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By Jennifer Van Allen
Here in Massachusetts, we tend to think we have something of a monopoly on great stories of history, from Bunker Hill to Paul Revere to Lexington and Concord. But our neighbors to the north, especially in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, could teach us a thing or two about history, and some of their stories are even more compelling than our own.
At Monument-Lefebvre in Memramcook, you’ll learn about the Acadians, the descendants of the French Colonists who settled in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island in the 1600s. The permanent interactive exhibit, “Reflections of a Journey—The Odyssey of the Acadian People”, traces the tumultuous history of the Acadian people and the art, literature, and music that history inspired, including Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie, the epic poem Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published in 1847.
You’ll learn about The Great Expulsion, the deportation of the Acadian people during the French & Indian War, and the Acadian Renaissance, the resurgence of Acadian Culture in the late 1800s. Sign up for a private tour and get a behind-the-scenes peek at the 1896 monument. Be sure to leave plenty of time to wander through the walking paths and orchards that surround the monument, which are a frequent bypass for migrating songbirds, ducks, and herons.
Just a 30-minute drive west of the monument is the Musée acadien de l’Université de Moncton, one of the largest collections of Acadian artifacts in the world. Its permanent collection—“L’Aventure acadienne” (Acadian Adventure)—includes 42,000 objects and photographs and surveys Acadian history, domestic life, religion, education, politics, folklore, and arts since 1604.
For the full immersion in local heritage, plan your visit around the Festival acadien de Caraquet, a two-week celebration of Acadian culture, which runs from August 3-15.
Also, if you can, don’t miss the majestic festival finale, the Grand Tintamarre, a massive street party that marks National Acadian Day and the Francophonie. The event, which draws about 20,000 people to Caraquet’s Main Street, includes dancing, music, food, costumes, beer, and merriment.
Just eight miles west of Caraquet in the town of Bertrand, hit the award-winning living history museum of Village historique acadien. As you tour some of the 40 authentically restored period buildings, you can step back in time to see what daily life, work, and customs were like for the French settlers from 1770 to 1949.
Finally, for a truly immersive experience in the culture here, take a 90-minute drive south of Bertrand to Nelson-Miramichi and stop at the Beaubears Island Interpretive Centre to learn about the island, which is home to two National Historic Sites.
Take a ferry from the interpretive center to the island or, if you’re feeling adventurous, paddle there in a kayak or a 26-foot, 10-passenger Voyageur Canoe. Once you arrive, explore the Beaubears Island Shipbuilding National Historic Site where costumed actors will teach you about New Brunswick’s Golden Age of Shipbuilding in the 19th century while leading you through the remains of the shipyard slips, wharves, and foundations, and telling you about the various shipbuilders who lived there over the 100 years.
You will also want to check out the Boishebert National Historic Site, named for Charles Deschamps de Boishebert et de Raffetot, who set up what became the largest Acadian refugee camp during the French and Indian War. Be sure to make time to explore the island’s nearly four miles of trails, which are dotted with 200-year-old pines, lilacs, and plum trees. Moose, deer, fox, and a pair of nesting Bald Eagles have all been spotted there.
By the time you’re done exploring here, the Revolutionary War Battles of Lexington and Concord might seem like a little skirmish between a couple of fussy neighbors.
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