Saturday, November 29, 2014

Bay of Fundy Vacation Checklist

So, you've decided to come visit the Bay of Fundy. You will not be disappointed! It's not surprising that the Bay of Fundy, with the world's highest tides and spectacular seascape, was the last Canadian finalist in the Natural Wonders of the World competition.

 In this post we provide a checklist of fifteen attractions to include in your itinerary, briefly describing each. Future posts will explore each of these, and others, in depth, but we thought it would be handy to have a complete list all in one place. The list is arranged in order around the bay, starting at the New Brunswick border with Maine. We have updated this in summer 2017 with a few revisions this list which as first published in 2011.

Grand Manan Island
A visit to Grand Manan will involve some time since a ferry trip is involved, but the island really is a jewel of the Bay of Fundy. It offers an authentic coastal environment and natural beauty. It is a perfect location for seascape photographers.  Also, it is one of the best places to do whale watching (as well as porpoises and a rich variety of seabirds).

Saint Andrews
This charming coastal New Brunswick town offers a rich educational setting with the Huntsman Marine Centre Museum and Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre offering family friendly places to learn about the Bay of Fundy. So a visit to Saint Andrews is a must.  The Algonquin is a classic Canadian hotel, which also includes superb oceanside golf courses. In 2017 Saint Andrews was rated the top place in Canada to visit by USA Today - indeed high praise.

Saint John and Reversing Falls
The Saint John River (one of Canada's great rivers) flows into the Bay of Fundy in the city of Saint John. The high tidal range produces reversing falls. At low tide there are falls as the water flows downriver, while near high tide the water rushing from the bay up the river creates falls in the opposite direction. The city of Saint John includes other attractions, including New Brunswick's provincial museum that has fine displays on the geologic background for understanding the area, and a first rate downtown market.

St. Martins and Fundy Trail
The village of St. Martins is the gateway to the Fundy Trail, a spectacularly beautiful set of coastal vistas. There are parallel walking and driving trails. Walk at least part of it if you are able at all. While much more limited than the Nova Scotia Cabot Trail, the Fundy Trail is every bit as beautiful. St. Martins also offers a chance to see two of the more interesting covered bridges of the province. The Fundy Trail is largely complete at this time, although the final link to near Fundy National Park will be officially open in 2018.

Fundy National Park
Of course your Bay of Fundy vacation must include a stop at Fundy National Park. In fact, there is enough in the park that you could spend weeks just there, doing something different every day. As well as coastal walks and views, the highlands of the park offer an interesting contrast. The park has an extensive set of well developed trails of varying difficulty levels. The village of Alma (at the eastern entrance to the park) offers a variety of services as well as a charming active harbour. Due to the tidal range, the ships sit on dry ground at low tide, and high up at high tide six hours later. There are excellent dining choices in the village, ranging from the fish and chips at the takeout along the river, to fine dining at the Parkland Hotel, and much in between.  There are several lobster shops in this tiny village, and a bakery that offers incredible sticky buns (and lots more)!

Waterside Beach
Imagine a beach of almost level sand that stretches almost forever. Now add the impressive flow of rising tide from the Bay of Fundy. What if you could have the feeling that beach was almost just for you? While not nearly as well known as most of the other attractions on this list, on your way to Cape Enrage be sure to stop at the Waterside Beach. While the water is cold, the beach is spectacular and usually near empty. Best time to visit is during low tide, or just when the incoming tide is beginning.  This spot is becoming better known and is more frequented than used to be the case, but is still not crowded by any means.

Cape Enrage Lighthouse
One of the most scenic lighthouses along the Bay of Fundy is that at Cape Enrage. On rugged cliffs you have spectacular views of the bay. This lighthouse was saved and turned into one of New Brunswick's top attractions by a pair of Moncton teachers, along with high school and university students. As well as the views, there is a gift shop, coffee shop, and for the more adventurous, the chance to rappel down the cliffs or travel by zip line from cliff to cliff.  If adventure is in your plans, you simply can't miss Cape Enrage!

