Saturday, December 6, 2014

Passing Through -- New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island: September 8 - 14, 2014

New Brunswick - Land o' Trees and Tides

Canada's Parliamentary Information and Research Service reports that New Brunswick had a trade surplus in forest products in 2012. We suspect there will soon be official confirmation that the province had a forest product surplus in 2013 and 2014 as well. There are a lot of trees there. A lot of trees. 

Fredericton:  After driving about 280 miles through trees (if you're coming from Riviere du Loup in Quebec) you get to Fredericton, a charming, sleepy little provincial capital on the St. John River. The local hotels (even the Comfort Inn - clean, cheap, no elevator but just fine) can provide you with a nice map showing walking tours of town. The downtown area is worth an hour's ramble and the walking trail along the river is very nice. We recommend both as a way to stretch one's legs after 280 miles of looking at trees. 

Remains of The Old Bridge Across the St. John River

End of Summer Blooms

Another St. John River View - With Trees To The Horizon

We were too late for the summer season activities and too early for the leaf-gazing activities; not much was going on in Fredericton during our stop. If you want to make Fredericton a destination rather than a rest stop, consider scheduling a visit around one of many mid-summer or later-fall beer or music-related festivals; or perhaps the Poutine Festival (we speak facetiously of poutine, but honestly, Molly hasn't even tried it . . . ). 

St. John:  After a restful day walking around Fredericton we drove another 100-plus tree-filled miles to St. John. [Travel tip: If you want to pass as a Canadian do not call this town on the coast of New Brunswick St. John's. St. John's is in Newfoundland.] 

St. John is a funky old seaport on the St. John River as it opens to the super-tidal Bay of Fundy. For perspective: 160 billion tons of seawater flow in and out of the Bay of Fundy in each tidal cycle. Tidal differences are as high as 50 feet in some areas. But you should also know (if you don't already) that it takes six hours (and 13 minutes) to go from high tide to low tide and another six and 13 to reverse that. This could be why tide watching has never really caught on as a spectator event.   

On our first evening in St. John we saw a sailboat tied to the municipal pier, sitting in the mud. The next afternoon we saw the same boat at the same pier floating some 20-ish feet above the bottom. Interesting, and a cautionary to those who do not want their sailboat left to balance on its keel. But thrill seekers that we are, we didn't stand around to watch the tide come in or go out. Nor, sadly, did we think to take a "high tide" and "low tide" picture of the boat to illustrate this explanation. 

At a couple of points along the St. John River this tidal effect creates the "Famous Reversing Falls" which are sort of famous, but not really falls. They're more like reversing rapids. What happens is that the tidal shift, when squeezed between two narrow points along the river, causes the river to reverse its flow - with the low and high tides "colliding". Which is cool. We liked it -- but those around us kept wondering when something was going to happen. We finally told one couple that the shift had just happened and to see the water flow reverse again they would have to wait for a long time or come back in about six hours. Those were two disappointed tourists. 

More adventuresome tourists can actually ride the tidal bore in several places, which in the advertisements looks like riding a chocolate river rapid. Sadly, your correspondents were too cold to want to give that a try - nor had we brought enough clothes to be able to sacrifice a set to the muddy tidal bore.

We thought the most interesting thing in St. John was the New Brunswick Museum and the most interesting thing there was the Hall of Great Whales. There you can see the skeletons of several whale species, including the endangered Atlantic Right Whale, and the skull of a Sperm Whale. They have some great docents there, and lots of information about Atlantic whales. 

Sperm Whale Skull
(See Perspective-Purpose Tourists In The Background)

Check Out Those Flippers

The other thing we enjoyed in St. John was the city market. It made us visiting Mexicans feel very at home - except there were no tacos, only lobster rolls.   

El Mercado de San Juan, Nuevo Brunswick

Prince Edward Island

PEI - Famous For Red Dirt
[So Is Western Oklahoma - But There's No Ocean There]

Coming and Going:  There are two ways to reach Prince Edward Island by motor vehicle: 

  • cross the 8 mile-long Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick (just above the Nova Scotia / New Brunswick border) and arrive at the south shore about mid-way between the tips of the island; or
  • travel for an hour and a quarter by car ferry from Nova Scotia to the island's east end. 

Most travelers arrive one way and depart by the other in order to avoid backtracking. Our "circle route" started from New Brunswick so we arrived by bridge and departed by ferry. Just coincidentally that also turns out to be the least expensive circle route - the bridge toll (a hefty C$45) is only collected upon departure. The ferry charges both directions (C$69). It runs only May through mid-December. 

We think it says a lot about the culture of PEI that the bridge was not opened until 1997 and that when the idea of building a bridge was put to the voters, just 59.4% of the PEI electorate voted in favor. Pre-1997 the island was very isolated during the winter months - but 40.6% of the electorate apparently liked it that way.   

