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By Jane Cassie
(For Travel Writers’ Tales)

It helps having an ex-brother-in-law and partner who are tour guides. Especially when we visit Saint John, New Brunswick, where they live.

We discover that the city's roots go back to 1783 and was founded by loyalists who fled from the American War of Independence. "But a blazing inferno destroyed more than half of the city in 1877," Gary informs. "And when it was re-built, many of the buildings were constructed out of sturdy stone and brick."

Handsome homes link together along the hilly streets, one being their own. After selling in Vancouver three years ago they were able to purchase the four storey, three-suite brownstone outright and still have fun-money left-over. They've never looked back. In fact they love this city so much, they rave about it throughout tourist season.

#1 Anne and Gary's new but old Saint John home

Because of its location, on a rocky estuary where the Saint John River meets the Bay of Fundy, it has acquired the moniker, 'Fog City'. But once the mist dissipates, it's easy to see the allure. From Gary and Anne's house near the crest of Uptown, we have a water view in three directions.

"It's the only city that doesn't have an actual 'downtown'," Anne says, as we stroll by Kings Square, a manicured park where the gardens and central bandstand resemble the Union Jack. A short stroll away is his mate, Queen's Square, where French explorer, Samuel Champlain takes mid-stage. "It's so easy to get around on foot, we rarely need the car."

#2 Stroll through Uptown

Over the next hour, we see truth to this fact. We stroll by the century-old Imperial Theatre that, in 1913, operated as a vaudeville house, check out Farmer's Market that's bursting with fresh produce, and make our way past intriguing museums, down to the waterfront where dining options, like Saint John Ale House, serve up East Coast favourites.

#3 Enjoying a bite at Saint John Ale House

"Did you know that this city is known for Moosehead beer?" Gary asks, as we pass by a life-size statue of one of these four legged animals. "And because of this sculpture, the city will never run out." We discover that, when the artist created this focal point he placed a can of the local brewski in the hollow of his belly. Fact or fiction? It's hard to tell from our story-telling tour guide!

#4 Moose sculpture

For the past 30 years, a brightly painted clock tower has also adorned this Market Square. "There are no hands or traditional face on this timepiece," Anne points out. "Instead, the snake's tail marks the time." Below this serpent-like creature are three carved life-size figures who are chilling-out on a bench. Now, feeling in sync with this city's pulse, I realize the icon holds more symbolism than just telling time.

#5 Gary points out the clock tower

Saint John has that laid-back-kind-of-feel. There's no real rush hour, road rage or bustle. And for most, Sunday still means a day of rest.

But for those who want more activity, there is plenty of action. At Rockwood Park, boasting over 2,200 acres, you can swing a golf club, rent a canoe or hike on dozens of trails. And make sure to re-fuel afterwards at Lily's, a lovely lakeside diner that dishes up yummy cuisine.

#6 Boardwalk trail at Irving Park

Irving Park is another magnet for the active crowd. The 600 acre peninsula that juts out into the Bay of Fundy is scored with numerous pathways and is home to two hundred and fifty species of migratory and marine birds. Mud flats, salt marshes, volcanic and sandy beaches are other fascinating features that we discover when exploring this conservation wonderland.

#7 Brent looks over mud flats at Irving Park

Our final attraction of the day is a return visit to the Reversing Falls Rapids, a phenomenon that occurs on the Saint John River with tidal changes. We had come earlier, at low tide when the sea level was a lot lower than the river and the flow was pouring into the bay. There had been a little wave action but nothing to write home about.

"The level of the bay has risen more than four meters above the river," Gary says, "and the flow is now reversed,"

From the protected shoreline, we gaze out at the waterway where Mother Nature is in full work mode. The river has done an about face and her previous calm has turned chaotic. Swirling waves roll into raging froth and misty plumes erupt from white water.

#8 Reversing Falls Rapids

"It's pretty spectacular. And only in Saint John." exclaims my ex-brother-in-law, a.k.a. our proud personal tour guide.



Where to dine: Saint John Ale House -

PHOTOS by Jane & Brent Cassie

#1 Anne and Gary's new but old Saint John home
#2 Stroll through Uptown
#3 Enjoying a bite at Saint John Ale House
#4 Moose sculpture
#5 Gary points out the clock tower
#6 Boardwalk trail at Irving Park
#7 Brent looks over mud flats at Irving Park
#8 Reversing Falls Rapids

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