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Canada 150: Ocean-Floor Adventures and Maritime History in New Brunswick

This year our national neighbors to the north celebrate their 150th anniversary and we’ll be celebrating with them as they do. Each month we’ll focus on one part of their magnificent country and share it with you. From the sky-high trees and brown bears in British Columbia to the kitchen parties and codfish-kissing in the Maritimes, our toast to Canada will give you well over 150 reasons to make this the year you take the trip. This month we’re exploring ocean floors and maritime friendships in New Brunswick.

Canada 150:  New Brunswick  

You’ll find everything you think of as Canadian in the maritime provinces. The winter lasts longer, the people have a stronger accent, and the feeling that you’ve stumbled upon the nicest place in the world follows you home and beckons you back. In New Brunswick, you can count on all of that plus a province-wide celebration of history, the arts, and the outdoors.

The Cities: St. John, Fredericton and Moncton  

With Quebec to the west and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to the east, New Brunswick serves as a bridge between mainland Canadian landscapes and mariner connections. The gateway to the Atlantic Ocean, its location plays a huge role in the province’s history, and accounts for the village feel and lively Acadian spirit you’ll find throughout. Tip: Start with these key destinations, then rent a car and go further.

Explore History in St. John:  When Loyalists fled the American Colonies in 1783, they landed in St. John. The result was the first incorporated city in the country, and another group of determined people to add to the First Nations and Francophones who had lived here before them. A fire in 1877 destroyed much of the city, but it was rebuilt and historic buildings are now part of the charm. Don’t miss a peek at the Saint John Arts Centre ( the building was given to the city in 1904 by Andrew Carnegie), the 1913 Imperial Theatre, or the 1840 fire engine house (now home to the Fire Fighters’ Museum). The new Skywalk Saint John is one of only three skywalks in North America, and the only one that’s both within a city and over a body of water. You’ll be able to get a closer view of the largest whirlpool of the aptly named Reversing Falls Rapids (at high tide the rapids flow backwards).

Art and Family Fun in Fredericton: An $11.5 million expansion including a new two-floor addition and four new galleries will turn the already impressive Beaverbrook Art Gallery into a must-see facility.  Take in views of the St. John River in between prized works like Salvador Dali’s Santiago el Grande painting and sculptures in the outdoor courtyard. Then, head back in time history in the Garrison District. Catch the changing of the guard ceremony, take a guided walking tour with a costumed guide, or catch an outdoor theatrical performance in Officer’s square. Rainy day blues? Consider a visit to Science East—a bilingual science center devoted to hands-on learning inside the former York County Jail.

Nature in Moncton: Set on the southeastern edge of the province, Moncton offers a perfect outdoor hub for exploring your surroundings. Drive to the base of Magnetic Hill to experience the unique phenomenon of having it roll uphill (an optical illusion). Pop into an 1867 historic property authentically restored into a B&B with a million-dollar view of nurtured vineyards and the tasty fruit of their harvest: Magnetic Hill Winery‘s cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb, maple syrup, and grapes all go into their award-winning wines. Head for the coast and learn more about the mariner way of life. A Lobster Tales cruise with Shediac Bay Cruises is great fun for the entire family and includes “a lobster meal fit for a king.”

Why Now is the Perfect Time to Go

Maple Syrup: Sugaring goes into full swing in March, and you can join the festivities at “cabane sucre” parties around the province. Everything from sap collection to maple taffy made from drizzling the syrup onto fresh snow is offered. If your trip keeps you in town until early April, join the celebrations at the Maple Capital of Atlantic Canada Festival in Saint-Quentin.

Last Gasp of Winter at Sugarloaf: If you love a winter hike, this is your spot. More than 16 miles of hiking and biking trails and a 1,000-foot mountain summit wait to be tackled. This is also the home of Atlantic Canada’s only lift-service mountain biking park. The ski lodge and on-site restaurant mean you can stay longer if you’d like.

Shop Canada’s Oldest Farmer’s Market: Wander through this National Historic Site and buy the freshest produce from local businesses—some of whom have been at the Saint John City Market for over a century. Alongside the groceries, you’ll find artisan crafts and handmade delights. It’s the perfect spot to get a sense of the region and a special souvenir.

Why It’s Great Other Times of Year

July: Think cowboys are only associated with the Wild West? Think again. Bring your boots and mosey on down for concerts, rodeos, and saloons at the Festival Western de Saint-Quentin from July 4 to 9. Fans of the crustacean won’t want to miss the annual Shediac Lobster Festival from July 5 to 9. Get an introduction to Mi’kmaq heritage and Aboriginal culture with arts, crafts, food, dancing, drumming, and more at the Pabineau First Nation Annual Powwow July  8th and 9th.

Summer: The Bay of Fundy is home to the world’s highest tides, making it perfect for kayakers. Low tide offers a special opportunity: Walk where the 100 billion tons of seawater has carved out unique rock formations, and see the bay from a new angle.

September: Grab a snorkel mask and join a Parks Canada biologist as they survey the local salmon. The Swim with Salmon outing helps to ensure species survival and also offers information on the local cultural history, including a First Nations perspective.

If You Go Don’t Miss…

The Chance to Party Like an Acadian

This year the culture’s biggest celebration, Festival Acadian, celebrates its 55th year. For a deeper understanding of local history, pop into the Acadian Historic Village, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The site offers a glimpse into the lives of Acadians of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Keep the party going at the 25th anniversary of Le Pays de la Sagouine.

A Billion Years of History 

At Stonehammer UNESCO Global Geopark volcanic rocks, an Ice-Age river, and a continental collide come together in an incredible geological time capsule. Take a guided tour for geological history and hands-on opportunities to explore. For a birds-eye view, zip line above the Reversing Rapids. Prefer to stay on solid land? Climb over the volcanic rocks in Rockwood Park: North America’s first geopark.

The National Park

Look up. Way up. A Royal Astronomical Society designated Dark Sky Preserve, Kouchibouguac National Park is one of the best places in the country to star gaze. The elimination of light pollution in the area means that seeing the millions of stars above you is easy. And by day, opportunities to enjoy the park are plentiful. Explore the 26 known aboriginal archaeological sites in the park or head out on the fat-bike trails to explore year-round (bikes can be rented on-site). In winter you can also make use of the 14-mile cross-country skiing trail, or one of the three trails specifically set up for winter walks. The park’s location along the Acadian Coastal Drive makes it perfect for a road trip, and in the summer it boasts some of the warmest salt water north of Virginia. Want a unique adventure? Head out on a Voyageur Canoe Marine Adventure. The three-hour experience includes a trek out to the Barrier Islands and a peek at the colony of grey seals that call it home.

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Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on GlobeTrottingMama.com.

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