It was a long drizzly drive but by early evening Miles had steered us safely across the border into the sunshine of New Brunswick again, having visited Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in the past few weeks. Now it is time to visit the southern part of New Brunswick as we make our way back west.
We pulled into Moncton, pried our tired bodies…how does one get so tired sitting?…out of our seats and went for a long walk. It felt so good to unfold and breath in the fresh evening air…the tensions of driving in poor weather on unknown country roads soon gone.
The next morning, after doing a little research on Hopewell Rocks, we knew we wanted to experience the area at both high and low tides. High tide would be around 11:00 so we set off in that direction. We followed the Petitcodiac River, known fondly by the locals as Chocolate River because of the high amount of suspended reddish brown sediment in the water. Instead of a clear river, it looked like chocolate milk! And because it is a tidal river, it was filling up as we travelled to its mouth at the Bay of Fundy.
Because of the funnel shape of the Bay of Fundy, this area experiences the highest tides in the world. Water levels can rise more than 40 feet in a matter of six hours. We arrived at Hopewell Rocks in time to view the bay at its fullest. From the viewing platform we could see the tops of rocks jutting out of the water. People on kayaks were floating around them and through them.
We were told that we could come back later at low tide to see the ocean floor. That gave us a few hours to do other things. In our haste to see this at high tide, we had not realized that Magnetic Hill, a popular tourist attraction was in Moncton where we had just come from. So off we went, back to Moncton to see this weird phenomenon. Sure enough…it was perplexing. Our instructions were to drive down the hill, turn around and park by the white post, put our vehicle in neutral and take our foot off the brake. We did as we were told and our van magically coasted back up the hill as if it were being pulled by a very huge magnet! It was so interesting, we turned around and did it again. I won’t tell you how it happens but be satisfied that if you’re in Moncton, it’s worth the $5 charge!
Back to Hopewell Cape where we visited the Albert County Museum. Albert County was established in 1845 and Hopewell Cape was selected to be the “Shiretown” or capital of the county. Many of the original buildings of the shiretown still exist and are still in their original spots. These buildings now house the museum with each building featuring information on different facets of the area. A few noteworthy points; Prime Minister Robert A. Bennet (1930-1935) was from there; kerosene, the first petroleum product to be extracted from the ground, originated there; and famous murderer Tom Collins (not to be confused with the drink) committed his crime there and was finally hung after three separate trials.
It was nearing the safe time to walk the ocean floor at Hopewell Rocks so we headed over there again. What a change! Where had all the water gone? Without actually seeing it, I would have had a hard time understanding the change in the height of the tide. What had been just a tiny opening in one of the rocks turned out to be a massive arch that crowds could walk through. The floor of the ocean was covered with a sludge of slippery red mud which we had to walk carefully on to avoid slipping. It was amazing!
Moving on, we followed the Shepody Bay, still at low tide, until we arrived at Fundy National Park. We would camp high in the mountains just outside the little tourist town of Alma. We booked in for two nights…a beautiful forested campsite where we had space to spread out. Unfortunately, rain arrived shortly after but we didn’t mind the break from driving. It was a chance to regroup after some pretty busy days again.
Two days later when we left the campground, we backtracked to Alma for one of their famous sticky buns…we had been told about them by another camper. Yummy! That bakery also makes great peanut butter cookies for the road! Taking the scenic route through the park, we climbed slowly and steadily up the mountain. Some of the maple trees were beginning to turn color, some of them even bright red. We can only imagine how amazing this area must be in another month.
St. Martins marks the beginning of the Fundy Trail and the location of a row of sea caves along the rocky cliffs lining the bay. The fog made it difficult to see them and the tide was high so we decided to drive to the end of the Fundy Trail in the hopes that the fog would rise as the sun got hotter and we would see them better on our return.
This part of the Fundy Trail is about a 25 km stretch of road along the Bay for driving or cycling and another 25 km further if hiking. There are lookouts along the way and the road climbs and drops. The 251 million year old rock cliffs show off colors of green, amethyst, blue, grey, white and pink…it’s really very lovely. By the time we had reached the end of the trail at Long Beach, the fog had still not lifted. It gave the beach an eerie, forlorn look. We wandered around the beach, again collecting shells, and had a picnic lunch, the whole time waiting to see blue sky. It never came so we headed back along the trail.
One stop, above the fog, led us down a set of cable stairs to Fuller Falls that were pretty and would have been awesome in the spring! Then back to St. Martins where the fog was still too thick to properly see the caves.
