Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Heading Home in a Lobster Haze

Gordon, Doris, Herman, Marie Anne and Hervé

Ruth: After seven lobster meals in five days we are stumbling onto our flight home in a lobster haze.  Nothing to complain about, but I do look forward to eating some vegetables and perhaps toning down the gluttony just a wee bit. 

We have had a lovely visit in Moncton reconnecting with Gord's mom's sister and two brothers. There is something wonderful about hanging out with a group of people that range in age from 82 to 93. Hearing that Gord just turned 60 made them long for those salad days of youth. Doris, who is 93, thought it would be great to be as young as Marie Anne, who turns 83 today. The common theme from all of them was to live each day to the fullest.

These proud Acadians have lots of stories of the hard lives endured, especially by their mothers, to simply survive and put food on the table for their families. Gord's aunt Marie Anne told us that without the transformation of the province under Premier Robichaud the Acadians would still be desperately poor. 

Our time here was not entirely spent eating, we went on a bike ride each morning on the beautiful trail system that winds from Dieppe along the river marshes into downtown Moncton. Moncton has a lovely farmers market with many local specialties including fantastic cinnamon buns.  It also has some attractive areas of character housing, and the older parts of the downtown are quite charming.

No trip to New Brunswick can happen without a number of visits to their provincial institution - Tim Hortons. Within 20 minutes of arriving in Moncton Hervé had us loaded up in his car to show us where the nearest one was located. Our last moment with them was shared at the Tim Hortons (what else could it be?) at the Moncton airport. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Leftovers New Brunswick Style

Ruth: We are staying at the house of Gord's aunt and uncle in Dieppe, New Brunswick (near Moncton).  Tonight Gord's Uncle Hervé cooked us a lobster feast. The plate above is just the leftovers! 

We offered to make a salad, but were told quite firmly that vegetables are unnecessary with lobster. I can't say I missed them. 

Hervé and Marie-Anne moved into an assisted living place six months ago, but are keeping the house for now. They still enjoy having it for guests, hobbies and occasional entertaining. We are being thoroughly spoiled here. 

Our ride from Sackville to Moncton followed the Memramcook Valley, passing Dorchester and College Bridge, where Gord's Mother and Aunt grew up. 

It is a beautiful valley steeped in Acadian History.  The first Acadian National Congress met in Memramcook in1881.  The Acadian flag was adopted a few years later and is now ubiquitous in the Acadian areas of the province.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Ruth: It's wild blueberry season in Parrsboro.

Parrsboro is located on the Nova Scotian side of the Bay of Fundy. It is the town where my Great Aunt Betty was born and grew up. When I was 16 my Great Aunt and Uncle brought me here for a wonderful summer vacation. I can still hear my Uncle Archie's stories as Gord and I wander through the village and explore the waterfront. After a visit to Chapel street to see my aunt's old house we headed down to the shore to see the big Fundy tides. It was not that long after high tide when the dock and harbour water drained away, leaving the boats beached until the next tide came in. 

Today we cycled back from Parrsboro to Sackville, New Brunswick. We were prepared for a rainy day but it was by far our wettest yet. When we dripped into the Tourist office at the border an employee with a mop followed us in. I must say that tourist offices in New Brunswick are the most helpful we have ever encountered. Sure, the guys over in Nova Scotia wear kilts while handing out brochures, but the people in the New Brunswick branches are amazing- especially if you arrive soaked to the skin. After a few phone calls we had a booking for a warm and dry room in Sackville. The rain mostly stopped for our last 9 Kms, but the cross wind was gusting up to 50 Kms an hour. You had to lean into the wind just to stay upright, and each passing semi gave us a good buffeting.  It was helpful that the paved shoulders are generally quite broad in New Brunswick, unlike the handwidth's worth that is common in Nova Scotia.  In any event, I am glad that today's ride is over.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Gordon:  When I was growing up I was told that my great-grandfather had died in the mines at Springhill.  I had heard of the "Springhill disaster" (there were actually three), but I was told that his death occurred in one of the smaller explosions.  My grandmother was the youngest of 7 or 9 children.  She was only 2 or 3 years old when my great-grandfather died and the family was broken up.  My grandmother and one of her sisters were raised by an aunt and uncle, and her siblings were parcelled out to other family members or unrelated families.

Last night we stayed in Springhill, which of course brought my family history to mind.  I searched an online database of men killed in the mines and received a null result for my great-grandfather's surname.  This morning, at the mine museum in Springhill, Ruth said we should get some clarification on the issue.  She called my aunt and uncle and asked what had become of my great-grandfather.  The response: "Oh, he never worked in that mine, he just ran off."  I was a bit disappointed, as I liked to think I had a direct family connection to some well-known Canadian labour history.  I guess I'll have to be content with the social history of life before the welfare state.

We had a wonderful stay in Springhill with Warm Showers hosts Alison and Isiah.  They cooked us a great dinner and then humiliated us at a popular maritime board game.  I can't recall the name of the game, probably because I turned 60 today and have started to suffer cognitive loss.

