Take the family to eastern Canada's New Brunswick region for history, outdoor explorations, kid-friendly activities and lots of lobster.
Among the Atlantic Provinces in Canada, New Brunswick has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I have flown over it many times, rode the train through its northern, central and southern reaches and driven through it, yet never spent any actual time visiting this province, until recently. Before last year, there was little, if any, direct transportation to anywhere in New Brunswick from the New York City area, but this has changed since Continental Airlines (800/523-3273) began daily non-stop service to and from Newark Airport (affording connections from many points in the United States) to Moncton, New Brunswick.
Happily, I found myself on that flight recently. It was a two-hour journey to a wonderful destination filled with an unbeatable mix of scenic beauty, natural attractions, historical venues, fabulous dining for all ages, and some of the most hospitable people on the planet. Located at the eastern end of New Brunswick, nestled about 15 miles from the Northumberland Strait, and about 30 miles from the Fundy Coast, Moncton affords some unusual beach experiences not available in many other places. The best time to visit is between the beginning of June and the middle of August as many of the attractions listed here are either not open at other times of the year, or have limited viewing hours.
While my itinerary was one of the many that you can follow, some additional research factoring in family likes and dislikes will provide all of you with a visit to remember.
After the flight, landing in Moncton’s compact but comfortable airport, our group was whisked to a wonderful Bed and Breakfast, the Little Shemogue Country Inn (506/538-2320). Hosted by Klaus and Petra Sudbrack, this wonderful 9-room inn had country style, but all the modern conveniences and excellent food, and is well suited for families with tweens and teen-agers.
The inn is close to the Northumberland Strait, in fact, close enough to view aquatic and bird life up close and personal steps from your room. Need I say that a good night’s sleep will be enjoyed by all? But, a vacation isn’t about rest as much as it is about new experiences….
After a scenic ride through wide-open spaces dotted with houses and little else, we arrived at Fort Beausejour (506/364-5080). This Canadian National Historic Site commemorates the fort’s role in the struggles that the English had first against France, and then later the American Colonies. Originally built by the French in 1751, the English captured the fort four years later. In 1776, the Americans tried to take the fort, but failed. Eventually, it was abandoned in 1835, and became a National Historic Site in 1926. Built on a hill, it offers an excellent observation post to view the surrounding countryside, Nova Scotia a few miles away, and the Cumberland Basin within a stone’s throw. Quiet, yet unforgettable.
Nearby in Memramcook, is Monument Lefebvre (506/758-9808). This former campus of St. Joseph’s College was the first French-language institution to grant degrees in Atlantic Canada. Named for Father Lefebvre, the founder of St. Joseph’s, the exhibit building is all about the rich history of Acadian culture in Atlantic Canada from the 18th to the 21st centuries, and this National Historic site has many exhibits and presentations for the whole family. We learned that the Acadians, descendants of the French, had settled in Atlantic Canada as early as 1604, and were largely deported to Louisiana by the British in 1755. Many, over time, came back to their roots. The growth of Acadian culture was cemented by a conference held at this site in 1881. As New Brunswick has the largest Acadian population among the provinces, the placement of the site here is significant.
After a morning like this, any family will get quite hungry from all the walking around. Relief comes at the Bell Inn Restaurant (506/379-2580) in Dorchester. This town is home to many folks named Keillor, and, rumor has it that a certain Garrison Keillor, host of public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” has visited this place for family reunions. Nonetheless, the Bell Inn offers well-cooked food and delicious desserts in a tea-room setting, light years ahead of any fast-food emporium. This Provincial Historic Site is most assuredly worth a detour on anyone’s itinerary, especially for lobster rolls and delicious pies.
After all this exploration and gustatory excellence, you might need some soap and water to clean up, but not just anything that you might buy in a supermarket. In fact, why not only use soap, but watch its production, while informed guides tell you all about the manufacturing process as well. At the Olivier Soaper (888/775-5550) you will learn more than you ever dreamed about soap, and have fun in the process. Located in Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, about 25 miles from Moncton, this “economuseum” is open year-round, with demonstrations given between the beginning of June until just after Labor Day. Your children will never look at soap as an evil influence after a tour here; in fact, they will probably lead you by the hand to the gift shop to pick out what they want!
All of this indoor education will mean it’s time for some easy, low impact outdoor activity. About 15 minutes’ driving will place you on the bay-side community of Bouctouche. This small community of a few thousand folks boasts of a sand dune over 5-miles long, with a boardwalk about a mile-and-a-half long. Interpretive guides are available from the end of May through November to talk about the dune and its history. This is one of the most magnificent seaside locations in the Atlantic Provinces and a wonderful scenic place for family bonding and walking. Maintained by the J.D. Irving Company, it is free to all.
