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Saint John, New Brunswick

Like any seaport worth its salt, Saint John is a welcoming place but, more than that, it is fast transforming into a sophisticated urban destination worthy of the increasing number of cruise ships that dock at its revitalized waterfront. Such is the demand that a second cruise terminal opened in 2012, just two years after the first one, and 2013 will see the two-millionth cruise passenger disembark. All the comings and goings over the centuries have exposed Saint Johners to a wide variety of cultures and ideas, creating a characterful Maritime city with a vibrant artistic community. Visitors will discover rich and diverse cultural products in its urban core, including a plethora of art galleries and antiques shops in uptown. Industry and salt air have combined to give parts of Saint John a weather-beaten quality, but you'll also find lovingly restored 19th-century wooden and redbrick homes as well as modern office buildings, hotels, and shops. The natives welcomed the French explorers Samuel de Champlain and Sieur de Monts when they landed here on St. John the Baptist Day in 1604. Then, nearly two centuries later, in May 1783, 3,000 British Loyalists fleeing the aftermath of the American Revolutionary War poured off a fleet of ships to make a home amid the rocks and forests. Two years later the city of Saint John became the first in Canada to be incorporated. Although most of the Loyalists were English, there were some Irish among them. After the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, thousands more Irish workers found their way to Saint John. It was the Irish potato famine of 1845 to 1852, though, that spawned the largest influx of Irish immigrants, and today a 20-foot Celtic cross on Partridge Island at the entrance to St. John Harbour stands as a reminder of the hardships and suffering they endured. Their descendants make Saint John Canada's most Irish city, a fact that's celebrated in grand style each March with a weeklong St. Patrick's celebration. The St. John River, its Reversing Rapids, and Saint John Harbour divide the city into eastern and western districts. The historic downtown area (locally known as "uptown") is on the east side, where an ambitious urban-renewal program started in the early 1980s has transformed the downtown waterfront. Older properties have been converted into trendy restaurants and shops, while glittering new apartment and condo buildings will take full advantage of the spectacular view across the bay. Harbour Passage, a redbrick walking and cycling path with benches and lots of interpretive information, begins downtown at Market Square and winds along the waterfront all the way to the Reversing Rapids. A shuttle boat between Market Square and the falls means you have to walk only one way. On the lower west side, painted-wood homes with flat roofs—characteristic of Atlantic Canadian seaports—slope to the harbor. Industrial activity is prominent on the west side, which has stately older homes on huge lots. Regardless of the weather, Saint John is a delightful city to explore, as so many of its key downtown attractions are linked by enclosed overhead pedways known as the "Inside Connection."

Arts/Entertainment

Saint John Arts Centre

Several galleries here display the work of local artists and artisans.

Imperial Theatre

Saint John's theater, opera, ballet, and symphony productions take place at this beautifully restored 1913 vaudeville arena. Tours ($2) are available from May through August during regular business hours, or by appointment September through April.

Dining

Billy's Seafood Company

It's a restaurant, it's an oyster bar, it's a fish market, and it's lots of fun, too, with jazzy background music and amusing fish paintings on the walls. The fresh fish selection is impressive, and everything is cooked to perfection. The huge pesto scallops are always a hit, as is the grilled halibut with blueberry balsamic vinegar. Local lore says that this is where cedar-planked salmon originated, and it's delicious. Dining outside is a treat on a nice day, and you can get live and cooked lobsters packed to go.

Lemongrass Thai Fare

Sitting proudly within Saint John's culinary hot spot of Market Square, Lemongrass offers tasty Thai cuisine in its stylish restaurant and out on the heated three-tier patio. Thai stir-fries, noodle dishes, and curries, many featuring ginger and coconut, share the menu with both mild and fiery Indian dishes. The signature Pad Thai is the hottest (literally) item. The lunch menu is a great value. There's a pub, with live music, at the same location.

Taco Pica

This modest restaurant is a slice of home for the former Guatemalan refugees, now proud Canadian citizens, who run it as a worker's co-op. The atmosphere is colorful—ornamental parrots rule in the dining room—and the recipes are authentically seasoned with garlic, mint, coriander seeds, and cilantro. The pepian (beef stew) and the garlic shrimp are standout options on a menu that ranges from vegetarian quesadillas to Tequila Cactus Pork. There's regular live entertainment, including flamenco every Friday and occasional salsa nights.

