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  • Writer's pictureAaryn Lynham

Roma at Three Rivers

About

Jean-Pierre Roma of France began the first successful commercial enterprise on L'Isle St-Jean, now known as Prince Edward Island, 286 years ago. King Louis XV (15th) granted Roma and his France-based business partners exclusive rights to a sizeable 220 by 2.5 kilometre stretch of "virgin property". In 1732, Roma established a settlement and trading post here that enhanced French presence on PEI.


Roma at Three Rivers is open to visitors and is located in Brudenell on the north shore. The interpretive centre and historic park were established in 2004 to preserve and promote the site's historical, natural and archeological integrity. Tours conducted by guides dressed in 1730s-style clothing lead visitors through a re-creation of the original Roma settlement with a 1700s replica French garden. The historic site boasts a dining hall, professional chef's kitchen and a cookhouse featuring an outdoor bake oven.


Project Overview

I wrote this client feature while working for ACOA for the October 2018 intranet story during the final week of my placement. I interviewed Gordon Cobb, an ACOA employee, as well as the Roma at Three Rivers festival chair and a historic site board member. I also gathered information from and paraphrased quotes from a CBC article published about the Heritage Chocolate Festival after it ran July 27 - 28, 2018.

 

Roma at Three Rivers 2018 Heritage Chocolate Festival

A celebration of 286 years of chocolate on Prince Edward Island

Jean-Pierre Roma of France began the first successful commercial enterprise on L'Isle St-Jean, now known as Prince Edward Island, 286 years ago. King Louis XV (15th) granted Roma and his France-based business partners exclusive rights to a sizeable 220 by 2.5 kilometre stretch of "virgin property". In 1732, Roma established a settlement and trading post here that enhanced French presence on PEI. The settlement was home to nearly 200 residents whom were little more than indentured servants to Monsieur Roma. The main interest of Roma's chartered company was the fishery, but it also traded goods with the rest of New France, the West Indies and France.


Adam Beck, historical site manager, quoted by CBC, says,

"[Roma] would sell his salted cod to the West Indies, which would then be sold to plantations. In return, he would bring such things as sugar, molasses, rum and chocolate."

Roma encountered many difficulties, yet stayed in business for 13 years. The venture ended abruptly when, in 1745, troops from New England destroyed the settlement after their capture of Louisbourg. Roma at Three Rivers was recognized as a national historic site in 1933 - one of the first in Canada.


The site comprises remains of the 18th century Roma settlement. There was an archaeological dig conducted by Frank Korvemaker beginning in 1968 at the Roma at Three Rivers site. Catalogues for items recovered from 1968 to 1972 note nineteenth-century glassware and porcelain chocolate cups. These chocolate cups differ from teacups in both their contents and design, evidencing the presence of chocolate on Prince Edward Island 286 years ago!


Today, Roma at Three Rivers is open to visitors and is located in Brudenell on the north shore. The interpretive centre and historic park were established in 2004 to preserve and promote the site's historical, natural and archeological integrity. Tours conducted by guides dressed in 1730s-style clothing lead visitors through a re-creation of the original Roma settlement with a 1700s replica French garden. The historic site boasts a dining hall, professional chef's kitchen and a cookhouse featuring an outdoor bake oven. These facilities host many annual events, one of which being the first Heritage Chocolate Festival held July 27 to 28, 2018.

Gordon Cobb was Roma at Three River's own steampunk Willy Wonka character, Macque, Le Roi du Chocolate during the festival. Gordon is the current Heritage Festival chair and a historic site board member. The 2018 Heritage Chocolate Festival celebrated Jean-Pierre Roma bringing chocolate to L'Isle St-Jean from the West Indies 286 years ago. Upper-class types, or French aristocrats, like Roma, enjoyed the exotic delicacy, but it wasn't shared with common folk. Gordon says,


"Chocolate was part of life for few in the 1730s French imperial world and at Roma. There was quite a class division among people. A few elites enjoyed pretty well everything, while other people worked hard and enjoyed very little."

Heritage Chocolate is not to be mistaken with the present-day chocolate with which we are familiar. With its distinct, rich flavour, Heritage Chocolate "is different because it's the old way of doing chocolate," says Beck, "it is thick, filling and has a bit of a kick!"


Produced from ingredients only available in the 18th century, Heritage Chocolate is made by the Historic division of Mars Incorporated. Established in 2006, the division is dedicated to uncovering chocolate's rich history across Canada. The artisanal Heritage Chocolate is concocted from an authentic colonial 1750s recipe. Roma at Three Rivers is one of 20 authorized Canadian historical sites that sells Heritage Chocolate, and the only one on PEI.


The 2018 Heritage Chocolate Festival was an overwhelming success with over 400 people in attendance. The sold-out Friday evening dinner featured a menu based on chocolate-themed tastes by Chef Robert Pendergast. The BaHa Vibes Caribbean band played Junkanoo-style music for attendees, bringing the chocolate connection from the West Indies to L'Isle St-Jean full circle.

The Saturday family fun day hosted 317 visitors - the largest number of attendees on a summer festival day in Roma's history. There were ongoing demonstrations from famous chocolatier Eric Gilbert to blacksmithing, boat building, cod flaking and 1700s-style bread making with Chef Pendergast. Other family activities included fire building from scratch, making chocolate treats and pony rides. The Mi'kmaq Heritage Performers and Acadian musicians performed for attendees, highlighting their presence in Island life during the eighteenth century. Gordon says,

"The Heritage Chocolate Festival is about more than just eating chocolate. It's about how it feels when people are together and celebrating our shared history. Cod was the business of L'Isle St-Jean and chocolate was the upper class's pleasure - today, we can all enjoy Heritage Chocolate as equals."

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