We only had time to visit one museum in Springhill this morning, so we had to skip the one dedicated to Springhill's most famous daughter, Anne Murray.  Maybe next time.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Chiac in Shediac

Gordon:  Much of our communication in the past 6 weeks has been in French.  While neither of us is fluent, we both have an intermediate knowledge and can comfortably travel in French.  We have, however, struggled with the accents in Quebec and New Brunswick (which are not the same.). But today we truly were out of our depth when we encountered Chiac at an outdoor concert.  Chiac is a form of Acadian French that is syntactically different, uses a lot of  archaic French and incorporates considerable English, as well as a bit of Micmac.  It is spoken in southeast New Brunswick, and the name Chiac is probably derived from Shediac, the name of the beach town near Moncton where we are staying.

When the lead singer of the band addressed the audience in this bizarre mixture of French and English we thought it was a parody of one or both of the languages.  Ruth had heard of Chiac, however, and we quickly confirmed via Wikipedia that this was what we were hearing.  Wikipedia includes some example sentences to give the flavour of the dialect.  How about this one: "Ej vas tanker mon truck de soir pis ej va le driver. Ça va être right d'la fun." (I am going to go put gas in my truck and drive it tonight. It's going to be so much fun.)  While Chiac is an exaggerated version, French in Eastern Canada generally incorporates some of these contractions and changes in pronunciation.  No wonder we have been struggling a bit to understand the spoken language.

Our tripometer rolled through 3,000 kms today.  We are only 25 kms from our ultimate destination, Moncton, but we still have five riding days available.  As a result, we have decided to see a little bit of Nova Scotia.  We are riding to Springhill tomorrow.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Kouchibouguac National Park

Ruth: The ride from Miramichi to Kouchibouguac National Park was a straight flat road through scrubby forest, but without a headwind it was fast and fine. 

We are staying two nights in a cabin just outside the entrance to the park. Eastern national parks seem much more civilized than their western cousins, with more infrastructure and greater accessibility. The roads that once led to a number of former village sites now make up a network of excellent cycling paths. Yesterday we headed down the one-way, 8 km single track mountain bike path to Kelly's beach. As mountain biking paths go it was a level and relatively easy one. 

Kouchibouguac's salt marshes and dunes are also the nesting grounds for the endangered Piping Plover. These are beautiful sparrow sized shore birds. 

Today we headed out in the morning for another ride before the predicted rain started. We stayed out too long and got thoroughly soaked on our ride home. The hot water was used up when I got back to the cabin so I boiled water repeatedly on the stove until I could have a nice hot soak. 

With a nice place to hang out in a rainy day, this is a good opportunity to read, rest and catch up on some painting. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Neguac to Miramichi

Ruth: It became clear that Gord was underfed when he spent last night in Neguac researching the location and hours for the all you can eat Chinese restaurants in Miramichi.  Even with a ferocious head wind we were able to make it to the Great Wok just as the food troughs were being filled. Oh my! Three plates later we were both feeling very full. Today was our second day in a row at a Chinese buffet - so common in so much of Canada, but scarce in Quebec. We are making up for it in New Brunswick. 

Today we took a side trip over to Parc L'ile aux Foins to walk the boardwalk and admire all the lovely shore birds.  The Acadians harvested a salt hay from the island and would bring it back over the ice to feed their livestock in the winter. We also passed through Burnt Church (a Micmac community) before we were back on the main road fighting a head wind for the rest of the morning. Unlike the Gaspésie the roads along the coast here are too far inland to appreciate any views of the sea. The monotony  of the road is more obvious with the slow speeds. 

Miramichi is a predominantly English place, but whether English or French the people we have met in New Brunswick are so friendly. I am still pleasantly shocked when trucks stop to let us cross the highway. 

Gordon:  Those interested in real estate would probably not be surprised to find that their money goes a bit further in New Brunswick and rural Quebec.  For instance, the structure pictured above, which our B&B host in Miramichi describes as a court house, is yours for $139,000, about the price of a parking stall in Vancouver.  But if you are looking for something a little more cozy, how about this cottage across the road from the sea in Pointe à la Frégate, on the Gaspé?  The owner is asking $25,000.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tintamarre in Caraquet

Ruth: Today is the Fête Nationale d'Acadie and we are spending it in Caraquet, often described as the heart of Acadian culture in New Brunswick.  In the morning we hopped on our bikes and road to the nearby Acadian Historical Village. It has a fantastic collection of historic buildings that have been relocated from all over the province.  Each of them has an actor in period costume who describes the original family who lived or worked in the building and provides other historical information.  Unlike Upper Canada Village, where all the buildings date to one period in time, the structures at the Acadian Village date from 1770 to the 1930s.

After a short rest back at our gîte we headed downtown with our camping pots to join the hour long, deafening Tintamarre.  The street is filled with costumed Acadians making as much noise possible to celebrate the survival of their culture.  René Levesque described the Tintamarre with the following:  Écoutez encore, c'est la vie de l'Acadie française en 1955, deux siècles après la mort qu'on prévoyait.("Listen! It is the sound of the heartbeat of French-speaking Acadia in 1955 - two centuries after it was supposed to have been extinguished.")[1]

The costumes were fantastic and most of them were inspired by Acadian colours or themes. I am not sure how exactly the Simpsons, or the groups of Vikings and Rastafarians fit in, but in a true carnival spirit it brought out the theatrical in many. 

