5/26/22: Quebec City-Saint John, NB via Irving Nature Park

Family and friends,

Am I lucky or what that normally Steven doesn’t mind a long day’s drive even if much of it was on a mostly two-lane highway as was the case when we drove about 450 miles from Quebec City through to Saint John, New Brunswick. Though we saw numerous ‘beware of moose’ signs, the drive was uneventful although we had the disadvantage of losing an hour as we crossed into the Atlantic Time Zone, something few non-Canadians would be familiar with. Even so, we still had time to play tourist in my father’s hometown and see some of the outlying sights that we hadn’t seen when we’d dragged our children to see their paternal great aunts and uncles in distant New Brunswick decades ago.

All the best to you and your loved ones, Annie

As a reminder, this post is a continuation of the very long ‘detour’ Steven and I were taking on this three-plus-month-long road trip from our home in Denver, Colorado, to our eventual destination in Florida via a huge chunk of Atlantic Canada. After leaving stunning Quebec City that morning, it was about a 450-mile-long drive to Saint John in the province of New Brunswick where we would be staying for two nights. 

Normally, driving that many miles in a day is pretty much of a breeze for Steven but long-haul drives in Canada are definitely a different kettle of fish there than in the United States. That’s because the Trans Canada Highway is mostly a two-lane road passing through all communities and towns instead of the fast-paced interstates Americans are used to. Yes, there are opportunities to pass slower-moving vehicles but it still takes far longer to drive 450 miles in Canada than south of the border!

When I grew up in Ottawa, I attended a Catholic elementary school but, fortunately, it was nothing as scary looking as this photo of Ecole Fernande Bedard we saw at the combined gas station and McDonald’s in tiny Saint Leonard.

In northern New Brunswick, we caught our first view of the St. John River, a 418-mile-long river that flows from northern Maine into Canada, and runs south along the western side of New Brunswick, through the city of Saint John before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean in the Bay of Fundy. 

St. John vs. Saint John vs St. John’s: Did you pick up on the fact that the name of the river above was St. John whereas the New Brunswick city’s name is spelled Saint John? It’s hard not to be confused with the different spellings of both places in the same province let alone adding in St. John’s, the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador that we’d be heading to soon! 

I read that when my father was growing up in the New Brunswick city it was then called St. John like the river. It was changed at some point to Saint John so tourists and, perhaps more importantly, postal carriers could differentiate it from the city over the water with the apostrophe. As you might imagine, many a traveler has mistakenly booked flights, car rentals, etc for one city only to realize they’d gotten them for the wrong city!

No way could we resist making a five-minute detour to Hartland, home of the world’s longest covered bridge! The one-lane, 1,282-foot-long bridge spanned the St. John River.

Though the posted limit was just 20 mph, local drivers seemed to use the bridge as a race course.

And a view from the other side waiting to cross back to Hartland: There are little in the way of highlights on this road but this was definitely one we were glad we hadn’t missed.

A view of the river from Grand Bay:

We stopped in suburban Fredericton, the provincial capital, not to see its sights but just to get gas at the only Costco gas station between Quebec City and suburban Halifax, Nova Scotia. My maternal uncle had emigrated from Bedford, England, in the late 1930s to study at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. That was where Brian met my father and, when war broke out in England, Brian invited my soldier father to visit his family, including his sister (and later my Mum!) for tea. Steven and I had visited Brian and his wife decades ago on an earlier trip to the Maritimes, i.e. all those Canadian provinces except Newfoundland and Labrador.

Gas was ‘only’ CAD$196.9 a liter which turned out to be roughly $6 a gallon at the very favorable exchange rate. We were keeping our fingers crossed it wouldn’t be more than CAD$2.20 a liter in Newfoundland.

As we finally neared Saint John late that afternoon, we didn’t know initially what exactly we were looking at from the highway. We later saw signs for Irving Nature Park and turned in to see the peninsula. The expanse of natural terrain was as undeveloped as it had been when the city’s founding Loyalists, American colonists who had remained loyal to the British crown during the American Revolutionary War had arrived centuries earlier. I so remember Steven referring to the Loyalists as traitors when he first heard the term!

We arrived at the park close to 6AST or Atlantic Standard Time – a time zone few non-Canadians would know about as it’s unique to the three Maritime provinces and is one hour later than EST. Liesbet – I remember we exchanged several messages about this time zone as you hadn’t been familiar with it! If you think AST is unusual, just wait until I write about our extended visit to the island of Newfoundland even further east as it has its own time zone called NT but I’m getting ahead of myself here!

