We drove back to Church Point, to the Université Sainte-Anne and took refuge in the canteen of the newly built Cultural and Interpretive Centre. They had great coffee and the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls was in the air. Shortly after arriving, we met Elaine LeBlanc who amazingly introduced herself (among other things) as the genealogist, archivist and secretary for the Centre acadien de l'Université Sainte-Anne. Elaine was energetic, funny and told us immediately that she was unfazed in front or behind a camera. She told us an amusing story of how during meetings and other events she would invariably use her deep, commanding voice to gain control of the room, regardless of its size.
Elaine took us upstairs to her office and study area, then to a research library and, finally, to the vault. The Centre's mandate is to acquire and preserve all information pertaining to the history and culture of the Acadians, especially those in Nova Scotia. We looked at many resources including the remarkable Catalogue of Families of Saint Mary's Bay of 1818-1829 and an original Fabric register dating to 1799. There were family files, publications, scrapbooks, Church Registers, charts for Acadian families and a large library of Acadian history.
Afterwards, we were extremely fortunate to meet Nicole Boudreau who offered to take us through the Acadian Exhibit Halls and explain some of the interesting stories of the area. She was fantastic and didn't disappoint. In particular, there were two stories that she told us that were utterly fascinating. First was the story of Celestin Trahan, or Cy for short, who during the late 1880s and in his forties was believed to be possessed by the Devil. His powers included the ability to shape shift into the form of animals, including a bear, a white horse and a large black dog. He apparently traveled across the bay on a piece of bark that would float just above the water. Using this means of transportation, he was able to attend dances in Boston and throughout the province. He would also amuse himself by watching people leave towards the Digby Neck only to appear waiting for them when they arrived. As the story goes, seven years after receiving these strange powers, he was exorcised by a local priest. With the final blessing of a priest he spit from his body a lizard that scurried away and escaped capture. He returned to normal after.
Another story Nicole told us was that of mysterious stranger who in 1863 was found washed up on the shore of Sandy Cove, his legs surgically amputated above the knees and with only a small ration of ships biscuits. He would eventually be identified as an Italian who spoke some French but he offered no explanations about his life or how he ended up on the shore. While this story is mysterious, I think it illustrates the generosity and compassion of those Acadians who invited this man, known only as Jérôme, to spend the rest of his life under their care.
I bought Nicole's book, "The Strength of a People: Acadian history in general terms" for more of these wonderful stories from the area. She graciously signed it for me before arranging a tour of St. Mary's Church and suggesting that we see another beautiful church, St. Bernard Church in Saint Bernard, and the oldest Acadian cemetery, in Major Point.
While St. Mary's Church is striking from the outside, the inside is utterly breathtaking. It was built over two years, from 1903 to 1905 by over 1500 volunteers. The master carpenter, Léo Melanson, could neither read nor write but designed the church from blueprints of a stone church from the parish priest's native hometown in France. A French Canadian artist named Louis St. Hilaire painted the religious motifs on the ceiling but was so afraid of heights it is said that he would consume an entire bottle of wine to build his nerve before starting his work on the 63 ft ceiling. I couldn't imagine passing through the area without seeing this amazing church.
Our last two remaining stops for the area began in St. Bernard at the Saint Bernard Church. This church was made of Shelburne granite and constructed between 1910 and 1942 by local residents. After filming the exterior of this massive church we continued down the shore to Major Point, to locate the site of the oldest Acadian graveyard. It was a nice spot, no more than a dozen wooden crosses and miniature church surround by a white picket fence. The rain had finally stopped although the sky was now darkly overcast. We walked around the area, to the ocean where the waves crashed furiously generating a salty mist.
With the filming finished, we were finished for the day and exhausted. Susan drove to Annapolis Royal where we were planning to spend the next three nights at the historic Hillsdale House Inn. It was exciting to think that although we had visited so many cool places, only the first of the three archives were finished and there was still much to do in the Annapolis Valley.