The province of NEW BRUNSWICK attracts fewer tourists than its Maritime neighbours, despite sharing a border with the US and offering some spell-binding scenery. The only province in Canada that is constitutionally bilingual (English–French), around 33 percent of the population is francophone, a legacy of New Brunswick’s turbulent history; settled by the French in the seventeenth century, the British occupied the region in the 1750s, its population swelled by Loyalists fleeing the American Revolutionary War in 1783.
Today the booming city of Moncton – the effective capital of modern Acadia – acts as a gateway to the province from Nova Scotia (the border lies 54km to the southeast). Assuming you have a car, the best of New Brunswick can be experienced on three main routes from here. Travelling west along the coast to the US state of Maine you’ll shadow the deeply indented Bay of Fundy, with a sparsely populated shoreline of forest, rock and swamp epitomized by the coastal Fundy Trail Parkway and Fundy National Park. The province’s biggest city is Saint John, boasting a splendid sample of Victorian architecture, while easily the prettiest of the region’s coastal towns is St Andrews, a Loyalist settlement turned seaside resort and equipped with a battery of tantalizing inns and B&Bs. The other main attraction is the Fundy Islands archipelago at the mouth of Passamaquoddy Bay, which includes Campobello Island, the site of Franklin Roosevelt’s country retreat, and the far larger Grand Manan Island, a wild and remote spot noted for its imposing sea cliffs and rich birdlife.
Heading north to Québec from Moncton are two further routes: the first slices up the western edge of the province along the St John River Valley via Fredericton, the provincial capital, which offers the bonus of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and a handsome historic district. The second route cuts north along the Gulf of St Lawrence to the cluster of small towns known collectively as Miramichi City. Near here are the untamed coastal marshes of the Kouchibouguac National Park and culture-rich attractions of the Acadian Coast and Acadian Peninsula, heartlands of the French-speaking Acadians.
The Acadian CoastFrom Moncton, Rte-15 cuts across to the Northumberland Strait at SHEDIAC, the province’s lobster capital, where Rte-11 heads north along what’s been dubbed the Acadian Coast all the way to Miramichi. Settled in the years after the deportations of the 1750s, the string of pretty villages here are all French-speaking and proud of their Acadian roots. BOUCTOUCHE, 35km north of Shediac (55km from Moncton), was founded by Acadians in 1785 and is the birthplace of Canadian business legend K.C. Irving in 1899 – he opened his first petrol station here in 1924.
Le Pays de la SagouineThe highlight of the Acadian Coast is Le Pays de la Sagouine, a sort of Acadian fantasy village set on the Île-aux-Puces and connected to the mainland by a 325m wooden footbridge. Conceived by acclaimed local Acadian writer Antonine Maillet (the name comes from her 1971 novel La Sagouine) and opened in 1992, costumed actors show off traditional Acadian crafts, cuisine and trades such as fishing, all enhanced with humorous tales and period costume (including the eponymous heroine of La Sagouine, an uneducated washerwoman, considered the voice of the Acadian people). Actors also take part in musical performances throughout the day: the excellent dinner theatre is $30–60, but check the website for performances in English (in 2015 it was French only). You’ll probably enjoy this more if you speak at least some French, but the site is bilingual and daily tours run in English.
Canada’s chocolate townJust across the St Croix River from Calais, Maine (pronounced ‘kal-us’), St Stephen has been dubbed Canada’s Chocolate Town (it’s a “sweet experience” etc) thanks to the presence of confectioner (and the town’s major employer) Ganong Chocolates, founded here back in 1873. Today the absorbing Chocolate Museum (March, April, Oct & Nov Mon–Fri 10am–4pm; May & Sept Mon–Fri 10am–4pm, Sat 11am–3pm; June Mon–Sat 10am–4pm, Sun 11am–3pm; July & Aug Mon–Sat 9am–6pm, Sun 11am–3pm; $10; t 506 466 7848, w chocolatemuseum.ca), 73 Milltown blvd, tells the story of chocolate-making in the town, with plenty of free samples. St Stephen has three border crossings with the US, all open 24hr.
FrederictonSituated 100km or so inland from the Bay of Fundy on the banks of the St John River, FREDERICTON, the capital of New Brunswick, has a well-padded air, the streets of its tiny centre graced by elms and genteel villas. There’s scarcely any industry here and the population of 85,000 mostly work for the government or the university. Founded by Loyalists in 1783, the city has retained several intriguing reminders of the British army in the Historic Garrison District, while the Beaverbrook Art Gallery is simply outstanding.
