From The Great Deportation to the present day, New Brunswick’s Acadian community has been remarkably resilient—and entrepreneurial

Posted on July 01, 2021 | By Isabelle Leger | 0 Comments

Co-owners Heather Wright and Sébastien Després (photo: Denis Duquette)

 

Sébastien Després opened a boat rental shop at the age of 16 in the small Acadian community of Cocagne, New Brunswick. He launched a sail instructing business a year later, because he noticed not many people in the town knew how to sail. Sales grew annually from there.

There were a few handfuls of people in the community, and each one owned a business. “It’s not until I traveled the entire world that I realized that was idiosyncratic,” said Després.

Entrepreneurial spirit was ingrained into Acadian culture early on. Between 1755 and 1763, 10,000 Acadians were deported from Nova Scotia and settled along the coastlines of Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island and northeastern New Brunswick. Many Acadian people grew up in small, rural communities because that’s where they were pushed centuries ago. Forced to be creative in making a living, they built careers primarily in the seafood, restaurant, construction, entertainment and tourism industries. 

They continue to dominate in those sectors today, but like their forebears they remain resilient, adapting to emerging technologies, social media and new ways of life (like a pandemic). 

Després moved to Newfoundland in 2004 for graduate school, receiving Master and PhD degrees as well as working as an Anthropology professor at Memorial University. He returned to New Brunswick in 2017.  He and his wife, Heather Wright, moved back to New Brunswick to raise their family and open a business that would serve the community all year, while also accommodating tourists and reflecting his Acadian roots. 

 

Bistro Le Monque-Tortue

 

“When I was a kid, I saw Shediac as the place where things happened in the summer, but in the winter things just died,” he said. 

A vibrant yellow house located seconds from Shediac’s famous giant lobster came on the market and he seized the opportunity to turn it into a bistro. The brightly coloured walls are now packed with board games, has a bar stocked with cocktail dressings and is called Le Moque-Tortue. 

“A boardgame bistro is a completely absurd thing,” said Després. Most businesses that incorporate games are in the form of a cafe or pub, but he wanted to attract a broader clientele. He said Le Moque-Tortue does get the board game gurus, but also sees the everyday family, the couple who wants a romantic night out and businesspeople out for lunch. 

The bistro serves traditional Acadian dishes, including Fricot (a type of stew), and cocktails proudly crafted in blue, white, red and yellow to represent his culture. “Our (Moscow) mule is named after the mule that bit off my grandfather’s ear,” said Després. The cocktail is named La Mule Cocagnaise.

The couple also opened a music school, escape rooms and bed and breakfast in the three and a half years since they moved back to New Brunswick. “Coming from an Acadian background, and a place like Cocagne, definitely gave me a great opportunity to learn to do business,” said Després.

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