Let’s step back in time to the final days of New France. The Seven Years’ War was raging and the French colony was threatened by British troops. Then, in 1760, New France became a thing of the past. The colossus with feet of clay collapsed like an undermined cliff, confirming the numerical and military history of the British.
As new groups of people arrived from both sides of the Atlantic, the Gaspé became the adopted land of some, with others returning here once tensions had calmed. In the wake of the British Conquest, an English-speaking population also settled in our part of the country, giving rise to a pluriculturalism that existed nowhere else in Québec at that time.
Drawn by the peninsula’s fish-filled waters, these new arrivals appreciated the area and soon Mi’gmaq, English, Channel Islanders, Basques, French Canadians, Acadians, Loyalists, Scots and Irish were settling side by side along the coves, bays and salt marshes. And with time, a cultural mosaic was formed, the ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity contributing to the peninsula’s unique social wealth.
These differences, so tangible just after the Conquest because of the dominant roles played by the recent victors and religious barriers, were often accentuated by the geographic isolation. Moreover, communication channels between one village and the next, and even between areas of the same village could be difficult when several ethnic groups inhabited the same area.
For instance, Boulevard Perron, which ultimately became Highway 132, wasn’t finished until 1929 and it wasn’t paved before the second half of the 20th century. People travelled by sea, which tended to increase isolation along the coast. During the winter, no-one travelled much, which further limited contacts between communities and even between people within a given ethnic group. But over time, the barriers between communities living within the same village fell. The inevitable racial mixing naturally brought communities closer together.
Over the years, each ethnic group has woven its essence into the peninsula’s evolving socio-economic and cultural fabric. What each different community has brought to the Gaspé is still evident here. Despite today’s very marked trend towards increased uniformity in language and culture, each village’s own particular accent is still very much alive. As you stop along the way in Paspébiac, New Carlisle and Bonaventure, you’ll see the pride their residents take in conserving their specific cultural characteristics. And you’ll instantly notice the individual accents, rooted in the Jersey Island, Basque, Loyalist, English and Acadian origins of the speakers.
The people of Paspébiac, whose ancestors arrived here from Basque Country, France, Normandy and Jersey Island, are known for their unique accent, intimately tied to their roots. They’ve maintained this atypical accent, and their language is enlivened by the addition of terroir words and of expressions closely connected to the sea. The buildings clearly show the Channel Island influence in this area. A quick glance is enough to spot clapboard siding on fishery buildings and houses, the transoms over the doors, and such decorative elements as bull’s eye windows, octagonal porch posts and elaborate millwork.
As for the Acadians, their language is closely tied to their identity. Originally from central-western France, the Acadians who live along Chaleur Bay’s north shore speak with an accent that’s different from that of their fellow Acadians in New Brunswick. In fact, there are several different Acadian accents. The French spoken by Acadians here is sprinkled with expressions uniquely their own and features its own vocabulary. Each region has developed its own accent, often maintaining old words that were used in France at the time the first colonists left to settle in Acadia in the early 16th century.
The architectural influence of Acadian ancestors along in the Chaleur Bay area comes primarily from what is now Atlantic Canada, which speaks of the close ties with the Maritimes that existed at a certain time in the past. This influence is illustrated in a number of ways, including by the use of cedar shakes. The architecture is modest and uncluttered. The buildings are sober, but ever-so typical and evocative of their history. This is particularly evident in Bonaventure and Carleton-sur-Mer.
English-speaking Loyalists settled on the Gaspé Peninsula after the American War of Independence (1776-1783), and in turn, also influenced the architectural heritage. They brought with them the colonial architectural style, very popular in New England in the 18th century; there are fine examples in Cascapédia-St-Jules, New Richmond, New Carlisle and Paspébiac.