The Garrison DistrictWest of City Hall the old British military base, occupied 1784 to 1869 to counter the threat of American attack, is preserved today as the Historic Garrison District. Walk along Queen Street to the Soldiers’ Barracks in front of the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design, a sturdy three-storey block that at one time accommodated more than two hundred squaddies. Built in 1826, the building’s lower floor is home to eight craft shops (June–Sept daily), while the upper levels belong to the college.
Beaverbrook Art GalleryLord Beaverbrook (1879–1964), the newspaper tycoon, was raised in New Brunswick’s Newcastle and moved to England in 1910 – becoming a close friend of Churchill and a key member of his war cabinet. In Fredericton his largesse was extended to the university, the Playhouse Theatre and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (beaverbrookartgallery.org), where an eclectic and regularly rotated collection of mostly British and Canadian art is squeezed into a dozen or so rooms, sharing space with an imaginative programme of temporary exhibitions.
Of the permanent work on display, Salvador Dalí’s monumental Santiago El Grande, depicting St James being borne up towards a vaulted firmament on a white charger, usually takes pride of place in the High Gallery near the entrance. The Vaulted Gallery contains some real gems: Leda (1945), a crayon drawing from Matisse, a classic mill scene from Lowry (1956), and a dark, brooding study by Constable, Scenes of Wood & Water (1830). The Sir Max Aitken Gallery features portraits by Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, while the Vaughan Gallery contains a mix of Flemish tapestries, porcelain, a couple of Ford Madox Brown pencil-and-ink drawings and “HMS Terror” Iced-in off Cape Comfort by early nineteenth-century artist George Chambers, a wonderfully melodramatic canvas, the creaking ship crushed by the ice underneath a dark and forbidding sky. On the lower level are galleries dedicated to modern art from New Brunswick with some Andy Warhol prints thrown in (including his Liz Taylor) and a selection of the Christmas-card works of the prolific Cornelius Krieghoff, including two of his finest, Merrymaking and Coming Storm at the Portage. Look out also for a couple of Winston Churchill’s own paintings.
Changing of the guardOfficers’ Square, at the foot of Regent Street and Queen Street, is the location of Fredericton’s Changing of the Guard (July & Aug daily 11am & 4pm, also Tues & Thurs at 7pm; t 506 460 2041), a crowd-pleasing re-enactment of Canadian Infantry School Corps drill circa 1883, replete with scarlet tunics and skirling bagpipes.
The Fundy coastSome of the most alluring portions of New Brunswick’s coastline can be found between Moncton and Saint John, a wild and mostly untouched region of rugged headlands, crumbling cliffs and dense, fog-bound forests trailing into the sea. The main sights are easily accessed via routes 114 and 111, collectively dubbed the Fundy Coastal Drive.
The Fundy coast is a popular holiday spot in the summer, so it’s a good idea to book accommodation in advance – most things are closed between November and June. Be prepared for patches of pea-soup fog: the Bay of Fundy is notoriously prone to them. You’ll need a car to make the most of the area, as there is no public transport to either St Martins or the Fundy National Park.
Fundy National ParkBisected by Rte-114, Fundy National Park encompasses a short stretch of the Bay of Fundy’s pristine shoreline, all jagged cliffs and tidal mud flats, and the forested hills, lakes and river valleys of the central plateau behind. This varied scenery is crossed by more than 100km of hiking trails, mostly short and easy walks taking no more than three hours to complete – though the 45km Fundy Circuit links several of the interior trails and takes between three and five days. The pick of the hiking trails are along the Fundy shore, where the shady Point Wolfe Beach Trail is a moderately steep, 600m hike down from the spruce woodlands above the bay to the grey-sand beach below (15min). Of equal appeal is the 4.4km loop of the Coppermine Trail (1hr 30min–2hr), which meanders through the forests with awe-inspiring views out along the seashore. Birdlife is more common in the park than larger wildlife, though you may see the odd moose, and several precocious raccoons in summer, which have become real pests – feeding them is illegal.
