Samuel de Champlain was an intrepid explorer who earned his place in Canadian history, yet the famed Frenchman missed the mark in one regard. In 1604, he sailed into the mouth of the St. John River, claimed it, named it, and promptly sailed away. In doing so, he gave short shrift to a beautiful body of water that threads through thick forests and sylvan valleys, tumbling over grand falls as it heads toward its grand finale—the Reversing Rapids.
New Brunswick has many attractions that, like the river, reward those who take a leisurely approach; hence, today’s travellers shouldn’t emulate Champlain by buzzing through en route to bordering Provinces.
The St. John River is only one of the waterways which merits closer inspection. The wilder, salmon-rich Miramichi River, for example, is a world-class destination for anglers; and don’t forget all that H2O lapping the province’s 2,250-km (1,400-mi.) coastline. Chaleur Bay, to the north, is fringed with vintage fishing villages; Northumberland Strait, to the east, is bordered by warm, sandy beaches; and the Bay of Fundy, to the south, famously generates the highest tides on the planet—walls of water that rise and fall as much as 14.6 m (48 ft.) twice daily. Understandably, the last of these is New Brunswick’s big-ticket attraction, and top stops like the Hopewell Rocks, the Fundy Trail and Fundy National Park all showcase its power, providing ample opportunities for outdoor adventure.
The cultural landscape is equally diverse—and equally worth exploring—because Canada’s only officially bilingual province has a split personality, linguistically speaking. The English and French populations put a unique spin on everything from architecture to cuisine. As a result, British-influenced Loyalist locales such as Saint John (Canada’s oldest incorporated city) are visibly different from their Acadian cousins: communities where francophone residents proudly fly their own tricolour flag and have an abiding passion for a potato dish called poutine râpée. When a deeper understanding is desired, New Brunswick Tourism has you covered. Since many of its activities include a cultural component, its Experience Collection helps travellers navigate the nuances.
The seasons, too, deserve to be savoured, as each is distinct. Summer, when the weather is warmest and the festival calendar is fullest, is prime time for tourists. Nevertheless, Mother Nature has her own timetable. In early spring, sap runs in the maples and syrup producers open their sugar camps to visitors, whereas autumn promises brilliant fall foliage and delectable harvest feasts. Happily, a rapidly-growing number of restaurants spotlight fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Come winter, frozen ponds and lakes provide an ideal setting for cutting figure eights or playing pick-up hockey. Snow also falls—as much as 400 cm (157 in.) annually in northern New Brunswick—covering ski hills and more than 8,000 km (4,971 mi.) of groomed snowmobile trails.
In a place that has this much to offer, there’s no need to rush. So take your cue from the mighty St. John River and simply go with the flow.
The capital gained a hotel when the Hilton Garden Inn Fredericton opened next door to the Convention Centre last summer (hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com).
In September, the ribbon was cut on Moncton’s new $113-million sports and entertainment complex—the Avenir Centre (www.avenircentre.com).
The venerable Algonquin Golf Course was officially unveiled after a major two-year renovation designed by Rod Whitman (www.algonquinresort.com/golf).
Southeastern New Brunswick and P.E.I. co-host the World Acadian Congress (Congrès Mondial Acadien) August 10-24 (www.cma2019.ca).
Saint John’s contemporary art scene heats up with the opening of the Jones Gallery’s new, vastly-expanded Uptown location (www.jonesgallery.ca).
Cielo Glamping Maritime, located on the Acadian Peninsula, now lets guests bed down year-round in chic geodesic domes (www.glampingcielo.com).
Over the Cove Zip-line in French Fort Cove Nature Park is the City of Miramichi’s newest outdoor attraction and the longest zip-line in the Atlantic provinces.
Fredericton is rightly called “Atlantic Canada’s Riverfront Capital.” The British made it the seat of government over 230 years ago due to the easy access the St. John River provided, and most civic sites still line its banks. Chief among them are the two-block Garrison District, where red-coated troops were once quartered; the copper-domed Legislature; the neo-Gothic Christ Church Cathedral; and the top-notch Beaverbrook Art Gallery. Overlooking them all is the University of New Brunswick’s historic hilltop campus (www.tourismfredericton.ca).
Saint John, a vibrant commercial and cruise port, has been defined by its harbour since the Loyalists sailed in. Evidence is found in its 18th century waterside sites and the grand edifices erected by later seafarers during the “Golden Age of Sail.” The harbour’s significance is further apparent in Market Square, a museum and entertainment complex fashioned from waterfront warehouses, and the City Market which was built by shipwrights. Even the Harbour Passage Trail and Harbour Station arena are named in its honour (www.discoversaintjohn.com).
Straddling the muddy Petitcodiac River, Greater Moncton has surpassed Saint John to become the province’s most populous urban centre. Originally nicknamed the “Hub City” by virtue of its central location, it now doubles as a hub of tourist activity because Greater Moncton is home to attractions like the Magic Mountain Water Park, Casino New Brunswick and Magnetic Hill which, in addition to the eponymous hill, boasts a popular zoo, winery and amphitheatre (www.moncton.ca).
