Window on New Brunswick, Canada

Swamp donkeys and salmon ~ a saint's city and backward tides


Canada's New Brunswick, strangely named for a part of Germany (in honour of a British King) is the only officially bilingual province in Canada. As basically English-only speakers ourselves, after travelling for a week through French-speaking Quebec you might understand why we heaved a sigh of relief (le soulagement) on entry to this province!

From here on English always appeared first on signs so, greatly encouraged, we headed south.

New Brunswick offers even more to visitors: Canada's warmest beaches, nine provincial parks and the world's highest tides. Some of the latter show-off with confusingly reverse river flows - but more of that soon.


Canada's fishy story

Arriving from the north, in far eastern Quebec, we reached the New Brunswick border. Campbellton, a small city just across the Restigouche River from Quebec, was our first taste of this new province. 

Although we had much further to go that day, we felt that we should at least meet the city's famous 8.2-metre tall Restigouche Sam (above) on the waterfront, next to the Information CentrePerhaps the world's largest salmon, here the fish's characteristic action of leaping from the water to jump a waterfall is captured perfectly.

Seafood lovers find this city the ideal place to fish for, or eat, the freshest salmon possible.

Along the eastern coast of this province, it's also not difficult to find someone who is prepared to sell you super-fresh fish for dinner. These just-caught fish are not for humans, though. This man told us that he routinely brings in about 700 kilograms of lobster each night, and is chopping up his haul to be used as lobster bait. 

New Brunswick's fishing industry accounts for more than 40 percent of Canada's annual seafood production and throughout Saint John, Canada's oldest incorporated city, there are many references to salmon. As you walk the city's streets it is worth taking time to admire these artistic ones as well.


Watch this video to see New Brunswick in action

Stay awhile

As we travelled south from Quebec, we stayed in only two places in New Brunswick. The first was here, at Bathurst, where European settlement commenced in the early 16th century. This modern property was large and very elegant.

As you can see, our room was stylish...

...and breakfast the following morning was exquisite.

We discovered why that was, when our French host, Jean-Charles Joseph, told us he makes all the dishes himself, changing the breakfast menu daily.

As we left, Jean-Charles suggested we should drive about ten minutes south of Bathurst to see the Pabineau Falls. On the way, we passed this centre in the Pabineau First Nation then...

...about five kilometres further along the same road, the rapids could be heard, rushing over rocks in the Nepisiguit River

The next night we stayed at the Wild Rose Inn in Moncton, the province's largest urban centre, nicknamed Hub City because it is the geographic centre of the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

Our room at the inn was spacious and beautifully decorated, and again we had an excellent breakfast. Those two experiences were enough to make us agree that New Brunswickians had hospitality well sorted.

Moncton is New Brunswick's transport hub. We had arrived from the northwest, but you can turn left here and soon find yourself on the long bridge leading to Prince Edward Island. Take the road southeast and within half an hour or so you are in Nova Scotia. The road southwest leads to Saint John and that was where we headed.



The Acadians

Until we visited the far eastern part of Canada, we were ignorant of the history of the Acadian people.

The five-pointed stars we saw in many places - on flags, on public buildings, even over doors in private homes - sparked our curiosity, but we had no understanding of this interesting yet tragic part of Canadian history.

Even this lighthouse has stars on it. Grande-Anse is not a true lighthouse. It was built as an information centre and it was only painted in the colours of the Acadian flag in 2001.

Here, the star indicates that the inhabitants proudly have Acadian heritage.

Many people in this part of Canada continue to deeply respect and value those French settlers who arrived in the early 1700s, and then were so cruelly treated and tragically made to leave the area a generation or more later.

While a standard five-pointed star will always relate to Acadian heritage, this coastal route version is also widely used for those wanting to explore the countryside that these people farmed for decades, and those coasts from which they were deported.

It is possible to follow the Acadian Coastal Route south from the Quebec border to well beyond Moncton.


The Historic Acadian village - a step back in time

Because we had also been picking up other small pieces of information on the Acadians in eastern Quebec, we were now very keen to learn more. The Village Historique Acadien (Historic Acadian Village) is near Bertrand, on a peninsula around 50 kilometres northeast of Bathurst.

