Celebrate Atlantic Canada’s Carved by the Sea Culture
In Nova Scotia’s Shelburne County, it’s the lobster fishermen who are heroes — or at least they are at the annual Shelburne County Lobster Festival.
Visit in June and you could stumble upon an arena filled with 100 men and women battling it out in a faster, higher, stronger spectacle, competing at banding lobster claws, stacking lobster pots and coiling and splicing ropes. This is the annual Great Lobsterman’s Challenge — just one of the festival’s events. Outside, you’ll find the lobsters themselves competing for the title of Biggest Lobster of Shelburne County. And of course, expect to be invited to community lobster feasts with music and dancing late into the night.
In Atlantic Canada, life is shaped by the sea. The Shelburne County Lobster Festival, and others like it across the region, celebrate seafood and the hardy folk who harvest it. The ocean’s bounty — cod in particular — is what attracted European settlers to Atlantic Canada and in the centuries since, life here has always moved to the rhythm of the ocean.
In Nova Scotia, you’re never more than 40 miles from the ocean and communities have longed combined food with song, dance and storytelling. Nova Scotia — and the rest of Atlantic Canada — are known for their kitchen parties, named for the gravitational pull of food at social gatherings, whether it’s pickled herring in a German community in Lunenburg or a hearty Irish stew on the hearth on Cape Breton.
The French also settled in this area of the Atlantic and their descendants are especially concentrated in New Brunswick, Canada’s only officially bilingual province. The Acadians were French colonists who were expelled by the British between 1755 and 1762. Most of the displaced “Cadiens” (Cajuns) settled south in Louisiana, but thousands missed the north and gradually returned, most of them to New Brunswick, where a third of the population is Acadian.
Acadian cuisine is celebrated with signature dishes like chicken tricot (a chicken soup), poutine rapée (mashed potatoes with meat) and salted fish.
While the Cajuns have crawfish, the Acadians have lobster. It’s no surprise that New Brunswick’s Shediac Lobster Festival has an Acadian flavour mixed into its celebration of fun, food, friends and family. Every July, Shediac, the “Lobster Capital of the World,” hosts all-you-can eat lobster picnics, lobster-eating contests and lobster-themed parades. With a world record for the longest lobster roll and an infamous ‘long table dinner’ which serves over 1,000 lobsters, there’s no danger of going hungry. The festivities accompanying the Lobster include Acadian music nights, as well as Celtic and First Nations’ influenced events.
Another delicious season in the Acadian calendar is the oyster harvest, which begins in September and goes until the end of November. The freshest route to oysters is the Acadian Coastal Drive, a scenic route running north-south along the eastern coast of New Brunswick past beaches, fishing villages and picturesque coastal towns. And at every stop of the way, you’ll encounter oysters and Acadian delicacies.
Prince Edward Island
On Prince Edward Island, or P.E.I., the lobster trap challenge is an example of how people celebrate the lobster harvest. Dozens of competitors run across a string of lobster traps, trying not to fall into the water. The traps are a symbol of P.E.I.’s deep connection to lobster fishing. For generations, if a fisherman wasn’t out on the water hauling lobsters, he was on land building traps. The event is part of the Summerside Lobster Festival at the end of July, which is full of challenges from sand castle building to cook-offs. And of course, lots of lobster.
As September rolls around, the International Shellfish Festival in Charlottetown brings music, mussels, oysters and the much anticipated live oyster shucking competitions. And as Autumn sets in, the Fall Flavours festival marks a province-wide celebration of culinary wonders. There’s everything from smoking and pickling workshops to oyster tonging and fine dining courtesy of top chefs.
The festival celebrates the island known as the, ‘Garden of the Gulf.” Take the combination of rich soil perfect for producing fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products and waters teeming with fish, lobster, oysters, and other shellfish and then combine it with the relative isolation from the mainland and you have a food scene with its own unique flavours.
Chef Michael Smith, who has been an international ambassador for P.E.I.’s food scene, is thrilled about P.E.I.’s move towards foraged ingredients, which has a rich tradition in P.E.I. and the elsewhere in Canada.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Chefs in Newfoundland and Labrador are also championing food foraging. The province has a history of humble cuisine built around transforming what you find around you.
The traditions that are inspiring them are celebrated at festivals like the Songs, Stages and Seafood Festival in Bay Roberts in mid-June, or the province’s biggest folk celebration, the Fish Fun & Folk Festival in Twillingate in late July. Here fishing is a skill passed from father to son that represents independence and a connection with the sea. Both festivals link present and past — when two-masted schooners used to to bring in the day’s catch alongside small wooden oats — through music, traditional dance, and community banquets.
The province’s coast also lies on the path of hundreds of icebergs that flow down from the Greenland icecap. The Titanic struck one here a century ago. Today, folks here have incorporated icebergs into culinary culture in the form of iceberg beer. The icebergs formed 10,000 to 50,000 years ago so the water inside is some of the purest on earth with no detectable mineral content. The brewmasters at Quidi Vidi Brewery, near St. John’s, discovered this makes very refreshing beer.
A pint of iceberg beer is a must at the Iceberg Festival in St. Anthony in June, which celebrates spring and the annual arrival of icebergs. The festival weaves together everything from wild Vikings history to foot-stomping Celtic music with visits in zodiacs out to the icebergs. It’s all topped off with by fresh seafood and re-creations of Viking feasts.