While driving in Nova Scotia last summer we heard about an Acadian Festival happening in Pubnico. It was a CBC radio show and the minute they mentioned it I saw a road sign for Pubnico. “Clearly a sign” I say to myself. We hadn’t learned about the Acadians in our high school history classes so this could be an education for all of us.
Quick History: French colonists settled in the area, then known as Acadia, in the 1600’s. They created a thriving community that worked closely the Mi’kmaq population. The Acadians had modern irrigation systems for farming and were very conscientious of the land they were inhabiting. The British eventually landed as well and unfortunately, in keeping with the spirit of the 1700’s, war broke out. Beginning in 1755, the Acadians were forced out. This event is known as the Acadian Expulsion.
Come the day of the festival, we piled in the car and headed to Pubnico. Don’t be fooled by the Manhattan Suburb-sounding West Pubnico, East Pubnico, Middle West Pubnico and Lower East Pubnico. They are all teeny communities close to one another. If you accidentally find yourself in the wrong Pubnico it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to the next.
The Acadian Museum played host to a BBQ, local vendors, great music and exhibits. Unfortunately, the south shore had been on the receiving end of another rainless summer. Great for beach days and exploring, but not if your thirsty or are partial to indoor plumbing. The well had apparently gone dry that day, leaving the washroom out of order. Best laid plans and all that.
When a 3 year old has to go, time is of the essence. After looking around I decided to jump in the car and search one out. This is where the Universe came into play. We pulled into a large parking lot at the Historic Acadian Village in West Pubnico. We ran in and begged for the bathroom. Success!
The woman at the counter asked if we were coming to explore the Village. We were already there so why not? Plus, it seemed like a way to learn about the Acadians that I knew embarrassingly little about. Then she said that the admission was free today. Free, you say? That’s my very favourite price! SOLD!
We found a little café in the welcome building which was great because we were all getting a wee bit hangry. Best. Grilled Cheese. Ever. According to the kids anyway. You can even get them to pack up a picnic basket and take it with you to the village for an al fresco lunch.
The Village was a similar to the pioneer villages we’ve been to but with a French twist. Everyone we came across was bilingual and French swirled around us like a melody.
The blacksmith was hard at work forging nails. The amount of work that went into creating a single nail would have people nowadays running for the hills. He made a nail for each person there with their first initial and age imprinted on the nail head. Such a great keepsake! He taught us quite a bit about Acadian history and culture. I’d wondered in the past why there were so many Oxen, as opposed to work horses in Nova Scotian history. He taught us that the poor quality of the grasses available were suitable for the strong and hardy Oxen because of their 4 stomachs. The saying does go “strong as an ox”, after all.
While on the subject of sayings, we learned the origin of “goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite” and “pull out all the stops”.
Before the advent of box springs, a bed’s foundation was made of rope. The rope would stretch and the knots loosen. “Sleep tight” was a reference to tightening up the knots. The mattresses were filled with hay – complete with tiny critters, which leads to the “bed bugs” portion of the phrase. We were all immediately grateful for the critter-free beds waiting for us that night.
To “pull out all the stops” on an organ would make the sound loud, free and unencumbered, just like the saying means today.
One house had freshly made Rappie Pie. Rappie Pie is an Acadian dish created by shredding potatoes, squeezing all of the liquid out of it and replacing that liquid with double the amount of broth. Whatever meat the Acadians would have had on hand was then layered with the potato mixture and baked in the wood stove. Luckily, it was made with chicken that day and it was delicious!
After having a Dory Day on the South Shore a couple of years prior, we’d been very interested in the history of the humble dory. The Dory shop at the village did not disappoint. The person on-site builds them bottom to top with hand tools. It takes two summers to complete one dory. He patiently answered all of our questions. Sadly, this is a trade that is going to fade away if some younger people don’t take it up. The dory builder that day said that they are continually looking for someone to take on the trade and learn, but so far, have come up short.
The fish shed was home to salt fish. Isaac had agreed to try new foods everywhere we explored this past summer. He tried dulse in Grand Manan, NB and Oysters in PEI. Now, salt fish was on the menu. He gathered his nerve and with some encouragement from the fella working there, went in for a big bite. I don’t think he’ll be requesting salt cod anytime soon, but I was pretty impressed that my picky eater tried it.
There is a little lighthouse to explore and a trail to take around the village which would be a great spot for that grilled cheese picnic.
We were grateful to have stumbled across this little, very interactive and hands on museum. We’ve been inspired to check out more of the Acadian Shore next summer and will be sure to head back during the next Acadian Festival.