La Vieille Maison, the Acadian ‘old house,’ is finalist in National historic preservation contest

La Vieille Maison, the Acadian ‘old house,’ is finalist in National historic preservation contest

With its bright blue front door and vibrant Acadian flag adorning the roof, La Vieille Maison in Meteghan is hard to miss.

Volunteers working to save it hope they don’t miss the chance to win a competition that would ensure its preservation.

La Vieille Maison (‘the old house’, but some also use it as ‘Vielle’) is one of 10 finalists in the National Trust for Canada’s Next Great Save online contest, where the winner with the most online votes is 50,000 receives US dollars.

Daily voting opened on January 20th and will run until February 22nd. The house is currently in second place.

Considered the best-preserved example of post-exile Acadian dwelling in Canada, La Vieille Maison dates from 1796.

“An Important Story in the History of Nova Scotia and Canada”

In a recent media release, the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia called La Vieille Maison “a fine example of the homes built by Acadians upon their return to Nova Scotia after the Displacement/Le Grand Dérangment”.

Aside from being the only entry from Nova Scotia to make the final, it is the oldest building and the only Acadian site in the running.

“Its preservation for public access will help tell an important story in the history of Nova Scotia and Canada,” wrote Emma Lang, executive director of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, encouraging Nova Scotians to vote for the home.

Members of the non-profit association, which is committed to the preservation and future operation of the house, are also asking for support. La Société Vieille Maison calls on fellow Nova Scotians, the Acadian diaspora, and others interested in Acadian history to help bring them to the fore.

In an interview that frequently alternated between English and French, the society’s secretary encouraged people to take 30 seconds to log in once a day to vote for them.

“Right now in Clare we will lose two of our largest structures. One of them is even the largest in North America,” said Dan Robichaud.

Dan Robichaud. Credit: contributed

Robichaud was referring to the closure of the historic stone Church of St. Bernard in 2022 and a recent decision that will likely result in the demolition of the Église Sainte-Marie at Church Point. This building is the largest wooden church in North America.

“Part of the reason we’re losing these is because they cost tens of millions of dollars to save and tens of millions of dollars for future generations to save,” Robichaud said.

“This house costs about $25,000 to save, and by God if we can’t afford that, I just don’t know.”

Where the community took their antiques

The timing of a $50,000 windfall couldn’t be better for La Vieille Maison.

Tens of thousands of people are expected in Nova Scotia next year as the province hosts the Congrès mondial acadien, an international Acadian gathering held every five years.

Although it has been closed for 22 years, the most historically important pieces in the house – some of which came back with the Acadians returning to the region from exile – are undamaged.

With the exception of a few pieces, most of the collection is stored externally. Robichaud said their goal is to repair the house and get the museum up and running ahead of next year’s celebrations.

“There are many objects in the collection whose history predates the museum,” said Robichaud. “The whole point was that it was where the community could take their antiques.”

La Vieille Maison’s repair is estimated to cost between $22,000 and $25,000 for the cedar shingles required. The organization also needs to repair some windows and replace some of the sashes.

“Greatest chapter in Acadian history no one has heard of”

The house has a fascinating and rich history that goes beyond its age and construction.

In 1958, world-renowned Boston dancer and choreographer Adolphe Robicheau and his partner Arthur Vaillancourt turned it into a museum for early Acadian resettlers.

In a blurb about the house on its website, the National Trust for Canada states:

The museum was the heart project of Adolphe Robicheau (1906-1978), a Canadian-born, famous Boston ballet teacher and member of the LGBTQIA+ community. While his flamboyance could have avoided him in many places, it was here that he spent his summers producing plays and working on his museum, which he curated with partner Arthur Vaillancourt.

“They spent their summers in Clare. And it was Adolphe and Arthur. And everyone knew it. It was the open secret in the village and no one cared about it and they were accepted,” Robichaud said.

“Adolphe Robicheau is that boy from Meteghan. At the beginning of the 20th century he moves to Boston. Becomes a famous ballet dancer. But he always stayed connected to Nova Scotia… He bought this property, he bought the house, he founded the museum. He even created the historical society that still exists today.”

