New Brunswick: A Road Trip through Canada’s ‘Picture Province’
By Max Hartshorne
New Brunswick, Canada, is an eight-and-a-half hour drive from Deerfield, MA, and this year, we were surprised that two immediate family members had both separately made the long drive to this province just over the Maine border.
My daughter visited some of the places we did, and my partner Mary’s brother and family did the same, showing us photos of some of the southern sights along the coast.
I’m not sure why we all went to New Brunswick this year, but we all had great fun with memorable stops, delicious seafood, and friendly people.
How friendly? We were in an elevator in Moncton at the same time as a giant convention of retired nurses was in the hotel. Nobody talks in elevators, at least where I come from. But these friendly nurses talked us up in the elevator, asking where we were visiting from and what we’d seen up here.
Again and again, the traveling Canadians, often from Ontario or Manitoba, would end up chatting with us on tours, in elevators, and even while we waited for dinner.
On our 2016 visit to New Brunswick – once called the “Picture Province” – we drove up through Lubec, Maine, and visited Campobello Island, and then bicycled on the seafloor near the famous Hopewell Rocks and spent a few days on the charming little island Grand Manan.
For our September trip, we flew up from Boston via Toronto, and 30 minutes after landing, we were pulling up to the Hôtel Shediac in the town of the same name.
New Brunswick Lobster Tales
Shediac calls itself the “Lobster Capital of The World,” on the first night dining at the hotel’s restaurant, La Gare; we enjoyed twin lobster tails and seafood risotto as some local musicians played American folk songs.
It was a great way to welcome us to a week that would have a lot to do with lobster, the Acadians, and road-tripping up and around the coast.
I wanted to learn more about lobsters, and I got all I could remember when I took a tour of the Homarus Eco-Centre, just outside of Shediac.
You’ll know you’re there when you see a big red building and a gigantic lobster statue. Homarus provides a deep dive into the lives of lobsters and the marine ecosystem of the Northumberland Strait, the body of water that separates New Brunswick from Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
The Lobster Success Story in Shediac
When we met Ron Corbeil, a former lobster boat captain who runs dinner tours, he told us a lot about how the region’s fishermen banded together several years ago to push the conservation measures that have expanded the fishery and kept it sustainable.
The fishermen set the limits and restrictive rules to preserve the lobsters… and it worked.
A big part of the success story is what happens at Homarus. They take the eggs found on female lobsters and separate them to be raised in tanks at fisheries.
When these millions of stronger baby lobsters are released into the water column, they have a 40% chance of surviving versus a 1% shot in the natural order of things.
This has meant more lobster for everyone, as long as no fishermen keep the little ones or the pregnant females.
Exploring New Brunswick’s Nature
We took a walk one night through a very dark wood, to a spectacle called Akadi Lumina.
We started out in a crowd of people, all ticketed for specific start times. Nobody knew what to expect.
The path we walked, lit by little lanterns, featured nine different and stunning light shows, some with LEDs strewn into patterns on the forest floor and others with giant hologram images of dancers…
It was an epic show, a 60-minute ramble through the woods to be startled by each stop.
Akadi Lumina is so popular it’s sold out for three more weeks, amazing tourists and locals alike – nothing like this has even been created in the Maritimes.
One of New Brunswick’s most enduring qualities is that it’s so big, and there are so few people there.
The province is about the size of Maine but has only 775,000 residents compared to Maine’s roughly 1.37 million.
This means that even in the most impressive natural places, such as the beaches and hiking trails, you don’t ever feel the crush of the crowd.
The beaches are sparkling uncrowded, and the water gets much warmer here than on the chilly coast of Maine.
One of the most pristine and impressive beaches was at the Kouchibouguac National Park, near Saint-Louis de Kent.
A half-mile-long wooden boardwalk extends out a long way to Kelly Beach, and along the way, you can see tiny piping plovers and other birds in their native habitat.
We met a couple from the Netherlands who run a cozy and comfortable inn called L’Ancrage Bed & Breakfast. Liane Greter and Kores Wouters have created a successful restaurant and inn here, encouraged partly because no place offered seafood that wasn’t fried.
They came here ten years ago from Europe and have built a restaurant called Captain’s Resto with a sizeable new dining area and kitchen, but they are still figuring out the many challenges of getting staff and having it all work out.
“We bought a pontoon boat a few years ago,” Kores explained, “because we wanted to give our guests something additional to do when they were here, and they had already seen the Kouchibouguac park. Our tours take guests all the way around to the other side where seals congregate, and they can see other birdlife close up.”
Sleeping in a Beachside Dome
While most of the nights we stayed in New Brunswick were at small inns and hotels, we also got a chance to sleep in a pretty cool alternative: Cielo Glamping Maritime, a series of luxury camping domes on the beach in Shippagan.
And indeed, it was luxurious. Inside our private dome – they have four available – was a full kitchen, a very fancy bathroom, and a cozy bed that afforded a killer view. Outside was a Big Green Egg barbecue and our own private hot tub.
We repaired to the cozy little bar called The Hub for meals at Cielo Maritime. Here, we created our own charcuterie board, picking ingredients from their freezer and cooler, and enjoyed some of their specialty cocktails. A very fun atmosphere, and truly glamping.
Fascinating Acadian History
Our trip also had a history angle, as we included a visit to the Acadian Village in Bertrand and took in a joyous Acadian songfest and full-on musical spectacular on the last day of the season at Pays de la Sagouine in Bouctouche.
The jolly songs, with keyboard, fiddle, and plenty of boot-tapping, tell the history of the Acadians, who were Catholic and French and were forced to leave New Brunswick in 1755 when the British wanted to take over their houses, dominate the land, and keep the lucrative fur trade going.
In that dark year, more than 10,000 Acadians living in Nova Scotia were sent to other parts of colonial America like Cape Breton, Louisiana. But many of them moved back, and they brought their music with them.
We explored the Acadian Village one morning. When you enter the main building here, up on the wall are dozens of familiar family names, like Hebert, LeBlanc, and Cormier, of Acadian families who once lived nearby.
The village has about 40 historic wooden buildings, and inside each one, a re-enactor or two is cooking lunch, spinning wool, or carving the stays for a barrel.
It was fun to watch them working and explaining what they were doing in both French and English, the way everything in New Brunswick is done – twice. The houses range from the early 1800s to 1942.
Visiting the Mi’kmaq in Elsipogtog
One of the principles of the tourism boards of Canada is not to forget the original inhabitants of the big country. In New Brunswick would be the Mi’kmaq people, who have an Elsipogtog First Nation reserve here.
We met with three women members of the tribe, who took us out into the woods and shared about many of the healing properties of everyday items found in forests.
They also took us inside a replica of a longhouse and a wigwam and told us about their history here.
Being in the woods and hearing their age old passed-down wisdom was a fascinating experience for both First Nation, Canadians, and Americans alike.
The author’s trip was New Brunswick Tourism, but the opinions are all his own. Find out more about New Brunswick at explorenb.com.