New Brunswick’s former license plate slogan got a lot of flack for being is too abstract, too forgettable. “Be…In This Place.” Is this the place that produces one-third of every French fry in the world? The place where just about everyone is bilingual? Even New Brunswickers are not sure what this place is, as they try and snag tourists passing through on their way to Prince Edward Island (license plate slogan: “Birthplace of Confederation”) and Nova Scotia (“Canada’s Ocean Playground”). On a road trip adventure with my Dad to actually be…in this place, we came across a few surprises.
For starters, live lobster was on sale at Moncton Airport. I’ve been on chicken buses, but never lobster planes. We rented a sporty car and drove to Moncton, finding Main Street abuzz on Friday night. Young girls in weather-defying mini-skirts were hunting in packs, while a rock-fiddle band jigged away at a pub, their fans step dancing in unison.We just don’t see this kind of thing on the West Coast.
There’s enough time in the morning to visit Magnetic Hill and let our car roll uphill in neutral, before zooming off to the province’s most trafficked attraction – the Hopewell Rocks. 100 million tonnes of water rushes into the Bay of Fundy every day, creating the world’s largest tides, and some truly weird rock formations. Walking on the ocean floor during low tide amongst these natural wonders is a shoe-in for the national bucket list.
Nearby is the wonderfully named Cape Enrage. Not angry. Not annoyed. Enraged! On a clear day, Cape Enrage offers furious views over the bay. Today, the fog created a moody atmosphere, daring us to jump off the 140ft cliffs to the rocky beach below. And that’s exactly what we did, courtesy the Cape Enrage rappellingng operation. We strapped up, locked in, and descended down the sheer rock face. Cape Exhilaration might be more accurate.
Crossing the Bay of Fundy National Park, it’s a beautiful drive along the St John River, passing potato fields and too-quaint, too-charming, wooden barns and houses. Mowed lawns are so massive you could relocate Wimbledon to a backyard. We arrived in Fredericton, home to the University of New Brunswick, and the provincial legislature. Naturally, we gravitated towards the Lunar Rogue Pub, which boasts a menu of 282 types of whisky. Fortunately, liquid courage is not required to kayak the mighty St John River We swung by the Aquatic Centre, got dropped off a couple miles upriver, and let the current wade us home. Or at least as far as the Beaverbrook Gallery, where any visitor would feel the shock and awe of Salvador Dali’s magnificent (and very, very large) Santiago El Grande.
Our next pleasant surprise was Hartland, where we drive through the world’s longest covered bridge, and Florenceville’s Potato Museum, where we learned about New Brunswick’s contribution to the French fry, tried a potato smoothie, and paired our hand-cut potato chips with chocolate sauce and brown sugar. Every road trip needs a quirky roadside attraction.
By the time we reached the seaside village of St Andrews, we had loaded up on lobster roll and were eager to find whales with Fundy Tide Runner, who has the fastest boat in town. The whales were having none of it, but there were two beautiful Finnish doctors sitting up front, loving the speed and coastline beauty along with the rest of us.
Men in kilts greeted us back at the wharf. Offkilter Adventure’s Kurt Gumushel leads various bike tours around St Andrews. We rode through tall flowers and into forest, along abandoned train tracks and across pebble beaches, learning about St Andrews and its people, from real people who truly live and love this town.
We had just enough time to explore St John, New Brunswick’s biggest city. Don’t confuse it with St John’s, Newfoundland, for one letter doth a different make. We discovered the city’s long history in the excellent New Brunswick Museum and strolled around Uptown before hopping on a crazy jetboat ride to Reversing Falls, which is unfortunately no longer in operation.
I remember reading an article in a local newspaper about New Brunswick abandoning the “Be…In This Place” slogan on its provincial license plates. It did. At the time, the provincial government was considering setting up a public forum to take suggestions for a new slogan. Canada’s Tidal Province? A Province of Character? There’s still no concensus. When a version of this story was published in the Globe and Mail, I suggested: New Brunswick – Full of Surprises. Someone must have taken that to heart, because I found this mock-up of a plate online.