New Brunswick Roadtrip Begins in St. Andrews



Perhaps the most defining feature of New Brunswick, Canada is that it has the highest tides in the world. But unless you see it, stand in it, walk on the ocean floor one hour and kayak through rock openings the next, it is hard to wrap your head around what it means to say the Bay of Fundy has the “highest tides” in the world.

Seeing, experiencing this phenomenon for ourselves is just one of the reasons that brought us to New Brunswick, one of Canada’s Atlantic Maritime provinces and the only one of its 11 provinces that is officially bilingual (English and French). Other unique aspects were also intriguing – like seeing the vestiges of Pangea, primordial earth before the continents split apart, in one of the world’s first and most expansive UNESCO Geoparks; fossils 3.5 billion years old; and the intriguing phenomenon of Reversing Falls (one of only two places in the world).

We are also really excited to sample a new bike trail, 375 miles around the coast, that let us tour its (very French) Acadian Peninsula, going through small villages where the flag most prominently waved is that of Acadia, not New Brunswick or Canada. And then there are the bonus surprises where you can see living history of the First Nations and a colonial Acadian Village. 

The province also is surprisingly easy to reach, located adjacent to Maine (there are 17 border crossings), yet so delightfully foreign and exotic because it is relatively unknown and unexplored beyond New Englanders.

We start our 10-day New Brunswick exploration in St. Andrews, a National Historic Site of Canada, a charming seaside community with many of the town’s buildings still reflecting its founding by the United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution, especially as we walk along Water Street. 

Our first morning, we explore an absolute treasure of St. Andrews: Kingsbrae Garden, set on 27 acres donated by John and Lucinda Flemer. This was her family’s summer home, and, at 93 years old, Lucinda still lives here and walks the grounds most days.

In 1996, Mrs. Flemer wanted to do something to benefit the community. She originally thought to create a school to train guide dogs, but the tourism office suggested that a garden would benefit the community more, Lucinda was not a garden hobbyist, botanist nor landscape architect. Nor was Geoff Slater, the artist she chose to design her garden (we see his murals on the main street). She laid out her vision for the Garden one evening sitting at her kitchen table with Slater over a bottle of wine, and Kingsbrae Garden opened two years later, Daniel Schmids, director of operations, relates as he guides us around.

The gardens are gorgeous – works of art, really – but they are so much more. You feel the heart, the compassion, that went into their creation and design. You feel as nurtured and protected as the flowers. I have never been so simultaneously excited and serene at the same time. 

Kingsbrae pays tribute to some of the great garden traditions such as the White, Rose, Knot Garden, Perennial and Cottage gardens. 

There are also experimental gardens where new and old styles and plant materials are used to preserve and promote home gardening, like the Container Garden (to give apartment dwellers ideas, inspired by her time living in England). Display gardens showcase various collections of plant species and their uses – Rhododendron, Heath & Heather, Ornamental Shrub, Dwarf Conifer, Herb, Hydrangea and Gravel gardens. But Kingsbrae goes far beyond horticulture.

There is a Labyrinth & Maze, a Bee Garden (the bees essential to pollinate the flowers), a Monarch Garden (a certified Monarch butterfly way station providing not only the milkweed that Monarchs require but a protected place for the egg larvae to develop), a Secret Garden, and Memory Lane (a row of special trees planted in memory of someone). 

There is a Peace Garden and Afghanistan Memorial to honor and give comfort to war dead and veterans (military people get free admission); a therapy garden (the gardens work with Wounded Warriors to use gardening to relieve stress); a Scents and Sensitivity garden that invites you to identify the plant by smell or touch (the accompanying sculpture of a guide dog pays homage to Lucinda’s original idea). There is an orchard containing heirloom varieties of apple trees. An Edible Garden showcases edible plants, native and exotic fruits and berries (where the Garden Café chef makes a daily collection for his culinary creations before visitors arrive). 

Favorites are the Children’s Garden and a Fantasy Garden that provide outdoor environments for play and learning, with tiny cottages and animals including goats, alpacas and rabbits. The children’s garden is bordered by a “living fence” of 100 criss-crossing apple trees that have grown together over the past 10 years. 

Possibly the most extraordinary sight is the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis), a 200 million year old species thought to be extinct but re-discovered by a hiker in Australia; some were auctioned and a St. Andrews man won one and gifted it to Kingsbrae, now protected within a cage.

One of the most magnificent displays is the working Dutch windmill, built to one-third scale. Mrs. Flemer’s husband, John, who was Dutch, had it built as an anniversary gift in 1997 (he passed 6 years ago).

You can explore a kilometer-long groomed trail through the Acadian forest and an Audubon-certified bird sanctuary, which she created after a visit to India.

And all the way through, tucked here and there, are sculptures that convey a theme or message or are just whimsical (like an apple core you can sit on), as well as a Sculpture Garden. Indeed, Kingsbrae Garden is Canada’s largest private sculpture collection. For many years Lucinda sponsored a sculpture competition, purchasing the top prize winners for the Garden. Now she commissions works. We see the most recent acquisition, a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, appropriately in the Heath and Heather Garden.

We have the most delectable lunch at the Garden’s Café, with items enhanced by the freshly picked produce from the garden, which also houses an Art Gallery. On view are paintings created by the artist who designed Kingsbrae, Geoff Slater.

Kingsbrae Garden, 220 King Street, St. Andrews, 506-529-3335, www.kingsbraegarden.com (Open May-October).

Whale Watching 

Dave and I have to rush away from this delectable lunch to get to the dock for a whale watching tour with Jolly Breeze Whale Adventures. 

Whale watching is very popular in St. Andrews and there are many different companies. I am thrilled to be taking Jolly Breeze’s 12-passenger Zodiac – extremely comfortable, low to the water, very flexible so you are unlikely to get sea sick, and the Captain can maneuver more easily to get closer to a whale (keeping an appropriate distance). They give us an outfit that looks like we are off to explore the Arctic.

In fact, it is very early in the season and it is really by virtue of Captain Randy’s experience we do spot a Minke whale. But even if we didn’t get to see a whale, the cruise is really fun on the Zodiac and the scenery is beautiful.

Jolly Breeze Whale Adventures on the wharf at 4 King Street. 506-529-8116, jollybreeze.com. 

Ministers Island

We need to pull ourselves away from exploring St. Andrews’ charming downtown by 5 pm, in order to visit Ministers Island, Canada’s largest tidal island and a National Historic Site. Since you have to drive across a sand road (Bar Road) that is quickly overrun at high tide, covered by 15 feet of water (when it becomes an island), we have to mind the time. 

Ministers Island is where Sir William Van Horne built his summer home, Covenhoven, in 1890. Sir William Cornelius Van Horne was the American recruited to build Canada’s 2,900 mile-long transcontinental railroad system, finishing a year ahead of schedule (earning a $1 million bonus). 

It is furnished today – about 10 percent are family furnishings and the rest are period pieces – but most interesting are the paintings that Van Horne painted, the portraits and photographs, the travel posters, the original ice box and stove, his billiards table and game room. 

We visit the windmill he built to pump water from a 10,000 gallon holding tank (actually a railway water car) 127 feet below ground into the house for running water. 

You also can see the carriage house (a gorgeous carriage inside) and an amazing barn which features antique cars, and the magnificent 1911 bath house that overlooks a “natural” swimming pool cut from the rock just below. 

There is actually much to explore here: a shell midden archaeological site, and the 1790 home of Loyalist and Anglican minister Samuel Andrews, plus hiking on several marked trails.

But the tide will soon be coming in and we have to hurry off.

Ministers Island, 506-529-5081,  www.ministersisland.net/ (Open May-October, Admission, $17/adults).

Where to Eat, Stay

There are so many charming restaurants and cafes along Water Street. 

The previous day we sampled some of the town’s marvelous restaurants and sights.

The Niger Reef Tea House is a real find, offering the most marvelous ambiance and distinctive cuisine. It’s where the locals go for an elegant, sophisticated dinner in a homey, casual, comfortable but classy atmosphere (1 Joes Point Rd, St. Andrews, 506-529-8005, nigerreefteahouse.com).

This evening, we find an absolutely delightful deck to enjoy the view of the wharf and sunset at Saint Andrews Brewing Company (201 Water St.,  506-529-2337) set in what was the Customs House, which serves snacks but invites you to order in the rest of the meal. We order from a delightful restaurant just across the plaza, The Red Herring Pub, (211 Water St., 506-529-8455 – they even delivered!) and just revel in the scenery.

We go down to the wharf to take in a magnificent sunset, but I rush away to get to our hotel, the grand, historic Algonquin Resort in time for the 9 pm Ghost Tour (The Algonquin is said to be the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s horror story, The Shining.) 

One of the original Canadian Pacific Hotels (another ingenious Van Horne idea to promote travel on the railroad) and now part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, the Algonquin lets you drift back into that grand era as soon as you step across the threshold.

Set on a hilltop overlooking the town (and just next to Kingsbrae Gardens), The Algonquin has the most magnificent outdoor pool complex, an indoor pool with a water slide, tennis courts, 18-hole golf course. It also has a fleet bicycles available just for the asking to bike over the beautiful Van Horne Trail.

Algonquin Resort, 184 Adolphus Street, St. Andrews, 506-529-8823, www.marriott.com/en-gb/en-gb/hotels/travel/ysjak-the-algonquin-resort-st-andrews-by-the-sea-autograph-collection/

For planning help, visit Tourism New Brunswick, 800-561-0123, www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca.   

(See photos: goingplacesfarandnear.com/new-brunswick-roadtrip-begins-in-st-andrews/)

Next: Saint John, a City of Oldests, Firsts, Amazements

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