Having lived all my life by the sea, I have an affinity with walking on the beach, so on a rare, warm November day we took off and headed for the sea. A short drive from home is a scenic route along a section of coast known as Nova Scotia’s Acadian shore, often referred to as the French Shore. A region of fishing communities and noble churches, with a deep rooted culture of the french speaking Acadian people who settled here 400 years ago.
A month before Christmas, the trail was decorated with bright baubles and shooting stars, hanging from the leafless trees and bushes.
At ground level, the paths were marked with painted stones, some with childish pictures, others with names and messages. The waymarkers made it a whimsical experience.
Chickadees flitted amongst the branches and appeared to be following us as we walked. We stopped to watch a while, amazed at their boldness, as they swooped down to an outstretched hand; I must remember to bring tidbits with me next time.
The maze of paths culminates at the rear of ‘Église Sainte-Marie‘, the largest wooden church in North America. Built over a period of two years, from 1903 to 1905, by 1500 volunteers, its steeple rises 56.4 m (185 feet) above the ground. From the road, the lofty church beckons visitors to pull over for a closer look, but for me, emerging from the shade of the woods and suddenly seeing the building, just a few feet away, with its steeple towering overhead in the bright sunshine, it was a far more impressive sight from this angle.
At this time of year the church is closed to visitors and so we must return another day, remembering to have a few crumbs in my pockets for the birds.
After a quick pit stop for a morning cuppa and slice of homemade banana bread in the cafe at the Rendez-vous de la Baie Visitor Centre, we continued further along the French shore to Meteghan.
A day out in these parts is not complete without a trip to Frenchys, a chain of used clothing stores that Atlantic Canadians love so much. Alas, today I failed to find any treasures to bring home.
Leaving the parking lot, John took a dead end road towards the sea, for no other reason than the sun was shining. Here we found the treasure that had eluded us earlier. The end of the road was marked by a windtorn Acadian flag, surrounded by elaborate circles of rocks, pebbles, and shells.
A man and his dog passed by as we were pondering who may have collected and created the beach art. A local, able to tell us that it was the work of one man, “recently moved to the area from Montreal”, he thought. The dogwalker’s parting comment, “It won’t last the winter” compelled us to linger. We contemplated the messages on the stones and soaked in the calming effect of the simple array of stones, set against a backdrop of waves rolling onto the sand.
The final stop of the day was Belliveau Cove, a place we’ve visited often. In summer we amble along the 5km of an interpretive trail, studying the patterns in the stones and watching the gulls. The cool sea breezes, a welcome relief from the oppressive heat and humidity of an August day. Today, in mid-November, the brisk wind, hinted of winter and hurried us along to ‘La Petite Chapelle‘, an early Acadian cemetery at the far end of the beach. A stone marks the spot where a group of 120 Acadians landed, after being forced to leave their homes in Port Royal. It was the winter of 1755-56, said to be the fiercest in over a hundred years and many of the group perished.
Simple wooden crosses mark their final resting places, bearing familiar Acadian names; Comeau, LeBlanc, and Belliveau. Family names that are still very prominent in the area and frequently seen on roadside mailboxes and written on shopfronts alongside the road we had just travelled. I have never walked here on a frigid January day, but as the keen wind pushed us along, I could only imagine what they must have endured that winter.
The Acadian region has the feel of a community that has the time to slow down and have fun, as seen in the tree decorations. Folks that have time for art; not for profit and not for an audience, but for themselves, simply to enjoy the process, knowing that in a few months the shells will be reclaimed by the waves.
The French shore is a popular jaunt for us, one which always feels like we’ve stolen a day, reminding us to take the time to enjoy the simple things in life.