Just across the Kent River from the town of Bouctouche is a rather unusual attraction. La Pays de la Sagouine (800/561-9188) is based on a successful novel first published by Antonine Maillet about an Acadian low-income family trying to exist in a rural Bouctouche between the 1930’s and the 1950’s. With interpretive actors and actresses dressed in costumes of that era, there are activities for children and adults, along with Acadian food and a concert venue for on-site music. This village is built atop the Kent River, and will provide a unique family experience for everyone. A very quick way, indeed, to see a living interpretation of Acadian Life.
The beaches on the Northumberland Strait boast of the warmest temperatures north of the Carolinas, something that summertime swimmers will appreciate. About 20 minutes down the highway from Bouctouche, and 10 miles or so north of Moncton, stands the Bayside community of Shediac, the proclaimed lobster capital of the world! The Giant Lobster marking the entrance measures 35-feet-long, 15-feet-wide and 16-feet-high and weighs in at about 55 tons. It is not, however, edible in any form.
If you happen to be in town in July, watch out for the Lobster Festival! This is not Paris, New York, or Hong Kong, but it certainly has it’s own charms. In addition, the town boasts of a fine dining and lodging establishment, the Tait House (888/532-4667), other hotels and motels, and many restaurants running the gamut from pizza to fine meals.
Chignecto Bay, perhaps unknown to most of us, is one of the closest bodies of water to Moncton that flows into the Bay of Fundy. Here, you can walk on cliffs, and, when the tide is right, walk on the bottom of the Bay. A 45-mile drive southwest from downtown Moncton will place you at Cape Enrage, a natural first stop. Yet another beautiful setting by the water, this one is framed to one side by a red and white lighthouse accessible by a gentle climb.
During low tide, once you are atop the cliff you can step down a well-worn wooden staircase which places you on the rocky Bay bottom, laden with stones of all descriptions, a few fossils, and reminders that the tidal bore will make this a very wet place in a matter of hours. In this part of the world, a tidal chart is a most essential item to keep you and your family safe. With tidal variations varying as much as 50 feet, you need to know when the tide is coming in.The Fundy Adventure Challenger Site located by the lighthouse, and open during the warmest months can outfit you for anything from caving to kayaking.
Further down the road from Cape Enrage is Fundy National Park (506/887-6000), filled with trails through forest, beach and along the coast. This National Park has been listed as a top ten attraction in the National Geographic Traveler’s list of the top 100 National Parks in North America. Regrettably, the fast and vast pace of our short visit did not do this place justice. Next time, this will be the first stop.
Twenty miles up the road from Cape Enrage stands the Broadleaf Guest Ranch (800/226-5405). While you may not equate “ranch” with New Brunswick, this family-run establishment offers all sorts of horseback riding, year-round, with other winter and summer recreation, coupled with a dining room and accommodation for families. Lunch there is quite an experience. We had four different kinds of edible ferns, nothing I had encountered before, along with the usual staples. Among the horse rides offered are ones along the Fundy marshlands, something I don’t think is available in the Western United States.
Another Fundy tide site that is perhaps the biggest must-do on your ever-developing list of things to do is the spectacular Ocean Tidal Exploration Site at Hopewell Rocks (877/734-3429) about 10 miles back towards Moncton. One of the most iconic tourist sites in the entire province, at low tide, you are on the bottom of the bay, 25 feet below where the tide will be in 6 hours. With about a mile to walk around at low tide, you can get some exercise, for sure. Adding variety and unusual drama are the natural rock formations referred to as “flowerpots” made from geologic upheavals that occurred many millions of years ago.
Along with the walking trails and viewing platforms, there is an Interpretation Center to help understand this place. There is a bit of walking involved to reach to the bottom, comfortable shoes and willing children are two prerequisites. Again, check the tide charts. Wisdom dictates that you try to arrange your visit from three hours before low tide until three hours after. Like many of the attractions in this Northern location, opening here is from May through October.
All this information about the area around Moncton, yet nothing so far written about the city of Moncton which was incorporated in 1855 as a shipbuilding and railroad center; and has grown from a town to a metropolitan region of over 120,000. For families, it boasts of a Water Park, a Zoo, museums, a wonderful weekend Farmer’s Market and more.
Of course, one of the key attractions here is Magnetic Hill (506/858-8841). When was the last time you saw a bus rolling….uphill? This tourist attraction, while not scenic, will have the under 12-set mesmerized for hours. Not only can you watch, but shift your car into neutral and drift up the hill. Near this site are many motels catering to families, and nearby there is a mall to satisfy unfilled cravings.
While there are many reasons to visit this province of over three-quarters of a million people, I have focused on just a few. Also note that most of the sights listed are either free or admission costs are inexpensive. Moncton is very budget friendly!
For additional lodging options in the area, check out Moncton Hotels.
All photographs by Ralph Spielman
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