This can’t be the right road,” I said to my husband, and then… I smelled the bread.
At the end of a dirt road that leads through Prince Edward Island forest, you come to the Three Rivers National Historic Site. Looking across a garden, up at the wooden structures beside the Montague River,it is not difficult to imagine you are visiting the Roma settlement in 1732. The King of France sent food merchant, Jean Pierre Roma, to establish an international trading post on the island now called Prince Edward Island. Cod fishing was important at that time, because France as a Roman Catholic nation had many religious days when a person could not partake of meat. Jean Pierre Roma was an ambitious man, and as well as running his post as a cod fishery, he traded products in the Caribbean, bringing back spices, molasses, and to his delight– excellent rum.
This settlement existed for only 13 years between 1732 and 1745. During that time, the settlement consisted of eleven buildings that housed the men and few women that were sent over from France. Many were sent as a form of punishment for a crime they had committed, however minor. If the presiding judge had investments in a company, such as the Roma trading post, the person found guilty would be sent across the seas to work for that company. The indentured female servants are described as mischievous and were known to cause trouble around the settlement. In 1745, the British attacked the settlement, it is suspected, entering through a tunnel from the river. In the tunnel, Roma stored his bottles of rum. Could that be the reason that 45 broken bottles were found during excavations?
In 1968, the government of Canada initiated an archeological dig and 7000 relics from the Roma settlement have been found. A reconstruction of the settlement was build in 2004 and now it is a piece of living history with interpretive staff and numerous special events each year to celebrate the history on this piece of land.
I visited to learn about the food that was eaten in a settlement at this time in history.
Heritage food has been highlighted as a way for visitors to experience the history of this site.
A large brick bread oven has been reconstructed and is used on a regular basis to make bread for visitors the way it was baked in the 1700’s. Each servant who worked at the settlement was given rations of a one and a half pound loaf of bread and some molasses, 2 or 3 times a week. That supplemented their diet of chowder, using freshly caught fish.
A large French style garden was maintained that was full of such vegetables as melon, peas, onions, carrots, parsnips, and cabbage. This was long before the time of fame for the Prince Edward Island potato, as then they were then considered poisonous. In the garden were 16 kinds of herbs that were used, as medicine- for the garden was the only pharmacy of the time. The men most often died from hernia complications.
Roma now takes visitors on a historic food journey by serving a heritage lunch each day between 12 an 1:30. On the menu for lunch is a combination of foods that would have been eaten at that time, and traditional PEI fare. Seafood chowder, Creamy parsnip soup, fish cakes and beans, ginger cookies, apple pie are among some of the foods served for lunch – of course with a piece of bread baked in the oven at Roma. Afternoon tea from 2- 4 pm, includes chocolate cake with sauce anglais, bannock, Roma bread, and ginger cookies along with other specialties.
Some Sunday Brunch menu items include: ham, eggs, Roma bread, seafood chowder, fish cakes and baked beans and bannock.
A pioneer festival in August and a Gala Heritage Feast in September are also celebrated annually at the settlement and special menus are served to visitors at these festivities. Music, costumed interpreters and games bring the settlement to life.
There are hiking trails along the river that guided us to the archeological dig and others parts of the trading post.
We could still smell the bread as we drove out the dirt road back to the twenty first century, but what a tasty visit into the past we had that summer day in Prince Edward Island. For further information: http://www.roma3rivers.com
Louise Arsenault and Tamara Sock participate in the Pioneer Festival at Roma