The tragic story goes like this: in the early 18th century many French people settled in French Acadia which is now part of Nova Scotia. Ironically, Acadia translates as 'place of plenty', but it became a place of cruelty, famine and death as, in 1755, the British deported and exiled hundreds of these people, often intentionally separating families.

Books have been written, and movies and documentaries made about the Acadians, and it is well worth learning more about this shameful part of British history in Canada.

With many questions, we came to see this village, recreated as closely to 18th-century real life as possible.

This open-air village museum has been planned to be as accurate and real as possible; so much so that the people you meet are mostly descendants of those early residents, returning to New Brunswick by choice to proudly renew their ancestor's mark on this part of Canada.

Due to the coastal location of the settlers, fishing was of prime importance. Not only was the local cod important in the people's diets, but it was also used as a means of finance and exported to other countries.

Visitors need to know that this is a large area, built around a 2.2km circuit and only open June to September. In order to fully see the sequence of history, and enjoy the other activities, you need to plan several hours for a visit.

If you are interested in Acadian food, see this...



'Swamp donkeys'

'Swamp donkeys' - that's what a local wildlife expert calls moose, the largest members of the deer family.

Moose are formidable creatures, and do not mix well with roads and vehicles - or humans on foot. At a height of two metres (at its shoulder!) a male can weigh up to 700 kilograms and move at a speed of 56 km/h. They are not an animal to trifle with.

'Hit one with your car,' we were told, 'and you'll be lucky to survive', so you can be sure that many hours of eye-watering scanning of the roadsides ensued!

To pass the time, we made up awful moose-puns: 'making a moose-take', 'feeling moose-rable', 'receiving moose-information' - that sort of thing.

Many kilometres of Canadian roadsides are flanked by fir forests, a major money-earner for the local economy, so we had to stay on alert, as any corner could easily camouflage a Mister Moose eyeing off a somewhat daintier Ms Moose on the opposite side of the road. 

The plantations also explain why most of the homes we saw were built with timber, many of them painted in bright colours.

Then, right in Saint John we came across another moose. Watch out for that one!



Saint John

Saint John marches to its own drum. As the last major mainland Canadian city before the US border, there is diversity here. Much of it leans to street-art, as also shown by the flamboyant salmon sculpture, we had seen earlier. Watch out for some alleyway graffiti too.


The city of Saint John is built on quite a steep hill rising above the harbour. King's Square is on the higher level, a quiet and relaxed place often used for various celebrations. You'll find it in the city park, and the brass plaque (below) outlines its long and colourful history.

Let's just be grateful that some of the 'public uses', mentioned above, and not still in favour!

This park is a haven for everybody. It's obvious to see that this man has built up a gentle rapport with the park's pigeons.

WATCH the video (at the top of this page) to see what also happens in this park...

The bandstand, a central part of the park with its copper roof and filigree iron frame, was donated by the City Cornet Band in 1908.



Saint John City Market

Saint John's city market is the oldest continuing market in Canada and is a National Historic Site.

Despite its age and importance, it is far from being a stodgy historical relic. Once inside the market hall, you are swept up into a busy marketplace filled with fruit and vegetables and other local produce, breads, artisan cheeses, souvenirs, handmade crafts and coffee.

Even the local coastal products are not forgotten and this sea vegetable, dulse, is a local favourite.


The waterfront - Uptown

We promised you a moose and here, next to the boardwalk at Market Wharf, is this life-size statue, created by Forest Hart, and donated to the city, appropriately, by the local Moosehead Breweries, Canada's oldest independent brewery.

The waterside Boardwalk today is a place for relaxing and dining, enjoying good food and company, but in 1877 it was the site of a catastrophic fire which burned through much of the buildings of Uptown Saint John - a loss of what would be about 500 billion dollars in today's money. 

To understand this city you need to know that 'Uptown' means what most visitors would refer to as downtown at the waterfront. In Saint John, 'Downtown' does not exist.

