With great anticipation, we departed the Bar Harbor & Acadia National Park Region for New Brunswick – destination Saint John. In addition to the thrill of the Maritimes was the knowledge that we were connecting with great friends, Loyal and Bonnie Eldridge with their motorhome. Last summer, the four of us spent a delightful 10 days in San Francisco & Sonoma Valley, complements of the Marathon Yacht Club Educational Foundation Auction, at the home of Steve Schultz & Ruth Olson. When you find great travel companions, one opportunity leads to another!
The crossing into Canada was uneventful with a friendly Customs Agent who made a quick review of our “personal stores” and sent us on our way. Truth be told, we had way more libations than allowed, but he bid us good day, have a great holiday – and don’t tell everyone on Facebook!! By early afternoon, we were boarding the Grand Bay Westfield ferry to transport us a thrilling 5 minute ride across the St John River to the campground. There is a recurring theme here – the advertising seldom is indicative of reality! The ferry ride is quaint, but the promotion of sites on the river became a steep climb up a dirt road to the “hilltop” which had no view. Regardless, Loyal and Bonnie arrived shortly after our arrival (three days from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), our sites were close together and we rejoiced in the beginning of another adventure with them!
View from Contessa as we approached landside, top right is the St. John River as we crossed, bottom right shows the deckhand managing traffic around us
St John is THE port city for New Brunswick and as such is a bustling metropolis. Located on the Bay of Fundy, they and their neighbors encounter some of the most amazing tides in the world. The Reversing Falls was a “must see” – where the St John River empties into the Bay of Fundy – with such powerful tides that the incoming tide “changes the direction” of the river with a fluctuation of near 20’. The first morning, we viewed the mouth of the river at high tide and promised ourselves we would return for low tide.
The cormorants would fly down river and tide up the in-bound tide! The second picture is a view from the observation deck – bay to the right flowing into the St. John River effectively reversing the tide to where you can almost “see” a waterfall.
On June 24, 1604, St John the Baptist Day, French Explorer Samuel de Champlain landed at the mouth of the mighty river. In honor of the day, he proclaimed that the river and the harbor be named “St. John.” Years of turmoil between British and French allegiance culminated in 1713 when the Treaty of Utrecht ceded French Acadia, including the St. John River Valley, to the English. However, today, New Brunswick is the only bilingual province – Quebec is French, the other seven provinces are English and New Brunswick alone is bilingual. We met two elementary teachers – one who is striving to get a full time teaching position after seven years of “substitute teaching” because she is not bilingual and the other who purposely went to a French only University even though she was reared English, so that she could position herself for hire.
At the end of the American Revolution, in 1783, 14,000 American supporters of the British arrived in St. John. Known as “The Loyalists”, their settlements were incorporated by Royal Charter into the City of St. John – Canada’s first city.
The architecture is quite Victorian and, other than the waterfront that succumbed to a fire in 1877 is in amazing condition. The City Market has been in continuous use since 1876 and is believed to be the oldest common-law market in Canada. The structure, according to local lore, was built by out of work ship-builders – and the interior roof supports are clearly reminiscent of a ship’s hull with 16” x 16” beams. Loyal was drawn to Billy’s Seafood Market, where the proprietor himself was in the Market waving his Oyster Flag – yes, that very night was Oyster Night and “2 Bucks A Shuck”. An easy decision to make a reservation!
As we strolled through the city, we found huge bollards (used to secure sea-going vessels to the dock) more than a block away from the water’s edge. This is the result of both the water levels receding over the last 200 years and the huge docks used before the technology of cranes that were filled in to make a more appealing waterfront area. The docks are now across the river in what is now the industrial part of town.
Billy’s was a real treat with six types of fresh oysters on the half shell – four from Prince Edward Island (PEI) and two from New Brunswick. The only obvious solution was four of each – and collectively rate them for future reference. The winner – Daisy Bay from PEI! As we dined on scrumptious halibut stuffed with snow crab, a couple was seated directly behind us. We struck up a conversation and, lo and behold, while she is originally from New Brunswick – they now live in Cashiers, NC about 30 miles from us!
Loyal and Bill opted for the New Brunswick Museum, highlighting St. John’s shipbuilding and lumbering industries – building those huge wooden sailing ships with hand tools! The Natural History exhibits offered full-size models and skeletons of whales and mastodons.
The only Moose we’ve seen – so far!
Bonnie and Jann spent the morning with a revisit to the City Market, where they purchased a $3 paper bag of dulse (highly recommended by the couple last night at dinner). Dulse is a regional delicacy of dried sea weed, similar to the kelp beds of the Pacific Northwest. A small sample made it clear that while locals might enjoy it, it was not for Bonnie or Jann – but rest assured, Captain Bill loves it! The morning was completed with a lovely art gallery with a wide array of regional art of many forms.
As planned, we met for lunch again on the Boardwalk – yesterday was the St. John’s Irish Pub and today was Duffy’s. We heard bagpipes calling us – and found them at the end of the Boardwalk. We thoroughly enjoyed their music. We’re blessed to be in Canada this year for their sesquicentennial celebration. We will benefit from Canada 150 throughout our time in the Maritimes, with grand celebrations and free admission to all National Parks!
Then we were off for a boat ride of the harbor but the main attraction was the Reversing Rapids – a highlight of our time in St. John. As we boarded the boat, a flotilla of paddlers descended upon us – they had been paddling the St. John River for seven days and the bagpipers were there to welcome them.
We had timed the ride toward low tide, when the fresh water from the St. John River rushes into the saltwater of the Bay of Fundy. The vortex created by this phenomenon can span 21’ with a 6’ deep whirlpool. Our small boat was buffeted by the current as we were regaled with stories by the Greek Captain and Canadian Mate. In one tidal rotation (high to low and return to high), enough water will flow through the mouth of the St John River to fill the Grand Canyon TWICE!
The harbor tour component of the trip was quite informative, with both the Captain and Mate sharing their personal frustrations and concerns for their country, province and city. Irving Petroleum has a huge refinery on the shoreline and even a pipeline and station well out in the harbor to accommodate vessels too large to enter the port. The mate shared that the “owners” were the 13th largest land owners in the world, but would not share who the ultimate owners were! Unfortunately, the wealth of the conglomerate does not translate to personal wealth of the residents, as homeless and hungry children numbers are increasing exponentially here in St. John and New Brunswick.
A return by car later in the afternoon to the Reversing Rapids showed the dramatic change at low tide from the high tide experienced the morning before. While at the park, we met one of the paddlers that we had seen earlier in the day on our boat tour. She was almost in shock seeing the rapids, as they had surely waited upstream until slack tide to cross this very spot!
Highly uncommon for us, we returned to the same restaurant for the second night in a row. The food was so good, the service impeccable and the enticement for a “Dinner and Comedy Night” too great to resist. We even had the same table at the window – and then made our way to Yuk Yuks just a few blocks away for an evening of laughter and entertainment.
Tomorrow we’re off to Prince Edward Island.