In Shediac, New Brunswick, even the sidewalks and bridges are decorated with its famed crustaceans.
The Maritime travel bubble has opened this week and that means tourists from Nova Scotia,
Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland will be flocking to New Brunswick to explore its beaches, resorts, villages and nature parks – for the first time in months.
One delightful place to explore is the town of Shediac, just under a half-hour drive from Moncton or under three hours from Nova Scotia. The small town is known for its annual lobster festival (which has been cancelled this year due to COVID-19) and every-day seafood, warm beaches and quaint, multi-coloured village decorated with seaside kitsch, marine vintage and place history.
At the end of June, my husband and I took a weekend day-trip to Shediac, knowing it was a hot, sunny day, perfect for beach-lounging and patios. From morning until dusk, we stayed in town as tourists, curious to learn the lay of the land before spending time at the Aboiteau beach.
It wasn’t our first time in Shediac – perhaps our fourth time passing through – but it was our first time spending a full day there.
When you first enter Shediac, by crossing a little bridge over the Shediac harbour, one of the first things you see on the right is a Maritime classic roadside attraction – what has been described as “the largest lobster in the world.”
It sits proudly by the water’s edge, on a large grassy area near several colourful little buildings which house: a tourist information centre, a souvenir shop and washrooms. Flags fly right behind the large crustacean.
When we chanced upon it that weekend, a maintenance worker was touching up its paintwork.
But that isn’t the only place you will see lobsters in Shediac. There are lobsters shaped into the concrete blocks that line the edge of the bridge’s railing upon entrance. There are smaller lobsters printed onto the walkways when you cross at an intersection. And of course, there are lobsters on so many signs, fences and window dressings throughout the town. Even the souvenir shop has lobster-shaped bottle openers and spoon-rests and seafood-patterned shot glasses.
Another view you’ll notice as you enter Shediac is the little lobster-fishing scene displayed by mannequin figures on the side of the Shediac Lobster Shop just beside the bridge. In the scene, a woman waits at what appears to be a dock by a vintage car, while a handful of men work to lift lobsters up from a boat below. It is details like this that make Shediac a charming little seaside town that draws tourists from outside the province and inside the province alike.
Besides lobster and sea-themed design elements, Shediac also employs a lot of Acadian imagery into the visuals of the town. An Acadian flag is painted onto a boat prop affixed to one of the colourful buildings near the entrance to the town.
There is also an Acadian flag on a bench on a yard on the town’s main street and businesses with Chiac names. Chiac is a dialect of the Acadian French language which has some English and Indigenous influences. It is a type of French that includes many anglicisms woven into its sentences and expressions.
One such business name in Chiac is a bistro called “Worry Pas Ta Brain,” meaning “Don’t Worry Your Brain” to anglophones.
While walking down the main street of Shediac, you will notice many old buildings and houses that have been restored or repurposed into store fronts. The roofs of Shediac, in particular, are charming to behold.
A Bell Aliant store sits inside a historical building, for example, so the juxtaposition between the mundane normalcy of an enormous national telecom company’s signage and window displays along with the fortress-like look of a building that is over 100 years old attracted my attention.
Another old building on Shediac’s main street has imagery of a lady with a cat stamped into the brickwork and is dated as being from 1903. This now known as the Edna Cormier building, a local historic place. This building was constructed in the Trading House style after a fire destroyed what was originally the family retail and grocery store run by Edna Cormier’s parents Dina Léger-Cormier and Aimé Cormier since 1891.
Edna took over the family business around 1915. On top of running the store, she was an active business woman in the area, setting up a local co-op and Caisse Populaire, as well as participating in the town planning commission.
There are many historic buildings throughout Shediac, in particular on Main Street – this includes both commercial buildings and residences. Some businesses are actually housed in these old houses.
If, on your journey to Shediac, you want to stop for a bite to eat, the Bistro Le Moque-Tortue is a lovely spot. Wholly Alice-in-Wonderland themed, the lime green paint of the patio will draw you in, if not the eclectic mix of Motown, 60s pop and 2000s indie music, or the “curiouser and curiouser” Alice-type signs and decor.
The whimsical arrow board signs lead visitors to the side entrance door, past a colourfully-painted and mostly dilapidated piano. Guests can sit inside or outside. The interior has wall upon wall of floor-to-ceiling shelving holding various board games. From the vintage, to the obscure, to the very popular and contemporary – they almost certainly have your favourite game.
Not only does Moque-Tortue have cute and quirky decor and games (including an escape room during normal times), but it also has pretty delicious food, desserts and drinks – all with fun Alice-in-Wonderland theme names.
They also have vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free items marked clearly on the thick and detailed menu.
I first ordered a vegan black bean burrito called the Contrariwise Burrito and a cherry brandy and orange liqueur based cocktail called Sling Their Heads Off. I followed it up with The Sovereign’s Cosmopolitan and a dessert they, very Shiacly, call a “Coupe” of “Candés.” It is a lovely vintage dish filled with an assortment of candies. My husband ordered nachos and a local beer. We shared the candés and had to take more than half of it home in a to-go bag.
While our trip took place just as businesses were reopening after the pandemic, which meant the museums were not open, some businesses had shorter hours, or had a maximum capacity for entrance, we had a fun time in Shediac.
There is a lovely artisanal chocolate shop almost across the street from the bistro, and – of course – the beach was our final destination. Aboiteau has had less people on it than the nearby Parlee each time we went, which makes it somewhat quieter and a bit easier to catch a great plot of sand during peak hours. As the summer progresses and more businesses and the borders open, it will likely become pretty busy though.
We dipped our toes in the water and sunbathed for a few hours before heading back home, sleepy, sun-burnt and satisfied.
All photos credit: Courtney Edgar