- Fundy Trail beckons you to get off the high-speed highway
This is the first of a five-part series on travel on Canada’s East Coast.
On my recent trip to New Brunswick, I finally drove the Fundy Trail and saw Fundy National Park. It inspired me to sell the province a new tourism slogan.
The slogan, worth millions, is “Get Off The Road!” I’m also considering trademarking “Get Off The Road, Stupid” and “Get Off The Road, Right Now!”
I come by this insight honestly. I lived in Saint John and Fredericton as a kid, attended the University of New Brunswick in both cities, started my career in journalism there, and drove countless times to visit family in Nova Scotia. But I travelled on the big, divided highway the whole time and never got off the road to take the two-lane blacktop that winds along the highest rise and fall of tide in the world.
It’s been a long time since going for a drive was an end in itself. Remember the Sunday drive? When did we last do that?
Now, traffic, road rage, speed and the mad preoccupation with getting someplace has made the relaxing Sunday drive obsolete.
The Fundy Trail is a good reason for a drive any day of the week. You’ll need the better part of a day each way to make getting there more than half the fun. If you fly into a maritime location, you can rent a car, drive through and fly out of another airport (there are at least six in the area). Entering from Maine at Saint Stephen, N.B., provides an opportunity for a quick side trip to St. Andrews by-the-Sea, voted the best destination in Canada by readers of USA Today in a 2017 poll.
The Fundy Trail is not a contiguous road like the Trans-Canada Highway or California’s wonderful Route 1. You have to watch the signs and get on and off the divided highway a couple of times. Then there’s a long stretch from just outside Saint John, near the airport, along the coast for a bit and then back up to the main highway at about Sussex in dairy country.
After the rise and fall of the surf and tide in the Bay of Fundy, you’re rewarded with rolling hills and dairy farms.
Everywhere you stop for a snack or to stretch your legs is better than the last. The view offers something at every compass point – crashing waves, rocks, hills, forests, waterfalls and streams.
There are few roads in North America that make you wish for a lower speed limit. Several comprise the parkways of Long Island. Cape Breton, the Rockies, Route 1 and the Simi Valley are among the spots that beg for slow driving.
The Fundy Trail is another. I went so slow I had to get back to the main highway at about Sussex and drive via Moncton to get to Nova Scotia before dark. On my way back, I got off the big road as soon as I could. I was rewarded with the university town of Sackville, and then the penitentiary town of Dorchester. It’s in a pretty setting on water, and contains a few brick homes that must have been built for the warden and senior staffers.
Then came twisting, turning and backtracking. There are two choices for roads in the region. The first is the four-lane highways that push through dense woods. The two-lane, lower-speed roads trace the rugged coastline.
After Dorchester, I drove north almost to Moncton and then back south to get around Shepody Bay. But I was rewarded with the view, and the entrepreneurship of the residents of Hillsborough. They’ve put together a railway museum that rivals the Winnipeg Railway Museum. They’ve restored some elegant cars and left others as is, but all are open to walk through. Visitors are encouraged to climb on the locomotives and can see some cars in action.
Museum staff emphasize that the only home of a father of Confederation – William Henry Steeves – is a short walk away (although Joey Smallwood’s home in St. John’s, N.L., must still be standing). The boosters from Hillsborough have done a remarkable job of curating the home in which Steeves was born in 1814.
The area was Mi’kmaq First Nation territory for most of recorded and oral history, with Acadians settling in 1700. Le Grand Derangement forced Acadians from their homes in 1755. About 1766, Germans from Pennsylvania arrived, including the Steeves (also known as Steves, originally Stieff and Stief). This family has about 250,000 descendants and hold huge family reunions.
William Henry Steeves was a member of the New Brunswick legislature at age 32, and attended both the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences. New Brunswick initially rejected the idea of a Confederation but Steeves’ views eventually prevailed in 1866.
The two-storey home is crammed with artifacts, most in pristine condition.
One mandatory stop on the Fundy Trail is one of the most famous tourist pictures in the world – the Hopewell Rocks. These are sometimes called the Flowerpots and are created by tidal erosion.
They’re 12 to 21 metres tall (at low tide) and their official location is the Hopewell Rocks Ocean Tidal Exploration Site. This is at Hopewell Cape, about halfway between Moncton and Shepody Bay, which is off Chignecto Bay and the Bay of Fundy. Every crag in New Brunswick’s craggy coast gets a name.
