As we left the Confederation Bridge from Prince Edward Island, we entered the fourth province of our trip – New Brunswick. And I have a confession; prior to planning this trip, I really didn’t know anything about New Brunswick.
Ok, so I knew the basics – Fredericton is the capital city, and the southern shore of the province is on the Bay of Fundy, a huge tourist attraction for both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. We formulated a plan – spend the week in the southern part of the province where most of the towns and cities are concentrated and hope for the best. It turns out New Brunswick was quite a surprise for a number of reasons.
New Brunswick is the only province that is officially bilingual. Canada itself is officially bilingual, but the reality for its citizens is quite different. If you are still reading this blog in a few months this will become apparent. But in New Brunswick, we certainly heard English and French being equally spoken in bars and cafes and all signage is in both languages.
We chose to stay in Moncton first, the reason being that there is a sight nearby called the Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy, which after seeing a picture in the guidebook, looked like a really cool thing to go and see. The Bay of Fundy is famed for having the highest and lowest tides in the world and the fluctuations in water levels can be seen in many areas of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
There is really nothing notable in Moncton at first glance – the guidebook didn’t offer much help either. It’s a bit of one street town with big box stores on the periphery and the whole place looks like it has seen better days. However, after some poking around, it turns out there are some bizarre things in Moncton.
Firstly, Moncton sits on the Petitcodiac River, which empties into the Bay of Fundy. Because the Bay of Fundy has these huge tides, a tidal bore occurs twice a day in the river and a sudden wave of water rushes past Moncton and takes the river from being low and placid to swiftly moving in a matter of seconds. If you have never seen a tidal bore, Google it. Very strange phenomenon.
Secondly, Moncton boasts something called the Magnetic Hill. Basically, if you put the car in neutral, it will roll up the hill. Again, Google it. We did it for a laugh. And we did laugh… mostly at ourselves for going to do something so ridiculous. Then we found something better – a local brewery called the Pumphouse serving blueberry beer. A few sips of that and everything was right in the world.
The Hopewell Rocks, about an hour south of Moncton is definitely worth making a trip to. Ideally you want be there at both high and low tides, but the phase of the moon will dictate what you can see and when. We were lucky to arrive just after high tide and watch the water recede at a brisk pace. After a while, you are able to walk the sea bed and admire the strange shapes of the rocks. Viewing platforms in the park also allow for a bird’s eye view of the receding bay, and we watched this huge mass of water continue to move away from the shore and funnel itself into the horizon. It was quite amazing to watch and we spent hours there.
After Moncton, we drove further West, to a resort town called St. Andrews right near the border with the United States. Again, I knew nothing about St. Andrews, except that it was meant to be nice. It’s not nice. It’s LOVELY. St. Andrews is by far and away the nicest town we visited in all of the Maritimes. I realize that it is very much a resort town, catered towards tourists, but the main street is right out of a movie, with Cape Cod style buildings everywhere stretched along the seafront, and a beautiful old railroad hotel overlooking the town.
There are a lot of interesting attractions in this part of New Brunswick, but only having a couple of days we decided to go and take a look at nearby St. Stephen, a border town with the US state of Maine. The town itself is not much to look at, but was quite interesting in that there are many small border crossings (didn’t see any line ups) and you can sit on the bank of the St. Croix river and look across to Maine – a different country in a different time zone!
Back in St. Andrews, we also visited Minister’s Island, which is only accessible during low tide. You can drive your car across the seabed and then onto the island, which was owned by William Van Horne, the man who oversaw the construction of the transcontinental railway in Canada. The main house and all the outbuildings are completely accessible to visitors, as well as hiking trails and beaches. The house itself is a treasure trove of artefacts and history, and the grounds and trails are beautiful with wildflowers in bloom and butterflies dancing through the air. It is a very peaceful place to visit. We had to drag ourselves away before the tide came in, otherwise we would be stuck for the night.
The last stop was Fredericton, the capital city of New Brunswick and a pretty town with tree lined streets centred on the St John River. After a brief stop and pleasant visit to the Beaverbrook art gallery, and the University of New Brunswick campus (great city views) we had to get back on the road to Moncton, home of the aforementioned Magnetic Hill, blueberry beer, and most importantly, the closest VIA train station. We had a train booked for Montreal and a farewell to make to the Maritimes.