Do you know that if you plan on digging clams, your chances of finding them improve at low tide–just as the tide starts to turn? And here’s a tidbit for you to chew on: clams are spooked by thunder and lightning. Yup. It’s true. So you’ll likely not have much luck digging a mess of clams for supper as they head for the centre of the earth if there’s even a trace of thunder.
My sister Carmen and I learned this while on a clam digging expedition with Andrew Weaver at Belliveau Cove. Two other groups joined us—a family from Toronto, and two couples from Florida.
After Andrew handed each one of us a bucket and small shovel, we proceeded to dig and dig and dig our way over the flats. Looking at the small number of clams in our buckets, Carmen said, “Better not give up your day jobs.”
But we did learn a lot about clams. To wit: there are four kinds of clams in Southwest Nova Scotia: soft shelled clams known as “steamers”—the kind we usually get in restaurants, Razor clams, bar clams (also called Quahogs), and Cherrystone clams. The first three are shown here. We also learned how to sneak up on them. Well, not really. But there are tell-tale signs like depressions the size of your thumb, and, sometimes holes the size of a pencil although those holes can also be caused by big sea worms.
Stretching around 44 km along Route 1 from Salmon River up to St. Bernard, this region, a.k.a the “French shore,” includes several Acadian villages and is said to be the longest Main Street in the world. For sure it is distinct.
Besides the clam digging expedition led by Andrew on Tuesday afternoons, the region is starting to come up with other great experiences, including one called “Stella Night Walk.”
We met our guide Paul Lalonde and a young couple visiting here from the Netherlands at Église Sainte-Marie at 9:30 p.m. After brief intro’s, we lathered up with bug spray (it can be mosquito heaven here, so bring the heavy duty stuff) then set out for a stroll through part of Le Petit Bois—a unique series of trails in the forest behind the church and college. Alas, I didn’t have my tripod, so taking decent photos in the dark in the forest was a bust. The one of the church was taken earlier, but I’m returning for a day trip in a few days and will have more details (and photos) about Le Petit Bois.
For starters, it was a clear night and there were masses of fireflies. I felt as if I was in the midst of millions of dancing green fairies–all on steroids.
The other goosebumpy part of the evening was Paul’s talk. During the tour we stopped every 10 minutes or so, and he gave us insights about forest life at night, the origin of the Acadian flag (and the symbolism of the star and the word “Stella.”) We discussed the effects of light pollution, our own relationship between light and dark, why red lights (on flashlight or headlamps) are better at night than white lights—ad infinitum. You’ll note that I’m not giving any detail here … but if you live anywhere within driving distance of Church Point, all I can say is GO! Take the tour!
About mid-way in our walk, we paused along the shore to do some stargazing and Paul helped us identify several constellations. At one point Carmen let out an orgasmic “Oooooohhhhhh,” followed by, “I just saw the most spectacular falling star!” The rest of us were gawking at Ursa Major (Great Bear) trying to see more than the Big Dipper … and missed it.
Interestingly, our eyes adjusted to the dark very quickly and we didn’t need the flashlights Paul provided until the last 10 minutes of the walk through a dense part of the forest.
The couple from the Netherlands summed up the night’s experience in one Dutch word—“Gezellig.” It’s one of those indescribable words that means every thing from cozy and wonderful to fun, special, heart-warming … you get the picture. Carmen and I agreed: it was gezellig.
In between clam digging and the night walk, we had dinner at La Cuisine Robicheau in Saulnierville. I ordered Seafood Lasagne; Carmen ordered Haddock with Lobster Sauce. Although the Caesar’s Salad that came with mine had a little too much dressing for my liking, both seafood dishes were superb. We were too stuffed to order desert but as soon as we heard there was Coconut Cream Pie we caved in. It’s the best I’ve ever eaten, bar none.
By the time we hunkered down at Château Sainte-Marie it was after midnight and we were tuckered out. But what a property! Originally built in 1920, it’s a grand old dame with good bones standing on the shores of Baie Saint-Marie in Little Brook. (The sunset view from the back deck is priceless.)
Our hosts Chris Mazeroll and Gina Park produced a breakfast that included lots of fresh fruit, yoghurt, homemade bread, and an omelette made with Gouda cheese that could have fed four. We were well fortified for the day ahead.
First stop: Rendezvous de la Baie. I’ve visited the Acadian Interpretive Centre here at least three times since it opened back in 2010, yet, having a guided tour with centre manager Denis Comeau put a completely different spin on the experience. It’s one thing to read interpretive panels about the Acadians; it’s another thing to be privy to insights and stories from someone who’s part of the culture. I’m still digesting the information.
One of many things I appreciate about the centre is that it doesn’t focus on the Deportation. Rather, it’s about what gives Clare a heart and pulse—her people. It’s about roots, language, music, lifestyle, fishing, faith, boat building, the arts … and more. It’s about celebrating characters and community. With every visit I get a deeper understanding of what it means to be Acadian … and I like to think that a little of their spirit rubs off on me.
But there’s more. I had known for some time that there was a body of water in Clare called Margo Lake. As our daughter’s name is Margo, I wanted to see it. But it’s not visible from any road nor is there public access. But Denis knew a chap who owned property on the lake, got permission to drive through the gate, and took us there.
First, the three of us drove inland to an actual place called Margo. It was a village where families spent the winter to work in the lumber camps; some cabins are still standing. Then we found the right road (gated, which the owner had left open for us) drove until we couldn’t drive any further, walked a short piece through the woods and there she was: Margo Lake. I’d love to know more about the “Margo” whom the lake was named after!
Sure enough, a young man was selling not only ice cream, but also packages of his dad’s smoked herring: a dozen for $6 bucks. “Is there a special way to prepare it?” I ask.
“Just peel the skins off and they are ready to eat. Goes good with a beer or two,” he replies. We bought a couple packages then asked if we could visit his dad and his smokehouse. In lickity split time I was lined up to meet Ambroise Comeau down in Saulnierville.
But first, we stopped for rappie pie at Evelinas’ en route in Little Brook where we were able to get samples of all three kinds of rappie pie that’s made here: chicken, beef, and bar clams.
Now you have to understand that both Carmen and I make a rappie pie that’s “some good.” (Remember Day 3 making râpure with the puffins?) So it’s tough finding rappie pie in a restaurant that’s as good as ours. Evelina’s was an exception. Why? The râpure here is not only loaded with meat, it’s also flavourful. There’s also a nice freezer section with take-out items. Before leaving, I bought a meat pie to heat up for supper. The next time I come, I’ll try fish cakes.
Next: a quick stop to visit Ambroise. He built his own smokehouse by making a 4-ft. square high and wide cement casing in the ground, on top of which he built an 8-ft. high square wooden smokehouse with vents in the roof.
He buys filleted fish from a local plant, hooks them on square wooden bars and installs them in the smokehouse by stacking them parallel, one above the other. He then fills the cement thing with 2 ft. of sawdust (made from hardwood) that he gets at a local mill, makes a hole in the middle of the sawdust, builds a fire, and leaves the fish in there two days to smoke. Voila! You simply skin them and eat “as is.”
En route home, when we passed through Meteghan River I couldn’t resist turning inland to show Carmen my newly-found waterfalls, la montagne, and swimming hole that Barrie and I discovered on Day 10.
We stripped, waded in and said “Ahhh.”
ps: To find out more about the experiences available in Clare, click here.
pps: The next post covers two hours, not two days. Expect something short for a change.
ppps: Darling daughter, this one’s for you: