Welcome to the heart of New Brunswick
Frankly, most people "from away” first encounter New Brunswick's St John River Valley as they’re heading to the coast for a beach or bay or island holiday.
Maybe they get off the main Trans-Canada Highway to cross “the world’s longest covered bridge” in Hartland. It certainly is an awesome experience but most who stop there little realize that as they admire the weathered wooden bridge and the magnificent St John River, they are also right in the midst of a quite fascinating rural arts and heritage hub.
Hartland’s Main Street entry to the bridge is actually right on the storied Route 105 and the portion between Grand Falls to Woodstock has recently been dubbed a “cultural corridor”. Not only does this riverside route provide some remarkable scenery but the valley is home to scores of artists, crafters, musicians and other performers as well as a sizable number of museums and galleries.
There’s adventure to be found too (zip-lining, kayaking, hiking, etc) along with a remarkable collection of historic sites and heritage buildings. All this is complemented by a vibrant arts scene offering festivals galore — typically about 20 multi-day performance events every summer.
People who live here seem to totally understand what “down east” hospitality means. They greet you with a genuine smile or wave as you pass by. Inn-keepers are helpful and never rushed. A typical restaurant meal is reasonably-priced and often tastes like your grandmother might have cooked it just for you. Seasonal farm markets and community suppers are de rigueur. The terrain is perfect for cyclists, bikers or hikers and there's not too much traffic on the river roads.
The Highway 105 cultural corridor spans two counties with an interesting blend of First Nations pride, Acadian flair and Loyalist tradition. (Our impressive photo gallery will give you a taste of what you might see along the way.)
That tradition is especially evident in Woodstock (“New Brunswick’s first town”) which sits at the junction of the Meduxnekeag and St John rivers. The downtown heritage district boasts at least 50 structures listed in the Canadian Registry of Historic Places including the magnificent antebellum-style Connell House Museum (1839) and the beautifully restored Old Carleton County Courthouse (1852). Walking tour pamphlets are widely available.
While you're downtown, visit the riverside Farm and Craft Market (open daily except Sunday) where fresh food choices include berries and veggies, homemade breads, preserves and pickles along with eggs and frozen meats, some organic. Woodstock is also an arts mecca offering interesting galleries, festivals and special events like the Victorian Christmas celebration.
Heading north, the next largest town after Hartland is Florenceville-Bristol, home of McCain Foods, the huge international enterprise founded on frozen french fries. The beautifully-restored Bristol Shogomoc Railway Depot includes an upscale restaurant housed in a romantic dining car. Nearby, the Shiktehawk Walking Trail offers 2 kms of gentle, well-groomed streamside hiking once trekked by the Maliseet and Mi'kmac First Nations.
While you're in town, the highly-respected McCain Art Gallery is not to be missed and Hunter Brothers’ Farm on the southern edge of town is worth a stop too for just-picked veggies, baked goods, preserves and ice cream. Kids will also enjoy the performing goats and if you happen to be airborne, their annual late-summer corn maze features complex tribute designs as varied as The Beatles and the Blue Jays.
Step back in time
A charming, verandahed general store, Nissen's Market is a little further north in Perth-Andover and on the other side of the river. Here you'll find a fine selection of meats and groceries, delicious local produce and a few good antiques that nicely complement its old world atmosphere.
Also on that side of the river, the artifact-rich Southern Victoria County Historical Museum is worth a stop and down the road a bit further there’s a popular drive-up diner serving hearty portions that can be enjoyed in an adjoining picnic area. Nearby, at Tomlinson Lake, an occasional historical re-creation and hiking event traces the footsteps of the many African-American slaves who sought freedom in Canada via the so-called Underground Railroad which had a terminus here in the mid-1800s.
Back to the 105 and continuing north, the highway will take you inland and across another river at Tobique Narrows where the Maliseet First Nation community takes good care of a fine beach with some of the best river swimming anywhere.
If you are travelling in winter, you might be able to take in the renowned World Pond Hockey Championships not too far away in Plaster Rock, always in mid-February.
The 105 ends (or starts) in Grand Falls
Just outside of the town on the 105, you’ll notice signs for Open Skies Adventures where you can rock climb or deepelle or go on a more passive pontoon cruise. If you're feeling really adventurous, the helpful guides will also fully explain their zip-line course which propels you through the trees high above the gorge.
Then it’s time to get back in the car and head into town to see those falls (known as the Niagara of the Maritimes) from the observation deck at the downtown visitor centre.
The Acanthus Gallery offers interesting art and fine craft just off the main drag in the centre of town and while you’re there you might also want to explore Broadway’s shops and restaurants.
Here, there is history all around you. As you have travelled north, you will have noticed many more people speaking French. You may have seen Acadian flags as well. Based on France’s tri-couleur, it has a gold star added to the upper left corner.
Francophone families who now live hereabouts were deported from Nova Scotia by the British beginning in 1755 and many were sent to Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Georgia. But by 1764, Acadians were permitted to return to Canada and some of them re-settled in this part of New Brunswick where they have created a strong yet very welcoming culture.
So do consider a few days along the road less travelled during your next trip down east. See you soon!