St MartinsThe fishing village of ST MARTINS scatters along the Bay of Fundy shoreline about 40km to the east of Saint John, a pretty ensemble of neat gardens and clapboard houses culminating (after 3km) at the harbour, a compact affair of lobster pots and skiffs set within a ring of hills. Be sure to get a photo of the twin covered bridges over the Irish River (the Vaughan Creek Bridge was built in 1935; upriver is the Hardscrabble Bridge of 1946) along with the lighthouse (the information centre), built in 1983 and actually a replica of the old Quaco Head Lighthouse.
The Fundy Trail ParkwayFrom St Martin’s harbour it’s 8km east along Big Salmon River Rd to the Fundy Trail Parkway, one of the province’s most magical destinations. The 16km parkway threads past craggy headlands, dense forest and stupendous viewpoints at almost every turn; you might see moose, porcupine and deer along the way. The road is also shadowed by a multi-use trail offering fine and comparatively easy hiking and biking, as well as access to several gorgeous beaches and falls. The parkway passes the Big Salmon River Interpretive Centre, whose exhibits give the historical lowdown on the former lumber town of Big Salmon River (the inhabitants packed up shop in the 1940s). The nearby Heritage Sawmill offers more exhibits on the lumber industry. From the centre, you can stroll down the hillside and cross the suspension bridge to the river below or take a guided walk (Mon–Fri 1–3pm; $4.50); guided tours to Sea Captains’ Burial Grounds (June–Sept; $4.50) and the Hearst Lodge (full day; $40 adults, $20 children 7–12) require advance booking. The Hearst family – of newspaper fame and owners of the lumber mill – built the hunting and fishing lodge here in 1968.
The final 14m stretch of parkway is expected to be complete in 2018, ending at an entry kiosk on McCumber Brook Rd – this will lead to Rte-114 and ultimately Fundy National Park; until then you must return to St Martins to move on.
Experienced hikers can tackle the 50km between Fundy National Park (see opposite) and the Fundy Trail Parkway (see above) via the spectacular coastal Fundy Footpath, accessible from the end of Goose River Path (7.9km; 2hr 30min) from Point Wolfe in Fundy National Park. The challenging trail ends near the Big Salmon River Interpretive Centre on the Parkway. Most people take four days and camp along the way; all hikers are required to register by calling T866 386 3987.
The Fundy FootpathExperienced hikers can walk the 50km between Fundy National Park and the Fundy Trail Parkway via the spectacular coastal Fundy Footpath, accessible from the end of Goose River Path (7.9km; 2hr 30min) from Point Wolfe in Fundy National Park. The challenging trail ends near the Big Salmon River Interpretive Centre on the Parkway. Most people take four days and camp along the way; all hikers are required to register by calling t 866 386 3987.
Miramichi Folksong FestivalThe Miramichi Folksong Festival (t 506 622 1780, w miramichifolksongfestival.com) is held over five days in early August and generally reckoned to be one of the best of its kind, with fiddle music its forte. Passes for the whole festival are around $75 (individual concerts $15–25), with most events held at the Beaverbrook Kin Centre, 100 Newcastle Blvd.
Saint JohnThe largest city in New Brunswick (pop. 128,000), SAINT JOHN is better known for its industrial prowess than its tourist attractions, home to iconic products such Moosehead beer, the mighty Irving group of companies and a booming oil and gas sector. Yet the surprisingly compact downtown area is crammed with diverting sights, from resplendent Victorian architecture to the absorbing New Brunswick Museum and the Reversing Falls Rapids on the St John River, a dramatic spot to see the effects of the Fundy tides.
The French established a trading post here in 1631, but the city-proper was founded by Loyalist refugees from America in 1783. In the nineteenth century Saint John thrived on the lumber and shipbuilding industries, and despite a devastating fire in 1877, it was sufficiently wealthy to withstand the costs of immediate reconstruction. Consequently, almost all the city’s older buildings – at their finest in the Trinity Royal Historic Preservation Area – are late Victorian.
Most of the action in Saint John takes place in the downtown area, known here as Uptown – the part of the city across the harbour is dubbed West Side.
The tiny rectangular dock at the foot of King Street, known as the Market Slip, is where the three thousand Loyalists disembarked in 1783. The Slip no longer functions as a port, but is still at the heart of Saint John, with warehouses converted into wine bars, restaurants and boutiques that front the modern Market Square shopping mall behind.