Petitcodiac by Zéro Degré Celsius
When Moncton-based band Zéro Degré Celsius first hit the scene in the early 90s, playing “organic charcoal rock” and incorporating pieces of local folklore into their music, they raised eyebrows, including those of international cultural activist, poet and singer-songwriter Zachary Richard, who ended up releasing a cover of the band’s song “Petitcodiac” on his hit album “Cap Enragé”.
The song, which bears the name of a river that has fascinated people for centuries with its tidal phenomenon, offers up a barrage of mostly aboriginal place names, which are what most non-Native New Brunswickers know of the language that was spoken here before the first European settlers arrived. Their meanings are a record of what the original inhabitants of the land found significant; and today, there are more indigenous names used for rivers, towns and places in New Brunswick than in any of the other Atlantic Provinces.
Petitcodiac (or “Epetkutogoyek”) means “the river that bends like a bow” in deference to its sharp change in direction from north to south-west. Now stop and think about that for a second. How lucky are we to be able to see in a name what the original inhabitants of the land saw with their eyes all those years ago? These geographical descriptors give us a peek into the past and serve as powerful symbols that connect us with landscapes and places across our province, from Memramcook to Caraquet, Kedgewick to Kouchibouguac, and Nackawic to Shediac.
Shediac. Yes, you read that right.
The Mi’kmaq encampment of “Esedeiik” was a major camp in present-day Shediac. “Esedeiik”, which means “running far in” (in reference to the tide, which has a long range over the shallow, sandy beaches of southeastern New Brunswick), was eventually changed to “Gedaique” (French pronunciation) and ultimately Shediac. The oldest map on which a variation of the name Shediac appears is that of a French cartographer who mapped the whole area along Shediac Bay as “Chediac” in 1685.
Before I go any further, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the following in my blog article. Sadly, our history with respect to the treatment of Aboriginal people is not something in which Canada can take pride. The government’s commitment to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples is a necessary step in the right the direction. While we can’t change the past, we can choose what we live with in the present, and what we pass on to future generations to learn from, to marvel at and enjoy.
According to John Edward Belliveau, author of Running Far In – The Story of Shediac, “everything seems to have happened first in Shediac, a community which has been home to an extraordinary number of New Brunswick leaders, both English and French. It is unique in that the place was settled simultaneously by both of Canada’s founding peoples, and they have lived comfortably together ever since. Neither has questioned the other’s right to develop its own culture, speak its own language and practise its preferred religious faith. No community in Canada is more truly bilingual and bicultural, and its social, commercial and cultural history is almost a New Brunswick in miniature. All of the characteristics which created the province’s civil, governmental, religious and educational development were present in Shediac’s make-up.”
Indeed, Shediac is a unique place. Its history is full of “firsts”, with the town being intimately linked to the early stages of all forms of public transportation: the first public road in New Brunswick was built at Shediac Cape; the first operating passenger railroad in the Maritimes was established in Shediac and the first commercial and passenger traffic via water went from Shediac to the St. Lawrence. And in 1933, Shediac had its moment of glory in aviation history when General Italo Balbo, the Minister of Aviation for Italy, sent by way of Shediac 25 Isotta-Marchetti-powered flying boats from Ortobello, near Rome, to the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. Around the globe, newspaper headlines put Shediac on a pedestal.
But what eventually put the town permanently on the world map was… well… its lobster.
Shediac is most famous around the world for its lobster, with thousands of visitors flocking to Shediac annually to get a taste of one of the most sought-after seafood in the world and to have their picture taken with the Giant Lobster that serves as a focal point at the town’s entrance. The Giant Lobster is hands down one of New Brunswick’s best-known landmarks and most photographed attractions. The sculpture has appeared in national TV advertising and hit television shows such as Amazing Race Canada, thus confirming the town’s claim to fame as “The Lobster Capital of the World”.
The first mention of the word “lobster” appears in the Maritimes Archives as far back as 1578. Three centuries later, William Blizzard, a pioneer in the lobster processing industry and resident of Shediac, opened a lobster-processing plant in Shediac, selling lobster on the open market. He is considered an innovator in the processing of lobster in New Brunswick.
Another Shediac native whose name is synonymous with the lobster industry in the 20th century is Émile Paturel. The Paturel name was closely linked to lobster for over fifty years in Canada, the United States and Europe. Shediac took advantage of this abundant natural resource and in 1949 the municipality staged its very first annual Shediac Lobster Festival, making it one of the oldest festivals in New Brunswick. Over the years, the festival has attracted people of prominence, including one of the greatest hockey players of all time, Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, who was awarded the Order of Canada.