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Believe It — Exciting New Brunswick Is Deserving of an Extended Stay

saint-john-lighthouse

A lighthouse at the foot of Saint John’s waterfront gazes out to the Bay of Fundy, home to high tides and exceptional seafood. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Wait a minute. It’s a phrase that may come to mind more than once when you venture into New Brunswick. Examples:

  • Wait a minute, you can learn to harvest caviar yourself from Atlantic sturgeon native to Canada?
  • Wait a minute, there’s a 13-foot Salvador Dali masterpiece that’s been displayed here for 60 years? And you’re supposed to view it while lying on your back?
  • Wait a minute, there’s a vibrant French culture in New Brunswick that is distinct from what Quebec possesses?
  • Wait a minute, you can have a remarkable time without seeing the epic tides of the Bay of Fundy?

I could exhaust you with facts that would stupefy any visitor, or reader, unfamiliar with what may be Canada’s most modest and underappreciated province.

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Dating to the 1750s, Fort Beauséjour is a Parks Canada site near the border of Nova Scotia. It features sweeping views of New Brunswick’s landscape as well as opportunities to explore the fortified walls and underground barracks. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

For generations, New Brunswick was known for a stretch of 450 kilometres (280 miles) of highway that you hurried through en route to Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island. There have been exceptions, of course. The tiny utopia of St-Andrews By-the-Sea is considered idyllic for an east-coast getaway and Fundy National Park receives about 300,000 visitors per year, approximately the same number as Cape Breton Highlands National Park on Nova Scotia’s famed Cabot Trail.

Outside of those destinations, though, the idea that you can and should stop for more than fuel and a bathroom break in the westernmost Maritime province would seem novel to many on a road trip. But pausing to explore is what travellers do and New Brunswick rewards the curious with delight after delight, experience after experience that will make you smile and be happy you chose to wander.

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Acadian Sturgeon founder Cornel Ceapa fillets one of his fish after he cooked it on a rotisserie grill for the Eating Heritage Symposium, a new initiative that aims to grow New Brunswick’s food tourism. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

At the top of the list of reasons you should visit is Cornel Ceapa, the entrepreneur from Romania who launched Acadian Sturgeon in 2005 with his wife, Dorina. With a Ph.D in Sturgeon Biology, Cornel Ceapa is a global expert on the production and sustainability of one of the world’s most coveted fish species. Acadian Sturgeon harvests sustainable caviar from fish in the Atlantic Ocean and Saint John River. In July, travellers can participate in one of the company’s “safari” experiences where Ceapa takes guests out on an excursion to catch the fish, harvest caviar, participate in a tour of the production facilities, and savour a barbecue feast. The caviar is distributed by Costco and can also be purchased online, although Ceapa says almost all of it remains in the province for New Brunswickers to enjoy.

A Dali Masterpiece in Eastern Canada

If eating Canadian-made caviar on the banks of a river sounds surreal, so will the idea that a rare Salvador Dali “masterwork” resides in a museum in the country’s second-smallest provincial capital. “Santiago El Grande” has been in the possession of Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery since the facility opened its doors in 1959. The massive painting features a 3D technique that Dali used because he intended the artwork to hang in a cathedral near Madrid, but through some shrewd bargaining by New Brunswick elite “Santiago El Grande” ended up in Fredericton. Now, Beaverbrook Art Gallery patrons are encouraged to lie down and look up in order to get the surrealist’s desired visual effect. It’s safe to say that if this painting was in a museum in Paris or New York and if the same supine position was allowed, “Santiago El Grande” would be the most Instagrammed work of art in the world. Instead, at the Beaverbrook you may find yourself alone with Dali, as I did on a recent snowy afternoon, gazing on his canvas from any angle you want without another patron in sight. 

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Salvador Dali’s “Santiago El Grande” is the signature piece of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton. (Photo taken by the staff at Beaverbrook Art Gallery)

Viewing this incredible painting in such a quirky way is part of the charm of visiting Fredericton, where a university culture has created a vibrant arts and culture scene, as well as a fervour for craft beer. New Brunswick has 103 combined licenses for craft beer (60), wineries (26), and artisan spirits (17), making it the leader among provinces in licenses per capita for craft alcohol.

Savour Saint John’s Fabulous Food

The zeal for local food and drink is even more intense in Saint John. A little more than an hour’s drive south of Fredericton, Saint John has more than 85 bars and restaurants in a Victorian-era historic centre called the Trinity Royal Preservation District. Breweries are strewn around the area making a pub crawl easy and enticing, while talented chefs take advantage of the Bay of Fundy’s seafood riches to serve up decadent items in restaurants filled with character and heritage. The Saint John Ale House, spearheaded by executive chef Jesse Vergen, has led the way for a culinary revitalization in a city that impresses with the quality of its beers and cuisine. It’s also a street photographer’s dream thanks to the antiquated beauty of its architecture that blends with contemporary graffiti projects sponsored by the city’s tourism board.

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Saint John Ale House’s quahog clams are served with lemongrass picked from chef Jesse Vergen’s farm. The dish exemplifies the restaurant’s dedication to local and organic ingredients. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Canada’s only officially bilingual province, New Brunswick has a culture that is also heavily influenced (and increasingly so) by the Acadian community. The 25,400 Acadians in the province reside mostly in the northeast near the border with Quebec, but their impact on New Brunswick is as deep as the Bay of Fundy itself. Acadian cheese and dairy production, maple-syrup products, and recipes that date back more than 300 years add to the flavours you’ll experience in the province.

Flavours that can only be acquired if you agree to linger a while. New Brunswick has plenty to satiate your senses, if you choose to slow down and give it a chance to impress. You just may find that you’ve been tempted to wait a minute so many times that you happily stick around for several days in a place deserving of your attention.

Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi was a visiting journalist of the Eating Harvest Symposium, as well as Destination New Brunswick, Discover Saint John, and Fredericton Tourism. This article is the first of an ongoing series on tourism in the province.

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Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.