New Brunswick: the other Canadian province where people speak French

Join us on the trail of the Acadians, through the only province in the country where the equality of French and English is enshrined in the constitution.

Quebec is not the only place in Canada where French is spoken. New Brunswick, located in the east on the south shore of the Chaleur Bay, is the only officially bilingual province in the country: the equal status of French and English is inscribed in the constitution. The balance is a little different among the population, with only a third of the population speaking French. But it’s with pride that these French descendants fly their flag: red, white and blue emblazoned with the golden star of the Virgin Mary. While the flag, seen hanging from the house fronts and in the tidy gardens, has the same colours as the French tricolour, the regional dialect has developed its own particular character.

A family reunion

The Promised Land was found in 1604 at Saint Croix Island, on the Canadian-United States border. It was here that Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons, an aristocrat from Charente-Maritime in France, set up the first French colony in America. Subsequently, it was relocated to Port Royal, in present-day Novia-Scotia, before spreading to Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, which make up the three ‘Maritime provinces’. Dugua’s lieutenant, Samuel de Champlain, then went on to establish the settlement of Quebec.

The population of Acadia arrived from the French provinces of Brittany and Poitou and prospered in the following century, though not without clashes with the English. The name derives from the Arcadia district of Greece. When Giovanni da Verrazano arrived at the coast in 1524, on a voyage commissioned by the French King François I, he thought of the celebrated ancient Greek region. The word was then either deformed, or changed under the influence of the Mi'kmaq Indians, with whom the settlers lived peacefully and for whom ‘cadie’ means ‘place of abundance’.

The Acadian homecomingtrail

The Acadian identity is particularly strong in New Brunswick. In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht required the French to cede the territory to the British, leading to the forced expulsion of Acadians during the Great Upheaval of 1755 to 1763. Many Acadians were to die, while others settled in Belle-Île-en-Mer and the Falkland Islands or went into hiding. Today the Village Historique Acadien, in Rivière-du-Nord near Caraquet, recreates scenes from the period that followed. In sixty buildings volunteers reconstruct the life of those that returned from exile.

'Work started early’ says Sylvie, dressed in a traditional costume on a farm from 1852. ‘There were plenty of people that needed feeding around the table.’

‘Pets de sœurs’, delicious pastries dusted with brown sugar, are served at the ‘Table des Ancêtres’.

Océane, a fourteen-year-old Acadian, says that they’re her favourite desert. She speaks in chiac, the Acadian franglais used by the local youth.

‘I tack French endings onto English verbs and I throw in ‘well’ all the time, but with a French accent,’ she says.

The dialect has been popularized by feisty young female signers like Les Hay Babies and Lisa Leblanc, who won the France Inter-Télérama prize for the best French-language album in 2013. Their style is a long way from Roch Voisine and Natasha St-Pier, two of the other big names from the province.

Caraquet is located at the bottom of the Acadian Peninsula, with the Miscou Island Lighthouse right at the tip of its peat lands. At the Shippagan aquarium you can see one of the five million blue lobsters fished in the region. The lobster capital is Shediac. Along the coast, you can kayak in the formerly French Bay of Fundy, where the tide holds the record as the highest in the world. Further along, you can find the town of Bouctouche and the Pays de la Sagouine, a park devoted to the characters created by the Acadian novelist Antonine Maillet (who won the Prix Goncourt in 1979). To finish up, you can try a little trapping on the Restigouche River, where Theodore Roosevelt used to fish for salmon. Paddle a canoe between the tree-lined banks and enjoy the enchanting colours of late September. This is Canada at its best. ‘Ça va être right dla fun’, as they say in Chiac: ‘It’s going to be great!’

Practical information

Tourism in New Brunswick

Official site of the Canadian Tourism Commission

The tourist attractions mentioned

New Brunswick Aquarium and Marine Centre
New Brunswick Aquarium and Marine Centre