Adolphe Robicheau, circa 1960, dancing flamenco at the Somerset Hotel in Boston. Credit: Harold C. Robicheau Collection

Noting that the story of Adolphe and Arthur is part of the history of the house, Robichaud described it as the “greatest chapter in Acadian history that no one has heard of before: the story of these two flamboyant men”.

The members of the association regularly post new content about the house and its history on the association’s Facebook page. This week the theme of the competition is Inclusivity.

“Some of the content that we’re bringing out (this) week is the story of Arthur and the rather odd historical part of it that’s not the museum narrative at all. The museum is a tale of early Acadian settlers,” said Robichaud.

“It just has a hell of a rich history that goes with it. Even just the story that it was transported 20 miles by two gay men in 1958.”

needle in a haystack

A queer Acadian, Robichaud said the story of Adolphe and Arthur was one of the many reasons he felt drawn to volunteering for society.

“Part of it is about saving the house and part of it is about (what happened to) Adolphe’s partner Arthur after Adolphe died. Arthur should be buried in the same crypt as Adolphe,” he explained.

“That had been her plan in life. His family protested and even refused to publish his obituary. To me, the most tragic part of the whole story is that the partner was placed in an unmarked grave and is still there today.”

La Vieille Maison was actually one of four properties restored by Robicheau. Among the others was the childhood home of the wife of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, author of the Acadian epic Gospelline, A Tale of Acadie.

At La Vielle Maison. Photo credit: La Société Vieille Maison

La Vieille Maison has been closed since 2000 because legal requirements on the property meant that no one could make repairs without permission from Robicheau’s heirs.

“The house belonged to a consortium of heirs and heirs of Adolphe Robicheau, of which there were about 20 in the United States,” Robichaud said.

“40 years ago they might have known each other, but 40 years later these are children’s children’s children and not a single owner really knew how to contact the rest of the group.”

It was a needle in a haystack, and in the end it was Robicheau’s descendants who eventually found her.

“They are like our children”

The current owners of the house are two cousins, one living in Boston and the other in Washington state. As children of the previous generation of owners, the two now hold a clear title between the two.

This means that La Société Vieille Maison has permission to proceed with the repair of the house.

“There was this Acadian revival in the US around these two cousins ​​who suddenly realized they were part of a culture that they’ve ignored their entire lives,” Robichaud said.

“And yet there is this community in Clare that just embraces them. They are like our children.”

The cousins, who identify online as Katherine and Chrisanne, have yet to see the house. They chronicle their own journey on a website titled Unlocking the Blue Door.

They have actively collaborated with the non-profit organization and contributed to its renewal. In a post last winter, they highlighted a quote painted on the mantel inside the house.

The words (translated from French) are meant to honor the resilience of the expelled Acadians, stating: “As the swallow rebuilt its nest after the storm, so the Acadian rebuilt his home after banishment.”

La Vielle Maison Photo credit: La Société Vieille Maison

The cousins ​​continued:

Over two centuries later, the symbol of the steadfast swallow takes on new meaning as we begin our journey of restoring La Vieille Maison.

We grew up hearing stories of Meteghan, Adolphe and La Vieille Maison from our parents and never imagined that so many years later we would have the opportunity to play a part in the revitalization of the property. We are so grateful that you chose to join us on our journey!

“still very early”

On Sunday, La Vieille Maison and British Columbia’s Duncan Train Station were well ahead of the other eight shortlisted competitors.

The station had 21,776 votes and La Vieille Maison 17,338. The nearest competitor sat at 6,813 votes.

“It’s still very early at three weeks but I think it’s safe to say that first and second will remain first and second. It has not yet been decided who will take up the post first,” said Robichaud.

He believes their project has the advantage of being the only entry from Nova Scotia in the competition and the only one from Acadian. His hope is that it will lead to more votes for their project.

“Voting is a pretty novel way we can do a little bit of citizen action and end up salvaging some historical heritage,” he said.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *