Track 5: Chéticamp & the Acadian Coast

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The Acadian Tricolore

Adapted and abridged from the Cabot Trail Companion.

Between Margaree Harbour and Belle Côte, where the Margaree River flows into the sea, you're crossing into the French-speaking part of the Cabot Trail. The Acadian flag represents the French-speakers of Maritime Canada, and you'll see it many times along the road to Chéticamp. Like the French flag it's red, white and blue, but features an additional gold star representing the Stella Maris (a symbol of the Virgin Mary, which sailors invoked for protection).

The French coastline is also characterised by small, colourful houses with remarkably tidy gardens. That's partly because of the hurricane-force south-easterly wind - le Suête - that ravages the coast every spring. There are even tales of cyclists being lifted off the ground by it! So as locals will tell you: when le Suête comes, the fewer objects there are to blow away, the better!

On Track 5 of the Cabot Trail Companion Acadian folk singer Jeanne Doucet Currie provides rousing renditions of several French folk songs, including the aptly titled "V'là le bon vent" or "Blow, the Fair Wind", whose origins can be traced back to the 15th century.

Also on Track 5, we hear from Ethel Haché, who runs Joe's Scarecrows in the village of Cap-le-Moine. This colourful pageant has amused visitors every summer since Joe Delaney created it in 1984. His very first creations were inspired by a local tradition called the Mi-Carême, which helps chase away the blues during the long Cape Breton winters. Halfway through Lent each year, villagers disguise themselves with fantastic masks and costumes. Then they go visit all their neighbours, who must try to guess their true identity. The visitors make the task difficult by putting on funny voices and silly walks — and of course, it's all accompanied by plenty of music, food and drink. You can find out more about this unique tradition and see a vast collection of party masks at the Mi-Carême Museum on the harbour at Grand Étang.

We also hear about the 50-metre-high wind turbine at Grand Étang, which was the first of its type on the island. And very soon after Grand Étang you'll see another lofty landmark: the magnificent stone church of St-Pierre, at Chéticamp.

We learn a great deal about Chéticamp and its unique musical history from Charlie Dan Roach, a local broadcaster with a passion for Acadian culture. Charlie Dan tells us how the old French songs have survived to the present day thanks in large part to two priests from Chéticamp.

We're lucky that the musical traditions of Acadia were preserved in this way, but many would say it's a miracle that Acadian culture has survived at all. As Charlie Dan explains, it could so easily have been erased from history altogether: the Deportation — also called the Great Upheaval — was one of the darkest chapters in Canadian history. In 1755, the British rounded up three-quarters of Nova Scotia's Acadian population and either sent them to France or Quebec, scattered them throughout the American colonies, or transported them to English prisons.

As Longfellow described in his narrative poem Evangeline, families who had lived in Nova Scotia for generations were torn apart by ethnic cleansing. Many died in transit, and when the Seven Years' War was declared between the French and the British in 1756, many more were transported to England as prisoners of war.

The reason Chéticamp exists today was a tiny stroke of luck for the Acadian refugees. It just so happened that Charles Robin, a businessman from the isle of Jersey, wished to develop the fishing industry off Cape Breton. Robin had little experience in fisheries, so he struck a deal with a group of Acadian fishermen, whereby they agreed to work for his company in return for passage back to the Maritimes. It might all sound like a happily-ever-after deal for the Acadians, but in fact the terms of the contract were heavily weighted in favour of Robin, who proved to be a hard taskmaster.

William Roach and familyIf you pay attention to the family names on Chéticamp house signs, and you'll see that many of them tend to appear again and again: Aucoin, Chiasson, or LeMoine, for example. Because so many local residents share the same last names, they have their own special way of referring to each other. People would call you not only by YOUR first name, but also by your father's, and even HIS father's and so on, just to be sure they had the right person.

So for example, Charlie Dan is also known as Charlie Dan à Freddie à Damien. And it's not just his own family tree that interests Charlie Dan — because he's a volunteer at the Chéticamp genealogy resource centre. It's housed in the Trois Pignons — the red-roofed, three-gabled building that's also home to a Visitor Information Centre, a folk museum, Internet access site, and a permanent exhibition about the town's most famous export — the hooked rug.

The unique local craft of rug-hooking, similar to tapestry, was put on the map by Elizabeth Lefort, whose admirers have included the Queen and Queen Mother, Jacqueline Kennedy and former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. On the Cabot Trail Companion we pay a visit to the Trois Pignons where former museum guide Stéphanie Aucoin tells us more about Lefort's work[1].

You can pick up an authentic Chéticamp rug — or even your own rug-hooking kit — at the Trois Pignons gift shop, and at several other boutiques around town.

Our last visit is with the folk artist William Roach, a former neighbour of Elizabeth Lefort, who also happens to be the cousin of Charlie Dan Roach.

William is famous for his crazy sense of humour: his Sunset Art Gallery is full of wacky sculptures, such as worried-looking puffins, strings of wooden fish hung out as if to dry, or maybe Father Christmas riding a dolphin. And, if you're after a model of a killer whale peeing on a guy who's having a nap in a rocking chair, William's gallery is probably your best place to look. William says he's been a dreamer all his life — which is why he leaves the financial side of the business to his wife Linda!

William's subjects are often fish, seagulls, cats and other animals, but perhaps most popular of all are his cheeky carvings of naked middle-aged ladies!

You can't miss the brightly decorated Sunset Art Gallery at the north end of Chéticamp. And whilst you're there, you can even buy delicious pastries and herb breads from the artisanal bakery on the grounds. Just the thing for preparing a picnic, as we leave Chéticamp to enter the Cape Breton Highlands National Park...