Staying:  We spent three nights on the island at the Prince County Bed & Breakfast near Miscouche (fun to say - sort of like "miss-scoosh"). The B&B is in a huge old farmhouse and offers (at least in our room) comfortable accommodations. The proprietors make good breakfasts and can offer lots of local information. 

Eating:  On the whole, PEI is not a destination for adventuresome dining. But, it's a great place to enjoy some super-fresh seafood and potatoes. You have to work not to get potatoes with every meal, but that's not necessarily a bad thing since the local chefs really know their potatoes. Molly fell completely in love with the PEI french-style fries and is blaming them for the five pounds we each gained on this trip!

We were on the island during the "Fall Flavors Festival" a period of sold-out food activities and when most restaurants on the island offer a fall-themed prix fixe addition to their dinner menu. Our first "Fall Flavors" meal was at a restaurant Bryce had found on the internet - Fiveelevenwest.  It was a good meal, but most memorable for its uber-Canadian location: inside the local hockey rink (look behind you to the left as you enter the main door and you won't have to bother the locker room people for directions . . . ). The other restaurants we visited were located in less amusing digs but also offered pleasant meals. 

One of our favorite was a serendipitous stop at a local pub which served a great lobster roll and even better shepherd's pie. Though we doubt we could ever find the place again since we were hopelessly lost at the time we found it, we recall it fondly.

Hearing:  One of the happily obligatory things to do on the island is to attend a Ceilidh - a Celtic music event often referred to as a "kitchen party" because that's where they used to take place (biggest, warmest room in the house). They are now primarily held in parish halls or other community halls as a way to raise money for the church women's organization. The one we attended on PEI was in Stanley Bridge at the Sterling Women's Institute Hall. It was a very well produced show and even in the off-season it was packed with tourists and locals entertaining visiting family. At intermission we joined the majority of the audience in the hall basement for tea and ice cream with strawberries. 

Ceilidh are not to be missed if you enjoy Celtic music or have fond memories of church-basement social events. And if you don't enjoy Celtic music -- wha's the matter w' ye man?!

Toe Tappin On A Stanley Bridge Thursday Night

Seeing:  We took a couple of the drives that the tourist office encourages and along with viewing the calming island scenery - miles of well tended farms and sea vistas - 

Affordable, With A Great View

we visited:

The Lennox Island, a Mi'Kmaq First Nation Reserve. We arrived to find the cultural center, the tribal office and nearly everything everything else in the neat, tidy and very quiet town closed. We didn't visit the one little tourist shop that appeared to be open, but paused to enjoyed the view. 

Multicultural Stop Signs on Lennox Island

As we wandered around trying locked doors we stopped to read an outdoor display about the community's participation in WWI. Context: 2014 is the centenary of the start of WWI and Canada, as a Member of The British Empire, bore a heavy burden during that awful war. After seeking internet confirmation of what we read there and mostly confirming how faulty our memories are -- we can say we believe this to be accurate: From a community of about 200 Mi'Kmaq souls, 64 of which were adult males, 34 men joined the Canadian forces during WWI (for the math-challenged, that's almost 20% of the total population). Somewhere between six and nine of those died during the conflict.

Remembering The Fallen

Bryce's take: You grow up in this beautiful place and die in a muddy trench in France. Molly's cheery addition: All for a government that had treated your people poorly for centuries.

First Nation's people weren't even given the full rights of citizenship in Canada until the 1950's. We are left with a profound sense of sadness, and wondering why people volunteer to fight people they don't know on behalf of governments that have treated them badly.   

We walked along the waterfront of Summerville, the second largest town on the island. Most of the tourist shops were closed but we did manage to find a couple of nice t-shirts (leaving "I'm With Stupid" and the like for next season's tourists). Our favorite sight there was the sign of what we thought of as a uniquely Canadian yacht club:   

An All Seasons Club

We stopped at several marinas and were thrilled to find a Canadian Sailcraft 36 - Abracadabra's sister ship. We stopped to talk to the owner of this vessel, which is used for charter tours of the Charlottetown harbor. We brought greetings from Abracadabra in El Salvador.  

A Fine Looking Vessel

We also saw the beginning of the end for the sailing season. Not only are boats put on the hard - many of the docks are dismantled and stored for the winter.

Dock Under Tow

And in Charlottetown, the provincial capital, we visited the capitol and learned something we think will sound amazing to our friends that work (or worked) in the California civil service: the legislative branch is unicameral and has only 27 members. Their meeting room is a little jewel box - with the sad few seats for the opposition party (all 3 of them) set over in the corner and the one independent member in another. It must feel sort of lonely not being a Liberal on PEI. 

We Can't Help You With:  Information about the Anne of Green Gables house or the musical about the touching love story between Anne and Gilbert. Much of the tourist life of the island centers around Anne's story. If you like the story (which interestingly is wildly popular in Japan - go figure) PEI is the place to go. We like PEI anyway.

From There: From PEI, we took the ferry to Nova Scotia where we spent two very fun and interesting weeks which we'll share with you soon.  

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