When a hurricane forced a cruise liner to seek refuge at the mouth of the St. John River, halfway up the Bay of Fundy, St. John first appeared on tourist radar. While stranded there, passengers and cruise line operators discovered this New Brunswick port's extraordinary history, nature and warm hospitality.
To thoroughly investigate this intriguing port-of-call, we board hop-on, hop-off buses offering three narrated routes. Painted pink, these double-deckers raise funds for cancer research.
The first takes us above the dock area to Reversing Falls Rapids. On arrival, the tide is rising slowly and then forces the river's flow to reverse. These upstream rapids boil into raging whirlpools beneath the bridge, which provides two kayakers some rollicking rides. In the nearby information centre, we learn this tidal surge is not only highest in the world, it's felt as far inland as Moncton over 128 kilometres away.
Pathways lead us high above the falls into Wolastaq Park, where wooden sculptures eight metres tall represent contributors to St. John's development. Plaques tell us about the legendary giant beaver, indigenous Maliseet natives and Champlain, who discovered the river below on St. John Baptiste Day, explaining its name's origin.
Another depicts Françoise-Marie La Tour, first European woman in New Brunswick and one who was instrumental in running the family's trading post. Benedict Arnold also stands in this park.
This heroic general and infamous traitor of the American Revolution lived in New Brunswick for six years operating a shipping and trading business until he relocated to England.
And yes, there's even a statue of George Oland, celebrated founder of Moosehead Breweries, Canada's oldest and biggest family-owned brewery.
From up here, we gaze over historic St John and spy Carnival Glory, our dockside ship. To the north, we see Oland's brewery and a small pulp mill.
A second bus ride takes us to century-old Rockwood Park, the area's primary recreation spot. Pathways follow the edge of a forest to Fisher and Lily lakes, where we enjoy the bright yellows, oranges and reds of fall foliage. Afterward we walk along the road to a bronze monument to labour, where we board another bus.
Hopping off again above the downtown, we check out Fort Howe built on high ground to repel American raids. Only one cannon and stockade remain. We hear that a royal charter in 1785 integrated loyalist communities surrounding this fort establishing St. John, first incorporated city in British North America.
Our last bus carries us into the historic centre where we view the Old Burial Ground, Imperial Theater and County Courthouse. Strolling through King's Park, we behold an ornate wrought iron bandstand, the 1909 memorial to King Edward VII.
Across the street the City Market boasts an original ship's hull roof design. Built to last, this solid red brick structure initially survived the city's great fire of 1877. Inside, we browse among produce, seafood and craft stalls, eventually settling into a cozy spot for bowls of piping-hot chowder.
Our stroll continues toward Loyalist House, St. John's oldest building, where the Union Jack of 1783 still flies. Five generations of its original family resided here for over 150 years, all the while maintaining its colonial charm.
Loyalist House has long celebrated local craftsmanship and those true to the English monarchy, migrants from the rebellious U.S.
A guide points out how the parlor was divided to properly segregate the gentlemen and genteel ladies of that era. He plays the rare piano-organ. The dining room's bone Rockingham china reflects further elegance of their resettled lives.
We see the kitchen's original furnishings, including an iron pressure cooker dated 1795 and then head upstairs noting the bedrooms' cabinet toilets, pre indoor-plumbing. In the master bedroom, a mahogany canopy bed supports a high mattress accommodating a servant's sleeping space below.
Our ramble back to our ship passes the New Brunswick Museum and several art galleries. We stop to admire delightful public art along the waterfront, including a surreal lighthouse and huge bronze moose.
Across the street, we pose for photos with zany wooden folk waiting at a bus stop and duck into 18th century Barbour's General Store. Now a museum, souvenir shop and tearoom, we browse absorbing its historic charm.
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