We discovered that what we’d seen from the highway was the Saints Rest Salt Marsh that had been formed in a protected sea bay associated with a river. Although it appeared to be a flat and uniform expanse of grasslands, the marsh was really dissected by many small creeks and channels. 

We were hoping to see some great blue herons wading in the tidal ponds as well as ducks and shorebirds from the marsh boardwalk that had been built for closer observation of the marshes but were out of luck. Eagle-eyed birders have caught glimpses of peregrine falcons and Eastern North America’s largest colony of cormorants.

All I can say is these must have been some hardy New Brunswickers as it was really cold!

We followed the Squirrel Trail back along the marsh.

The reserve’s mixed ecosystem offered plenty of hiking options for people hoping to spot some of the 240 species of migratory seabirds and waterfowl.

What a lovely final resting place right by the Bay of Fundy!

Though we’d lost an hour because of the time change, we still stopped at the Carleton Martello Tower National Historic Site on the city’s west side before checking into our B&B in downtown Saint John. The massive circular stone tower served as a defense outpost beginning in 1812. The superstructure above it was a military intelligence center during WW II.

After the US declared war in 1812 on Great Britain, British North Americans found themselves at war with their neighbors. Even though most of the actual fighting during the War of 1812 occurred in present-day Ontario and Quebec, all of British North America was affected.

Knowing of Saint John’s economic importance and strategic location on the St. John River at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, British military officials were quick to come up with a defense plan for the town. It was recommended that a martello tower be built on the heights of Saint John’s western side to defend against a possible attack from that direction.

When England found itself threatened by Napoleon and by the US in the early 19th century, the easy-to-defend and economical-to-build martello towers were constructed by British military engineers as an effective means of defense at home and abroad.

From its rocky perch overlooking the Bay of Fundy, the Carleton Martello Tower provided its defenders a commanding view of the surrounding landscape and approaches to the harbor. Though its strategic location allowed the tower to see active military service on several locations, it was never attacked. While Steven rested in the car from the long drive and the cold, I took some panoramic shots of New Brunswick’s largest city.

Sheila: I’m sure you’ll recognize Fort Howe National Historic Site Lookout across from where your Mom and Brian lived for so long! It was fun wandering around the re-created harbor defense and city jail from 1777 and remembering our young sons had enjoyed playing on the promontory after visiting their Great Aunt Marg years ago.

From Fort Howe, Steven and I could look down at where we’d so often visited my paternal aunt and cousin on our visits to Saint John with all four children years ago.

Another view of Saint John but not as pretty as from the Martello Tower:

Were we happy when our host at the Mahogany B&B recommended Britt’s Pub & Eatery which was just a few minutes’ walk away in downtown Saint John that evening for dinner! We had a fabulous meal including a mouth-watering carrot cake after a lonnnng day’s drive from Quebec City. I’d go back to Britt’s in a heartbeat for another slice of their carrot cake, it was that good! 

Next post: Exploring Saint John’s historical roots.

Posted on July 23rd, 2022, a couple of days before we leave our rental cabin in Grayton Beach State Park in Florida’s panhandle for the year. We’re still keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll be able to make a reservation in several days and return to our ‘happy place’ next summer.


5 thoughts on “5/26/22: Quebec City-Saint John, NB via Irving Nature Park

  1. Hi Annie. I was just thinking it looked cold when you confirmed it was. More great places you’re taking in on this terrific “detour trip”. I noticed your comment about Bedford (the English one). I lived in Bedford for 22 years and all three of my children were born there. On the subject of Martello towers, did you know that their name is a spelling error? They were based on a tower in Mortella, but an error was made in copying the name and they became Martello rather than Mortella!


    1. I did pick up on your living in Bedford in one of your posts – small world isn’t it? My mother (and 2 brothers) grew up in the village of Biddenham outside of Bedford and she was a proud graduate of Bedford High School. I guess they used to put out a school directory with the names and addresses of graduates as a fellow graduate found my mother living in Ottawa and looked her up. This would have been back in the ’60s, I’m thinking. Phyllis, the fellow graduate, became a close family friend!

      Never knew about the spelling error for Martello Towers so thanks for the history lesson there! Hadn’t realized before this trip that there were Martello Towers anywhere else either!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is a seriously long drive, especially stopping off to see a few sights AND losing an hour! The most we do in a day over here is around 300 miles when we go up to Newcastle. And then we share the driving, c 150 miles each! I’m glad you had time to take some photos along the way and share the landscape and some bits of history. And Steven in particular certainly earned that good dinner 🙂


  3. You’d probably be amused to hear that Steven often says he relishes having the breaks from the long drives so he can see some sights along the way. I’m lucky, too, that he prefers to do the driving almost exclusively as I’m not a fan of long-haul drives.


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