August 7, 2003 Halifax Herald

On the road again: Pubnicos, Cape Sable Island

OVER OUR decades together, at one time or other Pat and I have visited practically every nook and cranny of Nova Scotia, enjoying them immensely. But, although we had passed them by on many occasions, there were two exceptions, the Pubnicos and Cape Sable Island - not to be confused with Sable Island, which we have never visited, and probably never will.

This summer, we decided that on July 14 and 15, we would visit the communities and rectify this oversight. (The 14th turned out to be the day set aside by the inhabitants to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the arrival at Pubnico of Sieur Phillippe Mius d'Entremont.) I called an Acadian friend, Cyrille LeBlanc in Wedgeport, and asked him to recommend a couple of places where we could hang our hats for a night. He did, reservations were made, and we were off for what turned out to be a most enjoyable trip.

After arriving in West Pubnico and checking in, we went to the Musée Acadien, where we were greeted in a most friendly and cordial manner by the manager, Bernice d'Entremont, and her staff. They generously gave us, laced with knowledgeable commentary, a guided tour of their research centre and museum.

Wow, what an experience! We spent over an hour in the research centre, reviewing and enjoying old books, many documents and a copy of a treaty addendum between the British and Penobscot. Then we moved on to the museum and marvelled at the collections of old cameras and other artifacts - many dating back to colonial times. If you ever get a chance go visit, the two collections are among the best I've ever seen.

As we left the building, we were given home-made ice cream; then we toured the grounds, which contained, among other things, replicas of early Acadian vegetable gardens. The music played by the band in attendance was great.

That evening, we attended, at Le Village Historique Acadien - an under-construction replica of a colonial Acadian village - the re-enactment of the arrival of d'Entremont and family. The arrival depiction, which included a re-enactment of the Mi'kmaq greeting him, was carried off like a charm. The only drawback was the weather, which was rather cloudy and cool. Then free goodies and coffee were passed out in the historic houses on the site by women dressed in colonial attire.

As we headed for the exit at the main gate, we stopped to enjoy some very good music by several performers. While listening, we got chilly and were on the verge of leaving when a recently met friend, Pauline d'Entremont, came to the rescue and lent us coats. When we finally left - before the fireworks, because we were tired from the long day - it was with reluctance.

During my life, I've met a lot of polite and charming people, but the Acadians of the Pubnicos take a back seat to none of them. Those whom we met treated us with the utmost courtesy and made us feel as if we belonged. I'll pass this along to them: It was a great experience meeting you folks; hopefully some day, our paths will cross again!

Early the next morning, we headed for Barrington Passage and Cape Sable Island. What made this visit very special to me was that this area was once the home of a large population of Mi'kmaq. In fact, they were so numerous that many British referred to the Mi'kmaq in general as Cape Sables.

After crossing the causeway, as we drove around the Island I let my imagination take over and envisioned large Mi'kmaq villages in many coves and inlets, with children playing and adults working and chatting. In my mind's eye, I saw them as a prosperous and contented people, enjoying a bountiful life to the fullest. Then disaster struck: the arrival of John Cabot in what he called Newfoundland, which, in a short period of time, brought to our shores a multitude of European fishermen, and many fur and slave traders. It brought changes that quickly began the decimation of the Mi'kmaq by the importation of European disease. In addition, many were taken prisoners and enslaved, while many others were simply slaughtered.

However, by the time the ancestors of the Acadians arrived, the Mi'kmaq people, although still plentiful, were greatly reduced in numbers in comparison to the numbers present when Cabot arrived.

The Acadians and our people became friends. Many intermarriages took place; they lived in harmony side by side and prospered, and the population stabilized. Then in 1713, another disaster struck: The British took over and within several decades, the area's Mi'kmaq were but a memory.

Although I'm glad I went, I'll probably never return to the Cape Sable Island area. Its history holds too many sad memories. During colonial times, the Mi'kmaq in many other areas of Nova Scotia - for example, Shubenacadie and Bear River - were badly decimated, but a remnant survived to carry the day. In the Cape Sable area, now inhabited by a considerable population of European descent, many of whom have some traces of Mi'kmaq blood in them, only the ghosts of a once vibrant Mi'kmaq population remain!

Daniel N. Paul


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