These storyboards at the waterfront recount the story of the afternoon of June 20, 1877, when a spark fell into a bundle of hay in the York Point Slip area. Before it could be subdued, the 80-hectare blaze had had killed approximately 19 people, injuring many more, as well as destroying 1612 structures that include eight churches, six banks, fourteen hotels, eleven schooners and four wooden boats. 

The architecture in this area reflects the post-fire rebuilding, with the use of brick rather than timber, and featuring, understandably, prominent iron fire-escapes.

Not to be confused with the City Market on the hill, Market Square is Uptown, near the water,

Because it is so easily seen, Time Piece, a clock-tower by a Saint John artist John Hooper with collaboration by Jack Massey, is a popular meeting place by the waterside.

This is one of the world's most unusual clocks, in that it has no face or hands. Instead, the serpent and the four figures slowly rotate allowing the snake’s tail to indicate the time.


It seems that Saint John's population likes to know the time as, not far from Time Piece, this four-faced clock in King Street was chosen to commemorate the city's 225th anniversary.

And, here are the final moose for New Brunswick - flanking and protecting the Community Police.


Dining in the city

The ratio of restaurants to residents in Saint John means that everyone, including visitors, is spoiled for choice.

The best place to come is in the Uptown area, and the range of options includes steakhouse like the one above...

...and pub-fare like this at Gahan House in Prince William Street.

Here we have coconut curry chicken - with fries, of course!

Also Uptown, Italian by Night in Germain Street is chic and popular too.



Smell the coffee

Obediently, we followed the arrow on Grannan Street at the entrance to a narrow alley...

... decorated with yet another motivational motto.

Our own motivation was much more basic. We had heard Rogue Coffee was an outstanding cafe, and it proved to be true. The owners describe their place as 'Atlantic Canada's first Mod Bar'.

And then there is Java Moose. We spotted this across the road from Gahan House.


History on the hill

Because the great fire did not reach and destroy tall of the upper parts of Saint John, there are still some delightful reminders of the 18th-century in this city. These two-storey clapboard homes are now brightly painted and still in use.

This house, mentioned on the plaque above, survived the Great Fire and is over 200 years old.

The Maritime Provinces represent two main nationalities, but the Canadian flag with its striking red maple leaf is a reminder that by the early 1700s, the maple leaf had been adopted as an emblem by the French Canadians along the Saint Lawrence River. The maple tree is regarded as the 'king of the forest'.


A tower of strength

Overlooking the Bay of Fundy and the city from the southern side of the harbour, tucked into suburbia and on a rocky cliff, stands the Carleton Martello Tower.

British-built, it dates from The Napoleonic Wars in 1812, and was also vital for defence in WWII. Inside the tower are many interesting interactive and interpretative displays.


Reversing Falls rapids

The better view to see the reversing tide, we discovered, is on the Highway One side. Don't expect a wall of water, but it is fascinating to see how 3000 tonnes of rushing seawater makes the river flow backwards...

...creating whirlpools that excite the waterbirds too. 

Saint John’s main attraction is the SkyWalk, a dramatic glass-bottomed platform with prime views of the waves and whirlpools of the Reversing Rapids.

As the only Skywalk in North America to be positioned over water, it juts out over the precise point where the highest tides in the world are forced into a narrow rock gorge, causing a reverse in the flow of the Saint John River. There is also a zipline and the opportunity to stroll the river's edge and see the action from there.

WATCH this video to gain an idea of it....

What better place to finish a trip to New Brunswick than with a bowl of the best seafood chowder you’ll ever taste, at the Reversing Falls Restaurant, at the Skywalk, complete with epic views of the falls.

For those with less time to spare, the nearby 14 1/2 Cafe makes an ideal place for a light lunch, coffee - and a front row seat for the action.  

Times for high tide each day are posted in shops and tourist sites throughout the city.

I found these souvenirs in the City Market, underlining the fact that New Brunswick is very much a maritime province, taking much of its character and charm from the sea and its coastal buildings.


”To flee and sit humbly on the coast - that’s my doctrine of paradise.” – Emilia Wickstead


Text & images: © Sally Hammond

Video: ©Gordon Hammond


Sally and Gordon Hammond travelled independently in New Brunswick, self-driving and staying in accommodation at their own expense. All opinions are their own.


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