When we first visited Gord's Acadian relatives in New Brunswick in 2004, Gord spoke virtually no French.  Thirteen years later Gord is not fluent but speaks French functionally. It was great to see him walking the Tintamarre and banging our camping pots enthusiastically.  I am sure his mother would be proud.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Into Acadia

Gordon:  On our last day in Quebec (we spent almost four weeks in the province) we visited Miguasha Provincial Park.  It exists to protect an area in which a remarkable collection of fossils, mostly of fish, have been unearthed.  The 380 million year old fossils show the evolution of lobe finned fishes that were the ancestors of the first terrestrial vertebrates.  The fossil collection was astounding in its variety and the details preserved in some specimens.  Miguasha is one of a limited number of UNESCO designated sites in Canada.

We crossed into New Brunswick at Campbelltown, and two days later we have made our way to Caraquet, where we are staying for three nights.  The long stay will enable us to attend the Acadian national holiday (August 15) in the town that is considered to be the cultural capital of Acadia.  We have been seeing Acadian flags and other symbols since Bonaventure, on the Quebec side, but in this area of New Brunswick the Acadian kitsch is thick.

My mother's maiden name was Marguerite Marie Leblanc and she grew up in a French speaking Acadian family in the Memramcook valley near Moncton.  My ancestors arrived in Canada around 1655, and until my generation their first language was always French.  It was in a previous visit with relatives in Moncton that I realized that several of the members of my mother's family are Acadian nationalists, keenly attuned to the history of their culture.  It is therefore with more than the usual tourist interest that I observe the celebration of the Acadian national holiday.

Of course, with 30,000 visitors descending on Caraquet accommodation is at a premium.  Ruth unsuccessfully called a number of gîtes and hotels looking for a place to stay through the 15th. We later received a call from one of the gîtes she had contacted, saying that we could stay with a friend who provides overflow accommodation.  As a result, we are lodged with Mme. Chaisson (a very common surname in the area), who has given us the run of her bright, beautiful house, and cannot do enough to ensure our comfort.  She refers to me as "le garçon" which I find flattering since I will be turning 60 in a week.  We have been struck by the warm, relaxed hospitality in the Acadian area and our host has it in spades.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Southern coast of the Gaspé

Gordon:  While I was discreetly cooking breakfast over a backpacking stove set up outside the door of our hotel room - probably the only one doing so in the upscale establishment- we were treated to a great natural show on our last morning in Percé.  Presumably feeding on a large school of fish in the bay, hundreds of gannets were diving into the sea.  It was as though the sea was being strafed by machine gun fire.  Backlit by the sun rising over Rocher Percé, and accompanied by the sound of the birds striking the water, it was an amazing spectacle.

We were unable to arrange accommodation for the evening after we left Percé.  The official at the Tourist Office said that everything, including the campgrounds, was fully booked for the following two evenings.  However, when questioned, he did say that it was legal, or at least permissible, to wild camp on the beaches.  The town that was our destination, Newport, has no fewer than four rest stops (Halte Municipale) which are a wonderfully frequent amenity on this coast.  We selected the Halte with running water and a flush toilet, and cooked our dinner on one of the convenient picnic tables.  There are a couple of small islands just offshore that support gannet colonies, so while we reclined against a driftwood log we were treated to their unending show.  At sunset we set up our tent and had a great sleep.  When we got up in the morning we found that we had been joined by another tent, as well as a couple of young women sleeping in their car.

When we were staying in a campground on the northern coast of the Gaspé we met a friendly couple, Denyse and Daniel, who were camping in their VW van.  Denyse suggested that we contact her when we reached Bonaventure.  This was our destination after Newport, so we followed up on Denyse's invitation and found ourselves camped beside her cabin on the bank of the Bonaventure River.  This is a crystal clear salmon river that runs from the interior of the Gaspé.  It is very popular for kayaking and canoeing, with organized trips up to four days in length.  Denyse took us swimming and kayaking on the river, which was quite wonderful.  We were also introduced to her mother, sister, uncle, son and friends ... Denyse comes from a large family and seemed to be related to most of the people in the area.  The next day she joined us for the first 45 kms of our ride to Carleton-sur-Mer, stopping at a Halte for a lunch of locally smoked mackerel and cod, amongst other delights.  We had a wonderful time with Denyse (Daniel had unfortunately returned to work in the Eastern Townships.)

The place names for many of the towns in this area are English, a legacy of the United Empire Loyalists that settled here.  There is also a large number of people of Acadian descent.  Bonaventure, for example, is a predominantly Acadian town, with an Acadian museum and abundant Acadian flags.  The result of this cultural mixing is that most of the population is bilingual, with conversations bouncing between French and English, depending upon who is present.