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
New Brunswick is blessed with superlative natural attractions: the world’s highest tides, some of the oldest mountains and second biggest whirlpool. These sites are, quite literally, phenomenal. Yet what makes the outdoors truly “great” is that it has something for everyone. The Fundy Trail—known for its precipitous cliffs, aromatic evergreens and sublime views—is a case in point (www.fundytrailparkway.com). Über-fit hikers can spend days traversing this part of The Great Trail. But, thanks to an adjacent parkway, key portions are accessible to children and the physically challenged, too.
Equally important is the fact that nature in New Brunswick is always close at hand, even in urban areas. Visitors to Saint John can splash out in Rockwood Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the country, or go wild by the seaside in the Irving Nature Park without leaving the city limits. Fresh air aficionados in Fredericton, similarly, can stroll, bike and rollerblade on a riverfront path dubbed “The Green” or get out on the water by boat. Moncton, meanwhile, puts sand connoisseurs in reach of both the delicate Bouctouche dunes and bustling Parlee Beach.
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
Occupied by Indigenous Peoples for more than 3,000 years, New Brunswick inherited two other cultures from its early French and English settlers. Indoor/outdoor venues such as Metepenagiag Heritage Park, Village Historique Acadien and Kings Landing Historical Settlement—celebrating Mi’kmaq, Acadians and Loyalists respectively—help establish the historical context, as does the engaging New Brunswick Museum in Saint John. Local culture here, however, is a living entity that survives outside museum-like settings.
Eclectic artisans, many of them concentrated around Fredericton, put a contemporary spin on age-old crafts. Poets and playwrights uphold a rich literary tradition, performing in coffee houses and theatres. Musicians thrive as well, which explains why, along with almost every imaginable form of modern music, you can hear hypnotic First Nations drumbeats, British folk songs and Cajun-style fiddles in pubs and at concerts or festivals province-wide.
MUST SEE, MUST DO
Hopewell Cape’s tree-tufted islands always look lovely, but their full beauty is only revealed when the tide ebbs, transforming them into megaliths looming above the bare ocean floor (www.thehopewellrocks.ca).
For flower fans, Kingsbrae Garden is reason enough to visit prim, trim St. Andrews by-the-Sea. Created from several old estates, the 11-ha (27-acre) property has over 20 themed zones (www.kingsbraegarden.com).
Kouchibouguac National Park has an array of ecosystems and recreational options. You can swim, bike, boat, fish, or explore lagoons and dunes on a guided walk (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/kouchibouguac).
At Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery, A-listers like Gainsborough, Dali and Reynolds share wall space with Canada’s own Group of Seven. Programs for art lovers are available (www.beaverbrookartgallery.org).
The Saint John City Market is overflowing with incredible edibles. Opened in 1876, the block-long building was constructed by shipbuilders, so its ceiling resembles an inverted hull (www.sjcitymarket.ca).
Kings Landing Historical Settlement, a recreated Loyalist village, features 70-plus restored structures, among them antique-filled homes, working farms and picture-perfect churches (www.kingslanding.nb.ca).
Saint John to Fredericton: Follow Route 102, criss-crossing the St. John River on small open-deck cable ferries with stops for photo ops on the pastoral Kingston Peninsula and in the pretty village of Gagetown.
Miramichi to Bathurst: Route 11 delivers a quintessentially Acadian seascape of fishing wharves, lighthouses and colourful communities. Brake for an enjoyable history lesson at Village Historique Acadien, where fiddlers and other faux townsfolk enliven the scene with their joie de vivre.
Grand Falls to Plaster Rock: Route 108 features rolling hills, rugged Tobique River terrain and a suitably grand waterfall where you can take a pontoon boat tour, go zip-lining or try deepelling (face-first rappelling).
Pay homage to the homard (lobster) in Shediac. After clambering over the world’s largest lobster—a 55,000-kg (55-tonne) whopper, albeit made from metal—kids can learn how to catch, and then eat the “king of crustaceans” on an entertaining and educational Lobster Tales Cruise (www.shediacbaycruises.ca).
FORT BEAUSÉJOUR–FORT CUMBERLAND NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Linking New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the Isthmus of Chignecto is tranquil today; the remains of Fort Beauséjour, however, prove this wasn’t always the case. Erected by the French in 1751 and captured by the British, who renamed it Fort Cumberland in 1755, the star-shaped fort played a pivotal role in the battle for colonial control. In summer, you can view exhibits at the visitor centre, then take a self-guided tour aided by the Explora app, the Xplorer booklet or interpretative signage. Kids, in particular, will enjoy the cannons and casements, though they may be content to don period-style guard costumes and just patrol the grounds (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/beausejour).
National Parks and Historic Sites: