Saint John, New Brunswick, situated on the Bay of Fundy and the first incorporated city in Canada, has emerged in recent years as a pretty cool city. I spent a fair amount of time there as a kid, but was pleased to rediscover the city and find a place with much to see and do, with a restaurant scene full of fun stops and lots of pleasant surprises along the way. In short, the ideal destination for a road trip from my home in Halifax.
Saint John’s Reversing Falls are a natural wonder, involving tidal science. The short version: the Bay of Fundy and the Saint John River collide and create scenery magic. To stand the best chance of seeing the Reversing Falls in action, check out the Saint John Tourism site, where they have a tide meter which gives you the current height of the tide, plus the next high and low tides.
We missed it on the day of our visit, (again, with anything related to the Bay of Fundy plan ahead.) We descended a lovely staircase to wander among the primroses and take in the dramatic scenery along the river, including this interesting green building that is slowly falling into the river.
There’s a growing number of attractions available at the falls, including boat tours and zip lines. Since we didn’t have full-party agreement among our group to go on the zip lines, it will have to wait for a future visit.
Down is Up – Uptown, that is
Newcomers to Saint John will make the common error of looking for the downtown area. You’ll be corrected with a chuckle, “You mean Uptown.” Further research uncovered this helpful news article, when a former mayor suggested changing uptown to downtown. I’m glad it didn’t go anywhere, “Uptown” is unique and far more interesting.
The Uptown area includes two lovely green spaces, King’s Square and Queen’s Square. The bandstand in King’s Square is topped by a cornet, of all things.
The best way to get to know Saint John is by going on a wander. Outside of Barbour’s General Store, a relocated authentic general store from the 1800s, sits a series of wooden sculptures representing the full range of Saint John city life.
The Uptown area features a lot of great architecture and relics of the past, including this fading painted ad for Shamrock plug tobacco.
Finally, Uptown is home to lots of great places to eat and grab a drink, including Happinez Wine Bar. I’ll make it there next time, I promise!
Historic Saint John City Market
No visit to Saint John is complete without a trip to the Saint John City Market. The oldest continuing farmers market in Canada, the Saint John market is open six days a week and offers produces, treats, meats, and souvenirs. Java Moose serves up a wicked coffee, and we got some freshly-baked treats at The Baking Stone.
Neon sign + bacon = you had better believe I’m going to take a picture of it.
One huge treat for me was finding this haul of dulse at a fishmonger. It may not be for everyone, but it’s a snack that takes me straight back to my grandparents’ house. Whether accurate or not, it tastes like the sea (ie: really salty) and my childhood.
Saint John has done a rather remarkable job of retaining its historic buildings, which means architecture buffs are in for a real treat. While it’s built on a rather steep hill, the Uptown area is nice and compact, with plenty of interesting things to look at while walking around. The buildings are consistently Victorian, which I suspect has a lot to do with rebuilding after the Great Fire of 1877, which destroyed a square kilometre of the city.
As we walked around, I was stuck by the remarkable similarities between this part of the city and other cities I love. This building on the corner of King and Germain Streets looks like it was plucked right out of New York.
The Chubbs Corner building, on the corner of Princess and Prince William Streets, is topped by a ring of heads, which remind me of the gargoyles or mascarons on Pont Neuf in Paris. According to legend*, the figures are meant to be caricatures of famous citizens of the time. Escándalo!
By the light of the Three Sisters
An incidental mention in a tourist guide had us determined to find the Three Sisters Lamp on the corner of Prince William and Saint James Streets. Originally used as a navigational aid for ships in Saint John Harbour, it aligns perfectly with a church on the hill. The lamps would be lit to let ships know whether they were on course or not.
While we were there, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched:
Brewpub Fun at Big Tide Brewing
It was well past dinnertime when our adventure concluded and we were starving. Sadly, our first choice for dinner wasn’t open Sunday evening, but that meant we got to meet one of my new favourite places, Big Tide Brewing.
Beer-y ambiance: check.
Cool lighting: check.
Fun: double check. Big Tide makes great beer and clearly has a lot of fun serving it up. There’s a “Steiners Club” for regulars – which I would definitely join if I lived there – and a dreaded $5 Complainers Charge. We asked our server what it meant, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.
The Steiners Club sounds awesome. For an annual membership fee, you get your own beer stein and stein space, which means you can visit as often as you like with the comfort of knowing you will always get the same glass.
We had some great pub food, sampled a few different brews, then asked for our cheques. With bated breath, we waited for the verdict:
I think we can all agree, “Whew!”
It’s been really difficult for me to do all of this talking about Uptown Saint John without making a Billy Joel reference. With that, see you soon, Saint John!
*Random internet page