It is calm, grey day as our rented mini-van pulls into the gravel parking lot of Le Village Historique Acadien. Three of my fellow crew members and I have been invited to explore this recreation of an early 20th century French Acadian village overlooking Pubnico Harbour in southwestern Nova Scotia. As I travel aboard Hōkūleʻa, I try to search for connections between where we are and where she has been. We are far from her home in Hawaiʻi, and sometimes it seems that it might be difficult to see the relationships between two cultures on entirely opposite sides of a very large planet. However, after exploring the grounds around Le Village, I can very clearly see the connection between the French Acadian and Polynesian cultures.
Arriving in the mid 1600s, the French Acadians settled in western Nova Scotia, living modestly by farming and fishing. They had a positive relationship with the indigenous people, the Mi’kmauq, who taught the Acadians how to live in the sometimes harsh environment. However, in the late 1700s, these settlers were forced to leave their homes after the British took claim of the land. Tragically, during the deportation, over half of the Acadians died. Of those who survived, a few managed to eventually travel back to their homes in Nova Scotia. Our guide Aldric’s, last name is d’Entremont, a common family name among the Acadian population of this area. He is excited to share his knowledge of the region, and continues to chat and tell stories as we enter the visitor center.
Our first stop in the historic village is the Charles Duon House, a house that was at one time home to an Acadian family. Over two generations, the modest home saw over 20 children live within its walls. I am reminded of the canoe; four children sleeping in one bed, eight sharing a room, is not far from what I experience with my brothers and sisters aboard Hōkūleʻa. We share space because we have to and, while this could easily tear us apart and cause us to bicker, I find that it brings me closer to my fellow crew.
We take the tour down the road to the Rueben Trefry Blacksmith Shop. Inside, a re-enactor tends the forge, heating metal to high temperatures to make the tools that would be needed for basic survival in the 1800s and 1900s. Somethings as simple as a fishhook, a tool that can easily be bought at a store today, were delicately made by hand here, where metal is heated, stretched, and manipulated until it forms the familiar shape used for catching fish. In modern times, GPS is used to navigate; we hardly even have to think about direction. Those who sailed aboard canoes 2000 years ago did not have it as easy, but managed to master the art of navigation using stars, swells, and other cues from nature. It wasn’t as easy as using a GPS, but they managed to thrive through hard work and skill.
We walk to the edge of harbor, and stare out across the salt flats. It is easy to picture Acadian settlers toiling away in the inlets, pulling lobster pots and fishing for Haddock. In the distance are piles of “hay”, collected from the salt marsh plants. According to our guides, these plants were much too salty for horses to eat. However oxen, which have two additional stomachs, are able to digest the salty reeds and grasses. Acadians relied on the oxen to perform the majority of the tasks that a horse would otherwise be used for. This example suggests that these people learned about their environment from the indigenous people, and used this knowledge to survive and flourish. I can see a parallel here with Polynesian culture, where understanding the resources available is crucial to living on an island. You shouldn’t catch too many fish, you shouldn’t waste all of your water, you should destroy you land when you live on an island; if you do, you will not survive.
Upon leaving Le Village, it is clear that the staff of the small historical town have a mission that is very similar to ours aboard the canoe. All of the staff are Acadian themselves, and some are even related to the d’Entremont family. The connection these people have to Le Village is like our connection to the canoe; we want to share the culture, the language (Acadian is a specific dialect of French found only in Nova Scotia), and the history so that it may never be forgotten. Their canoe doesn’t float, but its story should be heard all the same.
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