In the 1800’s, this was a major ship building area, with no less than seven ship building companies in the area. Now, of course, that industry is no longer viable. Fishermen still use the harbour but it is affected enormously by the tides. While we were there at low tide, machines were busy dredging the harbour because over time it has built up, causing the tide to leave earlier and come in later. By dredging the bottom and removing some of the build-up, they hope to add two more hours to the fisherman’s work day.
We arrived in Saint John by early evening and had supper in a restaurant on the wharf at Market Square. There were crowds of people there celebrating the end of summer with live entertainment. It was a happening place!
Saint John, incorporated in 1785, was once one of the busiest ship building areas in the world. In fact, the Marco Polo, known as the fastest ship in the world was built here in 1852. She easily broke the record for quickest round trip from Liverpool, England to Melbourne, Australia.
It is now a very busy working port, handling more than 25 million tonnes of cargo a year. The city has done a great job of bringing the tourist element to the docks with a lovely boardwalk and interpretive signs along the way. It is visited by cruise ships, barges, freighters, ferries and many other seacraft.
We stayed the night in the harbour parking lot and spent the next morning wandering around historic Saint John. This city was influenced greatly by the settling of the English and the American Loyalists in the 1700’s. Kings Square, a park area with a lovely gazebo, park benches and fountains is a tribute to the city’s past.
Saint John was ravished by fire in 1877 and within four years of the fire most of the buildings had been replaced giving the old part of the city a very homogenous look. In later years, modern architecture has emerged among the old. Old buildings are being repurposed as luxury apartments and condos with 18′ ceilings and 10′ windows as selling features.
Uptown Saint John, as they call it, is connected by a series of ped-ways and skywalks much like Winnipeg, making travel around the city in inclement weather easier. At the center is Market Square which, besides being a great outdoor meeting area, has an inside shopping area, Canada’s first free public library (established in 1833), the Museum of New Brunswick, restaurants and pubs with connecting ped-ways to banks, city hall, hotels, etc.
The Saint John River, which originates in Maine and flows through Quebec and New Brunswick empties into the Bay of Fundy here. It is spanned by bridges connecting the city east and west but in the years from 1841-1954, ferries did the job. A trip on one of the ferries in the early days would cost a person 3 cents…a far cry from the $184 fare that we would have paid for the ferry from Digby, NS to here earlier this week!
Before leaving Saint John later in the afternoon, we stopped at Reversing Falls. This is a unique phenomenon caused by the elevation change between the bay and the river in combination with the huge tide levels. The river is lower than the bay when tide is in so the water that should spill into the bay over the rocks gets pushed back into the river as the tide gets to its highest point. When the tide lowers, the river can once again spill as rapids into the bay. We saw it at full tide but did not see the low tide effect. Regardless, it was quite something.
In Fredericton, we stopped for a walk along the river parkway. We got side tracked when we approached a spray park with hundreds of kids celebrating their last Friday of the summer. We watched as a huge bucket high above filled with water while the kids below waited with anticipation for it to topple over and spill water all over them. Shrieks and laughter filled the air as the water tumbled down on them. It was so much fun to watch!
Across the street, free tours of the Government House were being offered. The Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick lives there three or four days each week. The third floor is her private residence. We were able to tour the first and second floors which are still used for a variety of events over the course of a year, many of them political but not all. An art gallery with changing art displays takes up a portion of the second floor. It is a beautiful house and has been used for a variety of purposes over the years from government to prison to RCMP to government again.
Driving north, we had to make a stop at Hartland to see the longest covered bridge in the world. At 1282 feet, it is considered an exceptional engineering feat given that it was built in 1921. Covers were put on the bridges because the bridges were made with wooden trusses and this would prevent them from rotting. Most of the bridges, including this one, are still being used today.
Our last night in New Brunswick was at Grand Falls. There is a deep gorge there with falls that, in the springtime, are apparently very impressive. They claim that at that time of the year 9/10ths of the volume of Niagara Falls cascade over the rocks every second as snow melts in the Appalachians, rushing to the Saint John River. This time of year, however, most of the water is diverted to the hydro plant so we didn’t see much for falls. Incidentally, Grand Falls is the birthplace of Ron Turcotte, the jockey that rode Secretariat and won the Triple Crown in 1973.
On the highway again, we passed through Riviere Verte, a pretty little Acadian town with a covered bridge built in 1925. At only 194 feet, it’s not nearly as impressive as the Hartland bridge but it looks so quaint in its rural setting.
Our lunch stop was at Edmunston, a port of entry city for US residents from Maine, and just 18 km south of the Quebec border. A picnic by the Madawaska River with a view of the big pulp and paper mill across the water was a great place to eat, walk and read our books in the sun.