After finishing my second degree I had a lot to think about. I had been going to school for 19 years and now what was I going to do? I graduated from Ryerson University in Toronto with a journalism degree and was wondering if I should stay in the big city and find a job there or go home to the East Coast.
My mother found a short term answer – a bursary to attend a French immersion program. There were a few places to choose from: Montreal, Quebec City or Pointe-de-l’Église, Nova Scotia. I applied for the money to go to Pointe-de-l’Église.
Pointe-de-l’Église, Church Point in English, is a tiny Acadian town on the French Shore of Nova Scotia. It’s also the home of L’Université Sainte-Anne. The university is home to about 500 students and the campus is right on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. The view from the meal hall of the water is truly magnifique.
The bursary provided money for tuition, meals and board for six weeks. Six weeks where I did everything in French. I went to French classes, made friends in French, wrote in my journal in French and even dreamed a few times in French. It was exhausting. If anyone spoke a word of English they got an advertisement – a warning. Three advertisements and you’re out.
Our instructors handed out these demerits but other people could too. Since the town was small shopkeepers knew who was from the school and who was a tourist. If I had said anything in my native tongue in any store I would get dinged immediately.
My instructor Madeleine was always trying to get us. Especially in the morning before we had breakfast. While in line waiting to be served by the meal hall staff, Madeleine would point to a food item and ask, “Qu’est ce que c’est?”
“Oatmeal,” answered one unfortunate Anglophone.
One warning for her.
By the time I was asked the same question by Madeleine the oatmeal/gruau story had already made the rounds. I was safe with my “sauce au pommes” (apple sauce) reply.
During the last week of school I was paired with a guy in my class to do a project. Shawn and I didn’t really get along and had bickered like brother and sister most of the five weeks that had already passed. I was not looking forward to being his partner and spending more time with him.
That Wednesday he was coming to my residence to work on our assignment. I was the only one in the living room dorm and I just happen to let one. AKA pass gas. Right when Shawn walked through the door. I was mortified. What do I do? I had to get him into the kitchen.
“Hi Shawn, welcome. Let’s go into the kitchen,” I said. All in English.
He looked at me with wide blue eyes, mouth open and said, in French, “That’s the first time you’ve been nice to me. And it was in English!”
Oh mon dieu. He’s going to report me now.
He never did.
The light has changed in Calgary the past few days, signalling the end weeks of summer. When I left for vacation in the middle of July there were still many sunshine days ahead. Now a chill is creeping into August mornings and I saw my breath yesterday when I went out on to the porch to pick up the newspaper. Summer is fading but I’m holding on to the warmth of my holiday memories. I don’t want to leave them behind. Just yet.
My husband Jason and I travelled to see his family in Toronto. Our flight itinerary put us in Saskatoon for a six-hour layover. I had never been to the flat city before so we thought we’d take the bus into town. Easy. Although once at the airport it was pouring rain. And freezing cold. We ventured out anyway and headed for Prairie Sun Brewery, and a nice respite from the Saskatchewan chill.
After missing the bus and finally catching the correct one back to the airport, our flight took off and landed in Toronto just after midnight. We had several days of seeing parents and siblings and nieces and nephews and friends. We went to Milton and Waterloo and hit the west end of Toronto. We even had time to relax.
Then it was on to Nova Scotia. We were going for a special occasion – to surprise one of my sisters for her 40th birthday. I was so excited about the plan I almost texted her while I was waiting for my luggage to tell her I was home. Thankfully I didn’t and she was shocked (in a good way) when Jason and I showed up on the doorstep.
The next week in the Maritimes was filled with party planning, the 40th bash, visiting family, meeting a puppy, catching up with friends over coffee and showing off some of Nova Scotia’s best sights to my husband. Jason and I took a car trip to the French Shore and stopped at Annapolis Royal where Fort Anne sits. The site was established in 1629 and was traded back and forth between the English and French many times during the many wars between the two nations. Annapolis Royal is a lovely town but I don’t think I would have wanted to be a soldier posted there a couple of hundred years ago. Just like I wouldn’t have wanted to be stationed at the Habitation in Port Royal.
The Habitation was France’s first successful settlement in North America and was established in 1605. I had been to the Habitation years ago as a child and while the replica of the fort is the same as I remembered, there was a lot less activity then in the 80s. Actors used to bring the Habitation alive and fill it with soldiers and bakers and blacksmiths. I guess Parks Canada doesn’t have the money in the budget for that kind of stuff anymore. Despite this, the Habitation is still an impressive piece of history. Its drafty and damp rooms wouldn’t be a place I’d like to stay over the winter. The colonists only survived thanks to Mi’kmaq neighbours. (On a weird note, it was funny to watch some American tourists complaining about the reception for their mobile phones. Man, times have changed.)
With that in mind, unlike the Habitation settlers, Jason and I didn’t need to hunt and fish for our food. We only had to stop at a restaurant in Digby. My husband ate world-famous scallops and I had lobster quiche. Mmmmm. We also took a side trip to Bear River. I love this tiny place because some of the buildings are on silts. Bear River is also known as “The Switzerland of Nova Scotia” because it’s in a valley with hills on either side.
Next there was a stop at the Université Sainte-Anne where I went to French immersion in 1997. Sainte-Anne is a small francophone university made up of just over 500 students and the campus is on the Baie St. Marie. We walked around the ground and I found the residence I lived in way back when.
Surrounding the university are the Acadian fishing towns of Clare, Saulnierville and Meteghan –beautiful and unspoiled. It was nice to see all the Acadian flags on the lawns of people proud of their heritage. We would have gone further down the coast but we ran out of time. We will be back. One day.
Now we’ve returned to Calgary. At the fraying edge of summer. With my memories of a hot and humid July. There were many other things I saw and did on my trip but I’ll save them for another time. Today I’m happy I was able to re-visit history and people from my past and make a connection with them in the present. We have so much to look forward to.