If you'd like more information on this section of the tour, the following links may be of interest. Because we have no control over external sites, if you find a dead link please let us know!

Website of Acadian singer Jeanne Doucet Currie

Acadian Dictionary, compiled by Marie-Colombe Robichaud of Chéticamp (niece of Père Anselme Chiasson)

A history of rug-hooking

Writer Bill Casselman muses on Acadian culture

Interesting local-history pages on the county website

Accommodations & other businesses along the way

* = Featured on the Cabot Trail

Acadian Motel Accommodation ($–$$)
Main St, Chéticamp. TF: 1-800-615-1977;

Acadian Museum (gifts & restaurant)
15067 Main St, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-2170;

Acres & Ocean Cottage Accommodation ($$–$$$)
10814 Cabot Trail, Belle Côte. T: (902) 235-2329;

Albert’s Motel Accommodation ($–$$)
15086 Cabot Trail, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-2077;

Auberge Bay Wind Suites Accommodation ($$$)
15299 Cabot Trail, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-3800;

Auberge Doucet Inn Accommodation ($–$$)
Chéticamp. TF: 1-800-646-8668;

La Bella Mona Lisa (humorous art)
12225 Cabot Trail, St-Joseph-du-Moine. T: (902) 224-2560 or 224-1417;

Les Cabines du Portage Accommodation ($–$$)
15660 Main St, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-2822

Cabot Trail Sea & Golf Chalets Accommodation ($$–$$$)
71 Fraser Doucet Lane, Chéticamp. TF: 1-877-224-1777;

*Cape Breton Highlands National Park Visitor Centre & Campgrounds
16648 Cabot Trail, Chéticamp. TF: 1-888-773-8888; (902) 224-2306. Bookstore T: (902) 224-3814

Captain Zodiac Whale Cruise
Chéticamp Harbour. TF: 1-877-232-2522;

Centre de la Mi-Carême & C@P Site
12615 Cabot Trail, St-Joseph-du-Moine. T: (902) 224-1016

Charlie’s Downhome Music (local music a specialty)
14614 Cabot Trail, Chéticamp. TF: 1-888-762-7772

Chéticamp Island Resort Accommodation ($$)
Chéticamp Island. T: (902) 849-6444;

Chéticamp Outfitters Inn B&B Accommodation ($–$$)
13938 Cabot Trail, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-2776;

Chez Edmond Vacation Home Accommodation ($$)
86 Chemin LeBlanc, Grand Étang. T: (902) 224-2665;

Corney Brook Campground Accommodation ($; no potable water)
Corney Brook, Highlands National Park. TF: 1-888-773-8888; (902) 224-2306;

Driftwood Boats (craftsman built)
239 E Margaree Rd, Belle Côte. T: (902) 235-2819;

Flora’s Gift Shop (hooked-rug specialties)
14208 Cabot Trail, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-3139;

Germaine’s Vacation Home Accommodation ($$-$$$)
13719 Cabot Trail, Point Cross, Chéticamp. T: 902 224-3459;

Island Sunset Resort & Touch of Serenity Spa Accommodation ($$$)
19 Beach Cove Lane, Belle Côte. TF: 1-866-515-2900;

*Joe’s Scarecrow Village
11852 Cabot Trail, Cap-Le-Moine. T: (902) 235-2108

Laurie’s Motor Inn Accommodation ($$-$$$)
15456 Laurie Rd, Chéticamp. TF: 1-800-95-WHALE;;
Laurie's (whale cruises)

Little Pond Stables (horseback trails)
103 La Pointe Rd, Petit Étang, Chéticamp. T: 1-888-250-6799;

La Maison Laurence B&B Accommodation ($–$$)
15408 Cabot Trail, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-2184;

Merry’s Motel Accommodation ($-$$)
15356 Cabot Trail, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-2456;

Nestle In B&B & Venture Out Tours Accommodation ($-$$)
19 Muise St, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-1609;

Ocean Haven B&B Accommodation ($$)
49 Old Belle Côte Rd, Belle Côte. T: (902) 235-2329;

Ocean View Motel & Chalets Accommodation ($$-$$$)
15569 Cabot Trail, Chéticamp. TF: 1-877-743-4404;

Parkview Motel Accommodation ($$)
16546 Cabot Trail, Chéticamp. TF: 1-877-224-3232;

Pilot Whale B&B Accommodation ($$)
77 Bazile Rd, St-Joseph-du-Moine. T: (902) 224-2592;

Pilot Whale Chalets Accommodation ($$-$$$)
15775 Main St, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-1040;

Plage St-Pierre Beach & Campground ($)
635 Chéticamp Island Rd, Chéticamp; T: (902) 224-2112;

Le Portage Golf Club
15580 Cabot Trail Rd, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-3338;

*Sunset Art Gallery & Boulangerie de l’Est Bakery
15856 Cabot Trail, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-2119;

*Les Trois Pignons (visitor centre)
15584 Main St, Chéticamp. T: (902) 224-2642;

Water’s Edge Gallery
The Harbour, Old Cabot Trail, Grand Étang (below wind turbine). T: (902) 224-2684

Whale Cruisers
Chéticamp Harbour, Chéticamp. TF: 1-800-813-3376;

If you would like your business to be added to this list, please contact us...

[1] There is a photograph of the Crucifixion hooked rug featured on the Cabot Trail Companion, as well as a vivid description of Cape Breton, on American Odyssey, the remarkable online account of a solo boat journey from Wyoming to Maine, and ultimately Buenos Aires. A book of the North American part of the journey to Maine is also available.