Urban Deli

Cool yet pleasingly unpretentious, this downtown eatery gets rave reviews from an eclectic mix of businesspeople, shoppers, students, and city visitors. The daytime menu features classic deli fare, including sandwiches piled high with meat smoked on the premises, hearty soups, imaginative salads, and comfort food such as mac and cheese and ribs. Wednesday through Saturday, from 5 pm, Italian food is on offer. There's a great Saturday breakfast menu, too, including champagne or vodka cocktails. If you have to stand in line, be assured it's worth the wait.

Saint John Ale House

The gastropub concept has been fully embraced here, making it one of the best places to eat in the city—and it couldn't have a better location, with a great patio overlooking the downtown waterfront. Drawing on supplies from local farmers, fishermen, and food producers, the menu presents "progressive pub food." This might include sautéed trout with wilted greens, lamb shank with vegetables and mint oil, or a tender, 30-day dry-aged steak with bone marrow and truffle jus; even the fish-and-chips and cheeseburgers have a gourmet touch. The mind-boggling beer menu includes local microbrews. There's live entertainment Wednesday through Saturday.

Nightlife

Harbour Station

Musical and other types of performances take place at this hockey arena.

O'Leary's Pub

In the downtown historic district, this pub specializes in old-time Irish fun complete with Celtic performers on off-season Tuesdays; on Wednesday, Brent Mason, a well-known neofolk artist, starts the evening and then turns the mike over to the audience, and Thursday to Saturday it's mostly live classic rock bands, starting at 10pm.

Shopping

Handworks Gallery

Some of the best professional crafts and fine art made in New Brunswick are carried by this gallery, which represents more than 80 Saint John artists and artisans. The historic building was the home of 19th-century painter, J.C. Miles.

Brunswick Square

This large mall is connected to the city's "Inside Connection" covered walkway and contains more than 60 top-quality boutiques on three floors. The complex also includes a parking garage, offices, and the Delta Brunswick Hotel.

Trinity Galleries

Fine art from Canadian artists, including some based in the Maritimes, is on show here, along with sculpture and craft work.

Peter Buckland Gallery

Art expert and writer Peter Buckland carries contemporary paintings, drawings, and sculpture by Canadian artists in his exceptional gallery—one of the finest private galleries in the province. In 2012, Peter received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for his contribution to the arts.

Sights

Stone Church


The first stone church in the city was built for the garrison posted at nearby Fort Howe of stone brought from England as ships' ballast.

King's Square

Laid out in a Union Jack pattern, this green refuge has a two-story bandstand and a number of monuments. The mass of metal on the ground in the northeast corner is actually a great lump of melted tools from a neighboring hardware store that burned down in Saint John's Great Fire of 1877, in which hundreds of buildings were destroyed.

Loyalist Burial Ground

Established soon after the United Empire Loyalists arrived in 1783, the cemetery closed in 1848 and was sadly neglected until 1995, when the Irving family restored it as a gift to the people of Saint John. Now, brick and granite walkways lead from the memorial gates through the restored gravestones and crypts amid shady trees and flowers. A highlight of the grounds is a magnificent beaver-pond fountain created to depict the hard work and tenacious spirit of the city's founders and those who followed them.

Saint John City Market


The inverted ship's hull ceiling of this handsome market—the oldest continuously operating market in North America (1876)—occupies a city block between Germain and Charlotte streets. Its temptations include both live and fresh-cooked lobsters, great cheeses, dulse, fresh produce, and tasty, inexpensive snacks, along with plenty of souvenir and crafts items made by resident artists.

Irving Nature Park

The ecosystems of the southern New Brunswick coast are preserved in this lovely 600-acre park on a peninsula close to downtown. Roads and eight walking trails (up to several miles long) make bird- and nature-watching easy. Many shorebirds breed here, and it's a staging site on the flight path of shorebirds migrating between the Arctic and South America. Stop at the information kiosk just inside the entrance for a naturalist's notebook, a guide to what you'll find in the park, season by season. Tours are available, special events include off-season moonlight showshoeing, and it's an excellent spot for picnicking. Motor vehicles are excluded on Saturday before noon.

Cherry Brook Zoo

Snow leopards, Siberian tigers, and other exotic species are highlights of this 35-acre zoo with pleasant woodland trails, a waterfowl habitat with a boardwalk and floating gazebo, and an Aboriginal Medicine Wheel and Garden. There's an Awareness and Discover Center, where displays highlight the ongoing problem of poaching of endangered species and show more than 100 items seized by Canadian officials. The zoo also has a monkey house, a miniature golf course, and the Vanished Kingdom Park, a display that focuses on extinct animals.