Hopewell Rocks
New Brunswick's best known tourist attraction is The Hopewell Rocks, and it is regarded as one of the premier tourist attractions anywhere in the world.  As beautiful as pictures are of this location, you really do need to be there in person, surrounded by the majestic structures, to appreciate how special this place is. It is located near the village of Hopewell Cape.  The operators offer motorized rides who find the moderate length walk more than they desire, but note that there are many stairs down to the actual location.  The tides continue to erode these impressive rock formations (a major formation called 'Elephant Rock' partially collapsed in the off season just over a year ago). Plan your visit near the time of low tide to permit walking among the formations - the Hopewell Rocks site will tell you when it is safe to be at sea level. This is the signature tourist destination in New Brunswick, and one of the top sites in all of Canada, all for good reason!

Tidal Bore
The heights of the tidal range cause a tidal bore in several rivers, including the Petitcodiac in New Brunswick. Since shallow water waves travel faster when the water, is deeper, the wave gains strength as it moves up a river. One of the better places to view this is from the city of Moncton. Part of the Canada Trail runs along the river in Dieppe and Moncton, and this is one of the easiest, and perhaps best, places to observe the tidal bore. Join the trail near the Chateau Moncton hotel (which is almost across the street from the large Champlain Place shopping mall). If you do arrange your visit to be there at the right time to see the tidal bore, make sure to stay after the bore to see how rapidly the water flows into the river. Recently professional surfers have begun to use the tidal bore as the longest 'wave' in the world.  Because of rocks near the shore, this is best left to experienced surfers, but it is fun to watch.

Upper Bay Marsh - Sackville
As you proceed up the bay the topography changes from rocky cliffs to flat marshlands. You should spend at least a little while exploring these ecologically important and historically interesting marsh areas. Perhaps the best place, is from Sackville, NB, a delightful and culturally rich town and home of Mount Allison University. The Tantramar marshes extend from the town, and you can walk along the dikes that protect this area from the high tides of the bay. The flat agricultural land reclaimed from the bay are dotted by marsh barns. While in Sackville, make sure to visit the Sackville Waterfowl Park and to spend a little while wandering the beautiful campus of Mount Allison University, most years the top rated primarily undergraduate university in Canada. It's Owens Art Gallery is the oldest university based art gallery in Canada. While in Sackville consider trying out one of the several cafes downtown, or fine dining at the Marshlands.  Joeys is a long time favourite offering excellent Italian cuisine.

Joggins Fossil Cliffs

The action of the tides wears away the coast, in certain regions constantly uncovering new fossils. The best location to view these is at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Joggins Fossil Cliffs near the village of Joggins, Nova Scotia. The site has a wonderful modern interpretive site, offers guided walks along the beach where almost everyone can find fossils (but you must leave everything you find on the beach). While Joggins is a bit out of the way, don't even think of skipping this on your Bay of Fundy trip. The interpretive centre was totally modernized a few years ago, and provides a fun, informative and comprehensive background to appreciate what you will find on the beach.

The town of Parrsboro, NS has a rich geologic and cultural history, and some of the more beautiful vistas of the bay. In fact National Geographic have proclaimed it the most beautiful place to view the Bay of Fundy. There is much to do in this area, including the Fundy Geological Museum and the Ottawa House by the Sea Museum. The town also is home to a first class summer theatre, Ship's Company Theatre.  The golf course at the edge of town offers outstanding views of the ocean, all at a very reasonable price.

Burntcoat Head
It is surprising but most visitors to the Bay of Fundy region don't actually visit the location with the highest tidal range. Burntcoat Head, NS has this distinction. Not only does this location have the highest regular tide, but it also holds the record for the highest single tidal range (nearly 71 ft) during the 1869 Saxby Gale. There is a small interpretive park, some rock formations that mimic the larger ones at Hopewell Cape, and a lighthouse built on top of a house. Do take the time to include Burntcoat Head in your vacation plans. At the time of writing there is continued redevelopment of this site as a tourism location.

Shubenacadie Tidal Bore Rafting

The Petitcodiac River in New Brunswick is not the only Maritime river with a tidal bore, for example the Salmon River near Truro is another excellent location. If you have a sense of adventure and want to feel the tide, why not consider a rafting expedition as the tidal bore moves up the Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia. Check out Tidal Bore Rafting  or Rafting Canada for details. The part of the month with higher tides are the times to experience tidal bore rafting.

While there are a number of interesting harbours along the Bay of Fundy, none are perhaps as active and interesting as that in Digby, NS. Much of the town faces the harbour, so you can sit in restaurants in the town as you watch the activity in the harbour. Settled in 1783 the area has a rich history, and is perhaps best known as the home for the world famous scallop fleet. If looking for fine dining or an upper scale place to stay, the Digby Pines located on the outskirts of town is your destination. It includes a spa and golf course. The downtown region is right along the working harbour, and has lots of interesting shops and cafes. While getting to Digby will add to time required for your trip, a visit to Digby is well worth it. If you have time continue along route 217 (including the two ferry rides) to the end of the spit of land.

We could have included a number of other locations, for example Advocate Harbour Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, and other locations along the bay such as the charming university town of Wolfville. If you are up to a fairly rigorous hike, we highly recommend adding Cape Split to the checklist. If you time it correctly, from the end of the trail you will hear the waters of the bay rushing past this point on an incoming tide. Back on the New Brunswick side, Campobello Island provides a different Fundy island experience from Grand Manan. If you are making your visit in early to mid August, be sure to include a visit to Johnson Mills or Marys Point in New Brunswick to observe the huge flocks of sandpipers who pause here to eat mud shrimps before they fly non-stop to South America.

In future posts we will explore in more detail each location on our checklist, as well as interesting places that did not make our checklist. Can't wait for our future posts? Check out the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia tourism sites. As always, we welcome comments (and corrections!). Feel strongly about a location we did not include in our "top fifteen"? Why not make your case in a comment on the blog. Happy Bay of Fundy vacation!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Albert County's Mining Past

It was announced yesterday that New Brunswick was rated the top international location in terms of environment for the mining industry. While readers will undoubtedly have different reactions, one might be surprise, since in the southern half of the province, with the exception of the potash mines in the Sussex area, does not have an obvious current mining presence.  It was not always so, however, and the mining history of the Albert County area is a fascinating story.

Albert County has over the years been home to the mining of precious metals including gold and silver; industrially important materials including lead, zinc, copper, and manganese; building materials including sandstone, gravel, and gypsum; and petroleum products including natural gas, albertite, oil and gas. The mining techniques employed have included conventional underground techniques, open pit, surface collection and a variety of small scale recovery techniques. 

The area with the richest and most extensive mining history are the nearby communities of Curryville and Albert Mines.  Although copper and manganese were also mined there, the area is best known for two materials: albertite and gypsum. Albert Mines, and the remains from its mining past, are listed in Canada's Historic PlacesThe Albert Mines listing in Canada's Historic Places notes: "Albert Mines was the site of the first commercial extraction of petroleum products anywhere in the world."  Albertite is a shiny black (or occasionally dark brown) crumbly rock that is very rich (more than 50%) in volatile material.  It played a key role in the development of kerosene which replaced whale oil for lighting, and some say that the development helped save whales from extinction.

The photo montage (from the listing in Canada's Historic Places) illustrates Albert Mines at the peak of its mining past and currently.  Now the site has a variety of tailings piles, and the remains of several buildings.  

The former government geologist and inventor, Dr. Abraham Gesner (1797-1864) developed a process for making kerosene from bitumen, and is apparently the discoverer of albertite in 1839.  His early experiments found that albertite was best suited for kerosene extraction, and he sought a licence from the government to mine and develop albertite.  While albertite was originally found under uprooted trees, a flood in 1850 revealed a huge deposit in Albert Mines. There was a dispute between Gesner and a rival company who had coal rights in the area and claimed that included albertite.  The feud got so bitter that guns were even drawn at the mine site on at least one location.  The rival company was granted the rights, a court decision viewed in retrospect as incorrect since albertite is distinctly different from coal.  Albertite was aggressively mined from 1854 to 1884 at Albert Mines.

