You’d be forgiven for thinking that New Brunswick lacks the star power of the other Maritime provinces, sometimes caustically described as a “drive-through province” that travellers are forced to cross on their way to more beloved parts of the East Coast. But the forgotten middle child of Atlantic Canada has charms equal to its siblings, including postcard-worthy seaside landscapes, traditional French-Canadian culture (francophones make up over 30 per cent of its population) and a rich food scene focused on the simple flavours of its farmlands and coastlines.
The historic core of Saint John, the province’s second-largest city, has a romantic industrial feel, with the windswept Bay of Fundy peeking out between rows of redbrick 19th-century buildings. It’s a fitting setting for a winsome city packed with inviting pubs, cool restaurants, quaint shops and affable locals. Let lesser-informed vacationers drive on through if they want because you’re going to be the savvy traveller who knows to pull the car over and stay for a while.
What to do
The New Brunswick Museum is an essential first stop for boning up on the province’s history and culture. One of Canada’s oldest museums, it features three floors of thoughtfully curated artifacts, as well as hands-on exhibits and artwork. Among the highlights is a whale exhibit featuring a 12-metre-long whale skeleton, which hangs from the ceiling. A glass tube connected to the nearby harbour allows visitors to watch the tidal rise and fall of the Bay of Fundy, while another gallery delves into the history of New Brunswick’s shipbuilding history.
Uncorked’s Seafood City Tour is a sure-fire way to ensure you get the necessary seafood fix during your East Coast visit, combining tastings with a walking tour of the atmospheric Uptown. The tour starts at Saint John City Market, the oldest continuously-operating market in the country, where groups sample ultra-fresh lobster rolls from long-running vendor North Market Seafood.
Where to eat and drink
With bearded servers, vintage-style decor and carefully-crafted cocktails, Port City Royal exudes a particular hipster swagger that will probably feel familiar to Torontonians but also stays true to Saint John’s gritty coolness. A menu of local fare like duck confit served with apple-cider-braised red cabbage and oysters on the half shell with house-made condiments is complemented by a stylish cocktail programme that incorporates foraged ingredients. The intimate space lends itself to full dinners as well as casual pre- or post-dinner drinks (get there before 6 p.m. to take advantage of excellent happy hour specials). They’ve also recently started doubling as a cafe called Marjorie’s during the day, serving coffee and tasty pastries.
Hopscotch, the only whisky bar in Saint John, features a massive menu spanning more than a dozen pages, with offerings wide-ranging enough to appeal to casual whisky drinkers and aficionados alike. Tasting notes (often divided by nose, palate and finish) are outlined for everything from blended scotches priced at less than $6 a glass to the Macallan M, which goes for $450. The cozy space feels as warm and relaxed as...well....the experience of sipping whisky, decked out with exposed brick and warm woods and anchored by a towering glass shelving unit stocked with more than 70 bottles.
Where to stay
Chipman Hill Suites is an unfussy, reliable option for travellers on a budget. Located in Uptown Saint John, the suites are a collection of ten properties housed in characterful Victorian-era buildings. Each suite is furnished simply, but most feature interesting historic details like stained glass, plaster mouldings or wood carvings.
All suites come with kitchens or kitchenettes that include fridges and microwaves, which come in handy if you want a break from dining out. The suite buildings are less than a 10-minute walk away from Saint John City Market, the New Brunswick Museum, as well as lots of cool bars and restaurants.