New River Beach

Unlike most Bay of Fundy beaches, this one is sandy and great for swimming, especially if you wait until the tide is coming in. The sun warms the sand at low tide, and the sand warms the water as it comes in. It's part of the New River Beach Provincial Park ($8 vehicle entrance fee) that also has a boardwalk through a bog, a playground, interpretive programs, hiking trails, kayak rentals, and camping.

Trinity Church

The present church dates from 1880, when it was rebuilt after the Great Fire. Inside, over the west door, is a coat of arms—a symbol of the monarchy—rescued from the council chamber in Boston by a British colonel during the American Revolution. It was deemed a worthy refugee and given a place of honor in the church. Guided tours are available during July and August, and there's a self-guiding tour at other times.

Rockwood Park

Encompassing 2,200 acres, this is one of the largest urban parks in Canada and is also one of the dozen or so highlighted elements of the Stonehammer Geopark, designated as such by UNESCO for its geological importance. There are 55 hiking trails through the forest, 13 lakes, several sandy beaches, a campground, a golf course with an aquatic driving range, the Cherry Brook Zoo, horseback riding, events, concerts, and a unique play park for people of all ages. The Interpretation Centre organizes guided nature walks and has trail maps and information on events.

Barbour's General Store

This authentic 19th-century country shop was relocated from Sheffield, New Brunswick, in 1967 and opened in the heart of the city as a museum commemorating the local family business that became Canada's leading producer of tea, spices, and nut butter. Now operating near the site where Barbour's factory once stood, it contains some 2,000 artifacts dating back to the 1860s, and also doubles as a retail outlet, visitor information center, and tea room.

Reversing Rapids

The strong Fundy tides rise higher than the water level of the river, so twice daily, at the Reversing Rapids, the tidewater pushes the river water back upstream. When the tide ebbs, the river once again pours over the rock ledges and the rapids appear to reverse themselves. To learn more about the phenomenon, watch the film shown at the Reversing Rapids Visitor Information Center. It takes time to appreciate the Reversing Rapids fully; you need to visit at high, slack, and low tides. Check with any visitor information office for these times to help you plan.

Loyalist House

The former home of the Merritt family, wealthy Loyalist merchants, this imposing Georgian structure with eight fireplaces was built in 1817 and is furnished with authentic period pieces, including a working piano organ and kitchen equipment.

Carleton Martello Tower

The four-level tower, a great place from which to survey the harbor and Partridge Island, was built during the War of 1812 as a precaution against an American attack. Guides tell you about the spartan life of a soldier living in the stone fort, and an audiovisual presentation outlines its role in the defense of Saint John during World War II. The Sunday afternoon "Saint John Privateers" program in July and August, included in admission fee and available in English and French, brings the era to life for families with children ages six to eleven (call to reserve space).

New Brunswick Museum

Imaginative and engaging in its approach, the provincial museum has fascinating displays covering the history, geology, and culture of New Brunswick. The popular whale exhibit includes Delilah, a full-size young right whale skeleton, suspended from the ceiling. You can also watch the phenomenal Bay of Fundy tides rise and fall in a glass tidal tube connected to the harbor and find out why the Stonehammer Geopark has global importance. There is a large and outstanding collection of artwork in the galleries, and the Family Discovery Gallery has fun and educational games for all ages.

King Street

The steepest, shortest main street in Canada, lined with solid Victorian redbrick buildings, is filled with a variety of shops, eateries, and businesses.

Prince William Street

South of King Street near Market Slip, this street is full of historic bank and business buildings that now hold shops, galleries, and restaurants; it's emerging as a dining destination. The lamp known as the Three Sisters, at the foot of Prince William Street, was erected in 1848 to guide ships into the harbor. Next to it is a replica of the Celtic cross on nearby Partridge Island, where many immigrants landed and were quarantined.

Market Slip

The waterfront area at the foot of King Street is where the Loyalists landed in 1783. Today it's a lively and appealing area—the site of Market Square, the Hilton Saint John Hotel, restaurants, pubs, and a venue for festivals and street performers—but it still conveys a sense of the city's Maritime heritage. There's access to the Harbour Passage Trail, and a floating wharf accommodates boating visitors to the city and those waiting for the tides to sail up the St. John River.


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Saint John, New Brunswick