Dr. Abraham Gesner, who was both a medical doctor and a professional geologist,  had a number of other achievements, including starting Canada's first public museum in 1842 (that went on to become the current New Brunswick Museum).  He had a number of links with the Bay of Fundy region, including being born in the Annapolis Valley, being twice shipwrecked early in life, and serving as a physician in the Parrsboro area. The bitter dispute over albertite, and lost court case, cast an unfortunate pall over the latter part of his life.

To visit the location one turns right onto the paved Albert Mines road from Hwy 114 at Edgett's Landing if driving from Moncton towards Fundy National Park.  If driving in the opposite direction, from Fundy towards Moncton, you turn left at Cape Station (this is not well marked but it is the first road after leaving a marsh, a small bridge then a slight rise with hay fields on your right).  If you have reached Hopewell Rocks you have gone too far.  The map shown below will help guide you.

When driving along this road from Fundy toward Moncton, in the community of Curryville, on your left are extensive tailings from the gypsum mining operation.  White gypsum stones are obvious from the road.  As you proceed further, near a church in Albert Mines, and just before the road takes a steep uphill path, there is a side road on the left, and the site of the Albert Mines complex was here.  There are only slight signs of this past, and you may need assistance from local residents in finding the right location.

Some of the best gypsum in the world was mined here in a huge open pit operation (there were other gypsum facilities in the province including one near Hillsborough).  The Curryville gypsum facility was operated from 1854 until 1980.

One of the trails in Fundy National Park, Coppermine, travels near the coast ending at the remnants from an early mine.  There remains only a pile of tailings, and bits from an old boiler.  While you can't remove rocks (or anything) from national parks, if you are lucky you can find a few bits of copper in the tailings (natural copper is greenish, not copper in colour).  Even though the mine remnants are not impressive, the trail is an easy and pleasant walk through interesting forests with a number of foot bridges over tiny streams. There are a few vistas of the coast during the return walk (most of the trail is divided so you return closer to the coast than you travel out). The trail head starts just off the parking lot that is on the opposite side of the road from the Point Wolfe campground.

Those wanting to make a comprehensive stop at the important mining locations within Albert County have a number of other stops to consider.  One location that you will have to view from afar is Grindstone Island.  This was one of the early stone quarry sites in the area, and the location of the lighthouse furthest up the bay. It is a nature preserve, important for bird nesting for a number of species, and is mainly owned by the Sackville parish of the Anglican Church, with the area right around the lighthouse owned by the Government of Canada. You can see Grindstone Island, that is just off the coast from the village of Hillsborough, as you travel along route 114 from Fundy National Park to Moncton.

Something I only learned in researching this column was the manganese mining in the Waterside area, one of my favourite locations (see my other posting on the incredible Waterside Beach).  Apparently the mine was active between and 1875-1877, although I don't know the precise location.  More interestingly, a non-invasive method of manganese extraction was used in the Dawson Settlement area further up the county.  The Virtual Museum exhibit describes the process this way "Bog manganese is not mined but is instead harvested. Underground streams carry manganese up to the surface, the manganese is then deposited at an outlet of the stream on the surface. This manganese then forms into a bog. The manganese harvested from this bog must first be dried before it can be sold." Apparently this was done from about 1897-1901.

Both conventional oil drilling (and natural gas production) and oil shale have been used in Albert County.  Several times in the past decades oil wells in the Weldon and Stoney Creek area (near route 114 between Hillsborough and Riverview) have been operational. In fact by 1925 a total of 66 wells had been drilled in the Stoney Creek area.  Oil shale refers to sedimentary rock rich in shale oil.  Given the larger cost of extraction compared to light oil, it has only been commercially harvested on a limited basis, mainly in Scotland, but that might change with rising prices that might make it economical. Given the current huge debate (a drive through any part of the province will see 'No 
Shale Gas' signs) in the province on proposed shale gas production through hydrofracking, it is interesting to consider the province's history in shale petroleum.

There are a number of good sources for additional information online including the Community Memories Virtual Museum exhibit prepared by the Albert County Museum (select the one on Mining in Albert County). As well as comprehensive written descriptions that site includes a number of historical photos. Another good source of information is the listing in Canada's Historic PlacesThe NBCC historical resources have a nice section on Dr. Abraham Gesner and also one on Albertite. Of course the Albert County Museum should be a stop on any visit to the Bay of Fundy region.

