Adolphe Robicheau passed away in 1978, when I was 7 years old. I'm not sure if I ever met him, but he was always a presence in my home. My mom would tell us stories of her uncle's dance studio (like, how she was such a bad dancer she got kicked out), and his psychedelic floral reverse-glass artwork adorned her bedroom wall in my childhood home for as long as I could remember. She shared memories of her summers in Meteghan and across the bay at Spencer's Island -- walking with her sister Noreen to pick up bottles of milk, "making whips" at the skating rink, and eating dried dulce and Rappie Pie. I always knew there had been a museum in Nova Scotia, but the details were unclear. Whenever we asked if she'd like to go visit, she declined, explaining that her childhood memories of Meteghan and Spencer's Island were so precious, she didn't want to see that anything had changed. And so, we never went.
Despite living a few hours apart, Chrisanne and I spent plenty of time together as kids, went to college in the same town, and remained connected into adulthood. We would occasionally talk about the museum, although neither of us knew a great deal about it. We had learned that Chrisanne's dad, Joseph Robicheau, had been coordinating tax payments on the property so that it remained in the family. We knew that our aunt Jean, who lived in Nova Scotia before her death, had cherished the old site. But we had no idea that Adolphe had created a deed so complex, it took twenty years, as Dan Robichaud aptly puts it, to "crack the code."
Behind the scenes, Dan Robichaud (ninth cousin!), had been working for several years to gather historical information and attempt to rally support to preserve the artifacts and restore the dwelling. Adolphe had left the property to twelve deed holders (my mom and Chrisanne's dad among them), most of whom were not accessible on social media, some had passed away, and others were difficult to track down. When Chrisanne joined Facebook several years ago, she found a photo of Adolphe on Dan's Facebook page and reached out to him, and thus began our journey.
Chrisanne and I set out to learn more about the property. We established contact with the tax office, we consulted with an attorney about the deed, we started putting the pieces together. Adolphe, clearly wishing the property to remain in the family, had stipulated that decisions and actions had to be made by unanimous agreement - in other words, all deed holders had to agree in order to restore or sell the property. To make matters more complex, if a deed holder had passed away, their share was passed down in a legally convoluted, somewhat ambiguous manner. I don't know about your family, but getting twelve people to agree on anything is a bit like trying to herd cats. Not possible. It appeared that twice in the last twenty years, two deed holders had attempted to contact everyone, with hopes of making decisions about the future of the property. Both attempts failed. Without agreement or a workaround plan, the property would continue to decay. Undeterred (or some may say naive), we set to work on the third and final attempt. Letters, calls, texts, emails. The property appeared to hold sentimental value to those we could contact, but Chrisanne and I seemed to be among a very small number who were motivated to action.
A Plan in Place
2021 was a difficult year in general, and for the family in particular: we lost several family members in 2021, including Chrisanne's father, Joe. We discovered that Joe, in his last two years of life, had been in contact with some folks in Nova Scotia regarding the property. Although we're not sure of the details, we wonder if Joe was also researching a way to save the property. When we learned that taxes had fallen past due after Joe's death, our immediate thought was to make a tax payment. We learned, however, that after two years of non-payment, the property would go to tax sale. We didn't have much longer to meet that deadline. It was a calculated risk, but we decided not to pay back taxes, and wait for the property to go to tax sale. In the meantime, we started to outline plans to coordinate with Dan and a group of local folks who are interested in preserving the site. Our hope was to acquire the property by tax sale, keeping it in the family, and work toward a conservatorship agreement so that the dwelling could be properly restored and resume its role as a place of Acadian historical significance. The clock was ticking, counting down the days until the property would go to sale by tender. With one final push and against all odds, we were able to contact almost every single person on the deed for their blessing to move forward.
No Turning Back Now
On February 1st, as I stood at the counter of the local FedEx office preparing to send the tender along with our letter of intent to restore the property, I expected to have sweaty palms and second thoughts. It's not every day that you take on a 200+ year old historical site. But all I felt was joy and excitement, and nostalgia for something I'd never even seen.
We are very excited to get to know the community that enjoyed the museum while it was in operation, that kept an eye on La Vieille Maison these past twenty years, and patiently waited for the code to be cracked. We cannot wait to literally unlock the blue door.