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The Supper Hour Slips By In Polite New Brunswick

By John Gould / December 8, 1995



Each season the picture province of New Brunswick spends heavy wampum with our Maine television stations to entice us Yankees to bring our wallets and have a wonderful vacation. Truly, this is a sound plan, and we have had many a merry moment there. But the suggestion that we outlanders can make a huge profit on the currency exchange is too absurd to bear such repetition.

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I suggest a place for a visitor to start is Grand Falls, where the St. John River makes a gigantic leap from the State of Maine and becomes Canadian. A few miles down the river from Grand Falls, on the Trans Canada Highway east, the tourist may take pictures of, and cross on, the longest covered bridge in the world. It is a most spectacular antiquity, carpentered adroitly, and seems to be kept in condition more for exhibition than traffic.

To me, it is culturally significant only because a few miles upstream, nearer Grand Falls, a visitor may look upon the competitive ''shortest covered bridge in the world!'' This one crosses a damp place, in comparison, and in a passing automobile the driver is safely across before his rear-seat passengers have arrived.

The proprietor of the motel Pres du Lac thought up this whimsy, and we usually bide there to thank him for it. There was a memorable afternoon when he had no room for us, since he had neglected to ask if we were coming, and not wishing to inconvenience a convention of 800 people we went along and found accommodations at another place. There we had one of our finest travel adventures.

As we checked in, being welcomed by an English-speaking but well dressed young man, I asked him if the establishment had a dining room, and he assured me that we could have supper and breakfast and would find the food to our taste. We settled in, and making allowance for Atlantic Time we entered the dining room at the proper hour, where the same young man told us the supper hour had ended and he was deeply grieved.

Irked, I asked how he related this denial to the jolly come-ons of the provincial tub thumpers as seen on TV. He said they sometimes made sandwiches that guests could take to their units, and if this would be our desire, he would inquire if the kitchen had chicken or turkey. Or, he said, we could order from the breakfast menu.

I remember asking, from the bodily weakness of famishment, what that meant, and he said, ''After supper hour we go to the breakfast menu.'' Translated from New Brunswick English, this means we could go into the dining room at supper time and could not have supper, but we could have breakfast.

''What are we going to have for breakfast this evening?'' I asked.

''Whatever you wish,'' he said.

Whereupon I spoke in this fashion: ''How about porridge, toast, two fried eggs slightly over, and a slice of ham with home-fried potatoes?''

So we were ready for beddie-bye, well fed but no supper, and I wondered a little what we'd have for dinner in the morning.

Before we left the dining room, four people came in, laughing and jollying, and speaking French. They knew no English. When the young man tried to tell them the supper hour was over, they shook their heads. They were two couples, and as I tried to explain to them what the young man was saying, I got the news that the young couple was a new bride and her husband of a day, and the older two were her father and mother.

The happy pair was driving to British Columbia in their new automobile, and the bride's parents had come along for the ride. They were from the islands of the Madeleine. Coming off the boat at Sidney, they had picked up their new automobile and had driven this far, and now they were hungry. Learning they could get no supper, they were dismayed; I didn't have an easy time telling them not to fret and that they could have breakfast if they liked.

There are a few places I have wished to visit and haven't. And the isles of the Madeleine would be on the list. They're a haven for displaced Nova Scotian Acadians in ''The Grand Dispersement''; the descendants of those people have lived in detachment under the sign of the fishhook, being as Canadian as the Hudson's Bay Company but disconnected and aloof. Politically, the islands are a part of the Gaspe, but socially and economically they have Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Anticosti, and perhaps New Brunswick as distant neighbors.

Jacques Cartier found the 16 island in the early 1500s and named them Les Ramees. The isles number 16, a historian tells us, because an early owner of the group was one Briton, and his wife Madeleine had 16 children. None of the islands is named for a child, because they were named earlier by Cartier.

I own a book called ''The St. Lawrence River and Her Islands,'' written by Damase Potvin in French and published in Quebec City in 1945, which tells enough about the islands to cause me to want to see them.

The next morning we came to have our real breakfast, and the folks from the Madeleine Islands had already eaten and were waiting to say adieu. The father was wearing a flashy cravat with a gold stickpin in the form of a fishhook. He said he hoped we would come next summer to visit Les Isles de la Madeleine at Havre Aubert, where he had his business, and his new son-in-law would be the manager. They had a large house and plenty of room for us.