further south, located just minutes from the town of Bouctouche, is one of the last remaining truly large sand dunes in North America. The J. D. Irving Company built moe than two kilometres of boardwalk along this 12-km dune for visitors to explore and view the many migratory birds in their original habitat without affecting the delicate ecosystems.

Just this past December, the surf from one of the worst storms in memory damaged large sections of the boardwalk. There's no doubt repairs will commence as soon as the snow thaws.

Bouchtouche is also home to Le Pays de la Sagouine -- Acadian history built on an island about a kilometre from downtown. Once the music started we could not help but sit transfixed, embracing the spirit of the people who settled Acadia in the first place.

Most of the communities along or near the Acadian coast are little more than villages and small towns. While there are a few expensive restaurants to be found in Shediac and Moncton in the south and Miramichi near the northern tip, dining in most Acadian restaurants is an inexpensive and, most often, delicious experience.

Seafood chowder is a specialty and was a consistent choice for one or both of us during most of our lunches.

One of our best days was on a trip to Cap Lumière, followed by the drive to Miramichi along the coastal and country roads. This is where real New Brunswick lives. These are the homes of the fishers and working families who drive a significant percentage of the province's economy. Dotted along the way are some of the most quaint souvenir and antique shops for tourists, including the Olivier Soapery. Here hundreds of aromas and soap shapes are on display. While my wife shopped, I watched one of the demonstrations of how the soaps are made.

It proved to be a fascinating presentation. Pierre Pelletier, who co-founded the business with his wife Isabel, noted with pride that they "have been internationally recognized by UNESCO as a living museum preserving the traditional craft of soap-making from the early 1800s." He added: "We are the only establishment in North America with this honour."

Cap Lumière itself is dramatic. Its old lighthouse served as a beacon, warning fishers and other sailors to avoid crashing into the dangerous escarpments nearby. After walking along the shoreline during low tide, we enjoyed a quiet picnic lunch as we watched modern vessels sail between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, which can be seen in the distance.

This could seem a stark and foreboding place if you imagine living here year-round. Yet, as we contemplated our surroundings more fully, we also sensed why people stay; the rugged beauty of the shore, the taste of the ocean in the winds and the knowledge that, as cliché as it sounds, we are somehow one with both the land and the sea.

It seems that, these days, no province is without the one industry that feeds government needs for never-ending funds. So the next day, with friends and family my wife had contacted in the area, she headed off to the casino in Moncton for a day of gaming, dropping me off at the Fox Creek Golf Club in Dieppe, a suburb of Moncton.

The pro laughed as he todl me, "You are not the first husband today who has been left here to pursue your sport, while the ladies go to pursue theirs."

The winners on this day were the casino and the golf course, but we were both happy with the entertainment value we received. Golf in New Brunswick, like Manitoba, is comparatively inexpensive. At the St. Ignace golf course, where I also spent a morning golfing, a weekday round with cart was only $55.

As we neared the end of our Acadian stay, we decided to spend our last day driving along the Bay of Fundy coastline. It is here where brochures promise "The highest tides in the world take place, twice a day, everyday."

At Hopewell Rocks, we were able to walk along the ocean floor knowing that in only a few short hours the place where we stood would fill up with a hundred billion tonnes of ocean water, rising to a height of 10 to 14 metres. Recognized as one of the great wonders of the world, our visit here was an appropriate way to end our journey.

In one week we saw a tremendous amount during one of the least-expensive vacations we've ever had. Entry fees to most New Brunswick attractions are low. Dining was amazingly inexpensive at most of the restaurants we visited and, even had we not stayed in a cottage, a week's accommodation, outside of Moncton especially, is very reasonable.

As we got ready to board the plane to take us home, I bid the province a fond farewell. My wife quietly adds: "Je retournerai."


Where to eat:

The seafood pizza at Restaurant Pizza 5 Étoiles in St. Louis-de-Kent is a huge local favourite, and after eating one, it's no wonder.

In Bouctouche, Restaurant La Sagouine offers a wide menu selection. The deep-fried clams were exceptionally good.

What to see:

The birthplace of Andrew Bonar Law, the only prime minister of Great Britain not born there, is in Rexton, not far from Richabucto.

The Magnetic Hill in Moncton draws hundreds daily. The sensation of sitting on the uphill slope of the hill with your car in neutral as your car pulls forward picking up speed as it nears the top of the hill is a unique experience.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2011 D1

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