BY LAURENT D’ENTREMONT
Whether you live in Canning in the Annapolis Valley, in Meteghan along the French Shore or in my Acadian village in Yarmouth County, there will always be local stories passed down the generations.
The fake cow doctor who visited our village in 1939 is such a story. It generated enough interest Le Village Historique Acadien (Acadian Village of Nova Scotia) used it as the base of this year’s supper theatre.
The fifth annual dinner theatre at the Acadian Village, presented in April, was a comedy based in 1939, “Le Docteur a Vache” (The Cow Doctor). It is the true story of a veterinarian who visited our Acadian village during those early war years. The play, written and performed in Acadian French, included a cast of colorful characters: the local barber, a taxi driver, a school girl and her parents; plus a few more. This unique evening of fine dining and hilarious comedy served a choice of the Acadian dish of rappie pie or seafood casserole on a bed of rice, with garden salad, followed by the village’s famous apple pie for dessert. I do eat the traditional dish of rappie pie when presented with it - but no matter how French or Acadian my accent may be, I am not Acadian enough to eat rappie pie when I have a choice of seafood casserole on a bed of rice! Lots of others, I noted, felt as I did.
The play itself began with a narrator hidden behind a set of posters and advertisements inside a barber shop of 70 years ago. The voice says the war effort is desperate for good farm products, including eggs and milk. Because of this, the Department of Agriculture would be sending a veterinarian from New Brunswick to inspect all our cows. This man, Dr. Harvé Légère, would arrive after Easter on the train at Pubnico Head.
The villagers were unprepared when the “cow doctor” arrived before Easter, unannounced and two weeks ahead of time. Even more surprising, he arrived with only the clothes on his back. He explained his belongings, including his money and veterinarian tools, would be arriving in three days’ time.
It turned out this handsome vet was a real charmer, kissing the women’s hands, and a fancy dresser. He had impressed some of the men, too, with his fancy talk and flattery. A place for him to stay was found near the church. The local barber would give Légère a free shave and haircut almost every day; he even borrowed money from the innocent barber. The taxi driver drove him free of charge wherever he wanted to go. His driver also checked at the train station every day, but the veterinarian’s belonging never came... he would pay all his bills as soon as his things arrived - and he could be trusted because he went to church every day.
While with the Acadians, the cow doctor inspected all the animals and even helped to deliver a calf when a Jersey cow had trouble. He saved both the cow and calf: he was now sort of a folk hero. (It was here the cow doctor muttered to the audience, “Good thing I worked on the farm while I was at Dorchester.”) He was still living off the villagers when he asked his driver to take him to Digby, where his daughter with all his belongings would meet him at the ferry. By now, the people were a bit suspicious.
It was a sad taxi driver who returned from Digby: the cow doctor, it seems, had hailed a cab and disappeared into thin air. The driver now saw the light and reported him to the local police. It did not take very long for the law to put two and two together: they had been looking for the imposter.
The fake cow doctor was later arrested in Liverpool. His real name was Raymond Gautreault from Cap Pelé NB; recently, he had escaped from the prison in Dorchester N.B. He was returned to his old cell - with free room and board.A few days after Easter, the real Dr. Légère did arrive at the train station - with all his tools, money and belongings. Légère was not quite as charming or flamboyant - and likely not as good a hand kisser as his imposter; but this professional was the real McCoy or, rather, should we say, the real “cow doctor