New Brunswick’s largest city, Saint John sits along a sizable commercial harbor on the Bay of Fundy, at the mouth of the St. John River. Like Halifax, it was an important shipbuilding hub around the turn of the 19th century, and today its deep-water harbor can accommodate the world’s largest cruise liners.
Don’t expect a picture-postcard-perfect place overflowing with gardens and neat homes. Instead, Saint John is a predominantly industrial city, with large shipping terminals, oil storage facilities, and paper mills serving as the backdrop to the waterfront area. If you make an effort to look, though, you’ll see that its downtown buildings boast some wonderfully elaborate Victorian flourishes, while a handful of impressive mansions lord over the side streets, their interiors a forest of intricate woodcarving— appropriate for the timber barons who built them.
The first Europeans to settle here were the French, when Samuel de Champlain led an exploration party into the Bay of Fundy and founded the first French settlement in North America in 1604. A hundred years later, the British were on the scene, capturing Saint John, which, in 1785, became Canada’s first incorporated city. COMING ASHORE Ships dock right at the Pugsley Cruise Terminal, in the industrial heart of the city, just steps from downtown.
GETTING AROUND If you haven’t signed up for an organized tour, you can walk right into town or opt for a 1-hour city-highlights tour on the vintage bus-style trolleys or horse-drawn trolleys that meet the ship. Taxis queue up at the docks and work on set rates, depending on where you’re going. If you need to call a taxi, try Coastal Taxi (& 506/635-1144) or Diamond Taxi (& 506/648-8888).
Historical Walking Tour ($29, 2 hr.): See the restored historic district known as Trinity Royal and the bustling City Market that survives from the late 1800s. A bus takes groups to the farthest destination, the Loyalist Burial Ground, where the walk starts. Gravestones there date as far back as 1784. Sights along the way include the beautiful brick town houses along Germain Street; the historic commercial buildings of Prince William Street, whose elaborate facades are decorated with gargoyles, pediments, and Ionic columns; the Market Slip, where thousands of American Colonists who remained loyal to the British Crown landed in 1783; and King’s Square, designed in 1848 in the shape of the Union Jack to show loyalty to England.
Reversing Falls Rapids by Jetboat ($99, 3 hr.): Reversing Falls Rapids is a much – photographed spot where the Bay of Fundy meets the St. John River, and strong tidal conditions cause harbor currents to reverse. This large tidal swing means some 2 billion gallons of water surge into the bay twice a day—that’s 2 billion. Near Fallsview Park, an underwater ledge 36 feet down causes a boiling series of rapids and whirlpools, and the rising tide slows the river current to a stop for about 20 minutes. The tour begins with an orientation drive through Saint John, stopping at the Old City Market (open since 1876). You then head to Fallsview Park, don life jackets and rain gear, and board your high-speed jet boat for a ride over and around the rapids. You can take a 20- minute jet-boat ride (referred to as the Thrill Ride) independently for just $30 by contacting Reversing Falls Jet Boat Rides (& 506/634-8987; www. jetboatrides. com). Bay of Fundy at Fundy National Park ($149, 7 hr.): This tour is the most in-depth exploration possible of Fundy Bay, whose huge tidal fluctuation makes it possible for tour participants to walk out on the ocean bed when the tide is out. This beach walk is augmented by a museum tour, with interactive demonstrations and exhibits, and a 1-mile walk along the Dickson Falls Trail, a lush relatively easy hike to a lovely waterfall. National park and local guides describe everything, and lunch is included. The drive to and from the park is also a great way to see the brilliant fall colors.
Canadian Beer Tasting & Saint John Highlights Tour ($59, 3 hr.): Heads up, beer lovers: This is your chance to sample Canadian beers and enjoy a famous local Irish pub, O’Leary’s. Also included is a drive around the Saint John area, with time at the Old City Market, and a visit to the famous Reversing Falls.
Start your visit by wandering around near the waterfront, taking note of the gargoyles and sculpted heads that adorn the brick and stone 19th-century buildings. The Saint John visitor information board publishes several self-guided walking tours that will give you a great overview of the city. Text and maps are available for download in the “Day Trips & Guided Tours” section of www. tourismsaintjohn. com.
Of the handful of museums in Saint John, the important one to visit is the New Brunswick Museum, 1 Market Sq. (& 506/643-2300; www. nbm-mnb. ca). Established in 1842, it’s the oldest continuously operating museum in Canada. Exhibits include a marine mammals gallery whose focal point is “Delilah,” the full skeletal remains of a 40-foot North Atlantic right whale that beached off Grand Manan in 1992. Other displays include local and Canadian art, the best collection of Loyalist artifacts on the North American continent, and the largest collection of ships’ portraiture in Canada. Don’t miss a peek at the cool tidal tube in the lobby. It’s connected to the harbor, and water in the tube rises and falls with the tide. Admission is $5.
If the weather is disagreeable when you arrive, you can head indoors to Saint John’s elaborate network of underground and overhead pedestrian walkways, dubbed the Inside Connection. Passages link the city’s downtown malls and shops, two major hotels, the provincial museum, the city library, the city market, a sports arena, and an aquatics center. Another indoor option is the Old City Market, 47 Charlotte St. (& 506/658-2820), a spacious, bustling marketplace crammed with vendors hawking cheeses, flowers, baked goods, meat, fresh seafood, and fresh produce. The market was built in 1876, and it has been a center of commerce for the city ever since. A number of vendors offer meals to go, and there’s a bright seating area in an enclosed terrace on the market’s south side.
If you don’t sign on to one of the ship’s shore excursions, you can walk to the Reversing Falls Rapids via the Harbour Passage, an interconnected system of walking and biking trails that wind along the waterfront from Market Square to the Reversing Falls, a distance of just under 3 miles. To immerse yourself in an even more natural side of New Brunswick, book an excursion or take a taxi to Irving Nature Park, Sand Cove Road (& 506/653-7367), situated along the coast across the St. John River, less than 3 miles southwest of town. The park consists of 243 hectares (600 acres) of dramatic coastal scenery and as many as 240 species of birds have been spotted here. Soft wood-chipped trails and marsh boardwalks provide access to a lovely forest and wild, salty seascapes.
You’ll find art galleries, antiques shops, souvenir shops, and boutiques within a 10- minute walk of the cruise terminal, clustered around Market Square, Brunswick Square, King Street, and Prince William Street.