Tide of History at Saint John; Loyalists Fled to Canada; Now Scenic Splendor Calls

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Margaret Green, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick - What better place to start a visit to New Brunswick than in the province's first seaside resort, St. Andrews-by-the-Sea?

A peninsular bayside town with a National Historic District at its heart, it was settled by Loyalists still faithful to the crown after the American Revolution. Some of their homes, disassembled in Maine, transported by barge and rebuilt in St. Andrews, are still standing, as are some of the Victorian "cottages" wealthy vacationers built around the turn of the 19th century.

With a year-round population of just 1,700 (2,500 in summer) but more than 250 homes at least 100 years old, it has an inviting streetscape as well as seascape.

I am with a small group of travel writers enjoying the first half of an exploration of both sides of the Bay of Fundy at the invitation of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia tourism offices. The bay, which separates the bottom of New Brunswick from the northern shore of Nova Scotia, offers more than 1,000 miles of saltwater coast but is most famous for having the highest tides in the world a difference of as much as 52 feet where they are most extreme.

An impromptu driving tour of St. Andrews with one of our tourism escorts, Darrell Mesheau, takes us to the intertidal "road" to Minister's Island, which is accessible by car only after the tide rolls out. Those who want to visit the late-1900s summer estate of Canadian Pacific Railway builder Sir William Van Horne on the island and the 1786 stone home of the island's original resident, a Loyalist Anglican priest named Samuel Andrews, drive behind an official guide at low tide and, for safety's sake, must leave the island as soon as the two-hour tour is finished.

Several men waiting in a pickup truck, Mr. Mesheau tells us, probably are not interested in driving to the island but in taking advantage of the easy pickings for clams after the tide recedes. Birds enjoy the Fundy coastline for the same reason, which, in turn, makes bird-watchers very happy. The bay is on the Atlantic flyway for avian migration, so an incredible number and variety of birds stop to feed before continuing their long flights.

The tides here are not as dramatic as in narrower parts of the funnel-shaped bay but are noteworthy nonetheless, with swells to as much as 28 feet. When we leave Water Street's charming galleries and shops to pick up two men from our group who have gone out with Seascape Kayak Tours, we see mud flats and tidal pools where water was lapping against Market Wharf less than two hours earlier. Afternoon kayakers will have to carry their boats out to the water.

Our afternoon catamaran whale-watching expedition with Quoddy Link Marine, so named for Passamaquoddy Bay, which comes off the Bay of Fundy and surrounds St. Andrews, provides us with close-up views of several breaching minke whales. Although we enjoy more than a dozen sightings in our almost four-hour outing, our guides tell us we probably have just seen the same three or four whales several times.

They all look the same to us, but the whales' dorsal fins have distinguishing features that help our guides pick out animals that return to the same area summer after summer. A favorite is nicknamed Breadknife because its dorsal fin looks like a serrated knife edge. The guides have a nickname for the species as well, "stinky minke," because the animals have chronic halitosis; the air they expel when coming to the surface with a loud gasp smells rotten. Fortunately, the wind blows it our way only once.

Danielle Dion, senior naturalist and photographer for Quoddy Link, tells us that some days, whale-watchers also spot humpbacks and finbacks. The latter, at more than 75 feet in length and 220,000 pounds, are second only to the mighty blue whale in size. The minke, by contrast, is a little guy at 25 to 30 feet and 20,000 pounds. …