©R.L. Hawkes. Publications wishing to print this story should contact for permission.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Frommer's Top Destination List: Bay of Fundy

Image from Frommer's
Frommer's have just released their list of top destinations 2012 and the Bay of Fundy is the first location listed (and the only Canadian selection on the list).  The brief article naturally enough stresses the extreme tidal range, and singles out Hopewell Cape Rocks in New Brunswick as the best place to experience it. Although the tidal range is slightly higher on several locations on the Nova Scotia side of the bay, the natural beauty of the unique rock formations at Hopewell Cape contribute to the experience there.  The article does mention a number of other activities to be part of a trip to the destination, including jet boating against the Reversing Falls in Saint John, rafting with the tidal bore in Shubenacedie, rappeling at the Cape Engrage lighthouse, and hiking along the Fundy Trail.  Mention is also made of the hospitality of the region, and various culinary delights.  Other locations on the Frommer's top destination list are Beirut, Lebanon; Chongqing, China; Curacao, a Caribbean island; Fukuoka, Japan; Girona, Spain; Greenwich, UK; Kansas City, USA; Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico; Moab, Utah U.S.A.; Hanalei Beach, Kauai; Tromso, Norway; Aysen, Chile; Great Smoky Mountains National Park in USA; Lima, Peru; Whitsunday Islands, Australia; Albanian Riviera; Turkey and Chicago, Illinois .  While it was disappointing that Fundy was not selected as one of the Seven Natural Wonders when the competition concluded a few months ago, but it is great to see it noted in this well known travel listing.  We hope that this selection will help convince more to explore the Bay of Fundy region.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Stay in a Fundy Yurt!

A new option for staying overnight at Fundy National Park is to stay in one of the newly constructed yurts.  My first exposure to yurts was during a winter trip to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia in 1998, when we stayed in one (they actually are called gers in Mongolia, from a word meaning home). There is evidence that yurts go back well over two thousand years in several cultures.

These circular high wall structures are usually placed on raised platforms, and are surprisingly roomy (the Fundy ones are about 6 m in diameter, roughly the same as some traditional Asian yurts/gars).  The Fundy yurts are on a raised wood base, and are covered with thick plastic, and have doors and windows, and an acrylic skylight.  Yurts have been an option in some parks along the west coast of the U.S.A. for some time, more recently Algonquin and several other parks in Ontario have them, and it is nice to see them now available in Atlantic Canada too!

There are six Fundy yurts, and the two nearest the bay have truly outstanding views of the Bay of Fundy, Alma harbour and the Chignecto cliffs.  They include a propane heater with ceramic viewing window. Each yurt has a bunk bed that has a double on bottom and a single over it, as well as a double sofa bed.  They have a very nice wood table with two benches and a couple of chairs.  There is natural light through a central roof window, as well as two battery storage solar lights for night operation.  You are not allowed to cook inside the yurts, but the recently renovated kitchen shelter nearby is reserved for those staying in the yurts.

Check with the park about the cost of the yurt, and they can be reserved by telephoning 506-887-6000 or emailing More details on the Fundy National Park yurts is available here on the park website, as well as a checklist of what to bring (including sleeping bags, slippers and cooking/eating dishes).

For those familiar with Fundy National Park, they are located in what was once the overflow area of the Headquarters Campground.  As such it is a great location for those who prefer to walk to attractions - it is a relatively short walk to the Alma beach, the headquarters amphitheatre where many evening interpretive programs are hosted, the playground and golf course, the village of Alma, the swimming pool, and the beginning of several trails.  Each yurt has a picnic table and (according to the website) will soon have deck chairs as well.  Two of the yurts have ramps and are wheelchair accessible (although the nearest washrooms are some distance away).

As mentioned at the outset, the view from the first two of the Fundy yurts is truly incredible.  Why not try this unique way to stay overnight in Fundy?  If you really like your stay, a Canadian company will sell you a yurt for your own backyard or vacation experience - see details of Yurtco here (they also have information on the history of yurts).