Fundy National Park is a few twists and turns away from Hopewell Cape. A tourist is reminded that as spectacular as the sites are, it’s not a set in a Disney movie. There are real people, doing real things, in real life, including forestry, fishing and running small businesses. These residents of paradise can look across the Bay of Fundy to see the residents of the other paradise in northern Nova Scotia. I bet there’s a rivalry.
Fundy National Park was formed in 1948. It covers 207 square kilometres, has 25 waterfalls, 25 hiking trails, a golf course and a heated, saltwater swimming pool. About a quarter of a million people visit the park each year. More than half come from outside the Maritimes.
I wanted to stay a couple of extra days in a motel and hike a few trails, but I had to content myself with regular lookouts, short walks and panoramic views. I rescheduled a meeting in Fredericton because I couldn’t tear myself away.
Once I left, I stayed on the rolling roads through dairy country – this time north and east of Sussex, along the Saint John River and then into the capital city.
Get Off The Road. It’s a slogan that belongs to the stunning scenery of New Brunswick. If I can make it work, I might try the same trick with Saskatchewan. That will be another story.
If you take the Fundy Trail
Where to stay:
Independent accommodation is where you want to stay in most of New Brunswick. In St. Andrews, there are independent bed-and-breakfasts along Water Street, where you’ll get wonderful views of the tide coming and going.
The grand Rossmount Inn on Mount Chamcook is just out of town. The view from the porch is great and gets even better after the 20-minute gentle walk up the hill.
On the Fundy Trail, just pick the view you want and make sure the independent accommodation is to your liking. There’s everything from old clapboard mansions turned B&Bs to old-fashioned motels.
Here are few others: The fabled Algonquin Hotel in St. Andrews has been the place to be since 1889. It’s survived fires, rebuilds and additions.
Salty Towers on Water Street in St. Andrews has been in the accommodation business since 1921, and has some of the original furniture. It’s basic accommodation, which means no air conditioning, some shared washrooms, no TV, but lots of books and board games. It’s just a “B” not a B&B, meaning no breakfast, but coffee and a chat with the owners is available each morning. I stored my gin in the fridge and used the martini glasses at the end of each day. Starting at $50 a night, that leaves lots in the budget for the several good restaurants a short walk away, and right on the water.
Where to eat:
In St. Andrews, I ate twice at Harbour Front, which also features a good bottle of white Bordeaux. Across the street is the Europa Inn, where I also ate twice, and enjoyed some of the best live finger-style guitar playing I’ve seen outside of Memphis or Nashville.
Some other good spots to eat are in the hotels. Doing that in New Brunswick just means finding out if the seafood is fresh.
Fredericton’s Crowne Plaza-Lord Beaverbrook is a refurbished independent hotel, directly across from the provincial legislature, playhouse, convention centre and on Queen – the main street. It’s beside one of the best art galleries in a North American city of even 10 times the size of Fredericton, the Beaverbrook Gallery. See Turner, Freud and Dali. It also intermittently had one of the best independent steakhouses in North America – the Maverick Room, now called Maxwell’s.
Way down the street on the Woodstock Road, a long hike from downtown, is the Delta Hotel. It’s right on the water with outdoor dining and swimming. In the Delta, there’s Camp’s Corner in the bar. A picture of New Brunswick political consultant, advertising executive and journalist Dalton Camp is on the wall. If you like political history, it’s a must see. In the Delta restaurant, The Diplomat, there’s a pretty good steak and Osoyoos red wine.
Go for the oysters and French chardonnay in the bar or veranda at the Algonquin. They have good steak and pasta in the dining room. Other nights in the Algonquin, my trick was to take a drink to the second-floor balcony overlooking Ministers Island and Passamaquoddy Bay to watch the sunset.
If you pass through Moncton, try a restaurant that’s been top drawer since it opened in 1972 in a chain hotel called the Beausejuour. The restaurant’s name is The Windjammer. Its low-key décor mimics the dining car of a hotel, but the booths are more spacious. It has a top ranking on the Diamond system – four out of five. The specialty is the “Blue Dot” steak from Prince Edward Island, said to be among the top steaks in the Maritimes. Unless you order sides or seafood, the steak is served alone, but I recommend building your own surf and turf.
Troy Media columnist Allan Bonner has traveled the trans-Siberian express, part of what’s left of the Orient Express, high-speed rail in Europe, and slow-speed rail in China, Australia, Canada and the U.S.
In upcoming articles, Allan reports on his travels as a researcher, business consultant and experiential learner – not just for a diversion. You’ll read about fabled Campobello Island, the summer retreat of the Roosevelt family, Minister’s Island’s 50-room cottage built by Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, builder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and hear of the oldest basketball court in existence.