Our inn has had a long and interesting history and to get a sense of it you need to know a little about Acadian history and Bouctouche itself. We are located in the heart of Acadia where as much as 80% of the population is French speaking. The Acadian people have an amazing story to tell, one not well known by much of English-speaking Canada or the world. The earliest French presence was in 1604, four years before the founding of Quebec City. . A sad and neglected part of our country’s past is the fact that between six and twelve thousand Acadians were forcibly deported from our shores in 1755. Ironically, it took a poem called “Evangeline” written in 1847 by an American named H. W. Longfellow to help renew interest and pride in things Acadian. Since then, the Acadian people have struggled hard to re-establish their culture, language and pride in themselves and in Acadia. A local Bouctouche attraction called “Le Pays de la Sagouine,” the title taken from a character in a book by Antonine Maillet, tells a better story of the Acadian people through theatre and song, than words can ever tell. It is a must to see. It’s a source of pride for us that Mme. Maillet was one of the previous owners of the auberge.
Much of the history of Bouctouche is there to be discovered in the old parish cemetery just next door to the inn. The name Bouctouche is a Micmac word that might have originally been spelled ‘Chebootoosk.’ Translated it means something like un grand petit havre, or a big-little harbour or sanctuary. On May 15, 1786 four couples from the families of Le Blanc, Breau, Bastarache and Girouard, names still common in the area, set off from further down the coast to form a new settlement in Bouctouche. In 1763 it is reported that only four or five families were living on the site where our Auberge is now located, although before this time many First Nations’ people lived here. Later the site on which the inn now stands was named “La pointe à Jacquot”, after Jacques Cormier, nick-named Jacquot, who had arrived in Bouctouche in 1790, and who donated the land to the church. Even In 1796 Bouctouche itself had only eleven families but no priest or church for the ‘petit peuple.’
The name of Father François-Xavier Joseph Michaud, who was the parish priest in Bouctouche from 1876-1903, is an important part of the story of our inn . He arrived as parish priest in Bouctouche on December 17, 1876 and boarded that night with a parishioner. He went to his first service on snowshoes after a violent winter storm, only to find ten men and one woman in attendance. It is hard to know what depressed him more, the weather, the attendance or the terrible condition in which he found the church and the Presbytère. He described them as assez abandonné (more or less abandoned). He didn’t bemoan for long but quickly got to work. Père Michaud was not only interested in his church and the Presbytère (rectory) since much of his work was that of a social worker as well as priest. He set as his goal to help Bouctouche as a whole to develop socially and economically as well as spiritually.
Even in 1870s he realized that long lasting development begins with the girls and young women so he opened a maison d’education (school) in a new Couvent de L’Immaculée Conception (Convent of the Immaculate Conception) for girls which he had built across the road from the Presbytère. The land was donated by a Marguerite Michaud who later became Soeur (sister) Marie Hélène. The running of the Convent school was put into the capable hands of the reverend mother M. Frances who along with reverend mother Vincent had founded L’institut des soeurs de la charité in Saint John, NB in 1864. The convent school was the only French language school available to Acadians in the area from 180 until it was closed in 1968. You can still visit the convent school building which is now known as le musée du Kent (Kent County Museum), across the road from our inn.
Father Michaud raised money through pew rent often given in the form of grains. A terrible cyclone in 1878 destroyed 146 houses, the convent, the Presbytère and perhaps worst of all, the barns storing all of the grain were swept out into Bouctouche Bay. A phrase that is often repeated in the history of the Auberge is that “everything was swept into the sea.” The modern-day visitor will sometimes get a taste of such winds around the inn. Father Michaud also founded Les sociétés des enfants de Marie et de Joseph, a model farm, a butter and cheese factory, a flour and wood mill and a general store.
Father Michaud’s troubles were far from over. In 1886 lightning struck the church and burned it to the ground. It was rebuilt only to be destroyed again this time by fire on December 18, 1921. This picture was taken just about 1905/6 before the fire. The inn can be seen on the far right of the picture and the convent school on the far left. After this second loss the parish had a difficult decision to make. The convent, church, priest’s residence and the cemetery had been the centre of the village life, even though the village was located some 2 kilometres away. Family members were all there in the cemetery and many didn’t want to “abandon” them. Others argued that the spot was subject to very severe climate and attending services was becoming more difficult. Finally the parishioners made the difficult decision to to rebuild the the church and priest’s residence in a calmer spot in the village. So, what now was to be done with the ancien or vieux (former) Presbytère?
Auberge le Vieux Presbytère
The fire which destroyed the parish Church on Pointe à Jacquot in 1921 brought many changes to the area. Gradually the activities of the parish and of its priest shifted to the town as well. Obviously a new mission was needed for what then became known as the vieux Presbytère (former rectory/manse). In June of 1929 two retreats took place which were the first of their kind to be held in the diocese of Saint Jean. It was a new idea. Both retreats were led by (prêchées par) Jesuit priests and were open only to professionals. The retreats were so successful that Mgr Henri Cormier, the genius behind the idea of retreats in Acadia, and the parish priest at the time Mgr Philippe Hébert, decided that larger facilities were needed at the Presbytère. In 1930 a 52-foot wing was constructed to allow for 28 retreat attendees. A crucifix was added to the yard. Of late that crucifix has been donated to the new cemetery of Bouctouche, inaugurated in 2004. In 1944 a second wing was built, this one with a cafeteria and chapel. The whole place was renovated and brought up to date. Now 43 bedrooms (small monastic cells) were available and the Presbytère began hosting retreats in earnest.
On January 11, 1948, La Villa St-Joseph was inaugurated as La Maison de Retraites Fermées diocésaine (the diocesan house for cloistered retreats). Between 1948 and 1953 it is reported that over 12,000 people attended such retreats at our inn. In 1969 the need for such facilities was diminishing and the diocese decided to sell the vieux Presbytère. Our Auberge was then converted into a seniors’ residence for the elderly and for mentally challenged younger people. A sprinkler system and an elevator were installed. This residence continued its operation, first as a privately run nursing home, 1969-1978, and then as a government institution until 1986. At that time everything of value was stripped from the building, the electricity and heat were turned off and for the next five years the building laid abandoned. In 1991 a group of townspeople, not wanting the heritage building to be lost, bought the property. With the help of government funding and private resources major renovations were made. On May 1, 1993 the Auberge Le Vieux Presbytère was officially opened for guests. Among its distinguished guests have been the President of France, Jacques Chirac, The Governors General, Roméo LeBlanc and Michaëlle Jean, Antonine Maillet and our former ambassador to the U.S.A., Frank McKenna.
The inn was sold once again in May 2005 to
Ann Vickers and Raymond Drennan,
who have made the inn and Bouctouche their home.