Boaters seeking unspoiled waters, uncrowded anchorages and the amenities of an upscale resort community increasingly are cruising Down East to St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick. Atlantic Canada’s historic resort town lies near the head of Passamaquoddy Bay, on the east bank of the St. Croix River mouth, protected by Navy Island.
“People shouldn’t be afraid of the area’s [28-foot] tides and foggy reputation,” says Peg Davison, who cruises here with her husband seven or eight times a year from Ellsworth, Maine, aboard their 31-foot power cruiser. “The channel is well-buoyed and there’s [at least] 8 feet of water at the dock.”
May might not be the best time to visit St. Andrews, but it’s certainly a good time to plan a cruise for later in the summer.
The Davisons prefer visiting in the fall, when the cruising clubs have come and gone, moorings are easy to get, and winds keep the fog away. “St. Andrews is a good place to enter Canada before exploring Passamaquoddy Bay,” she says, “and a good stopping place before [going to] Saint John [New Brunswick]. It’s a very pretty town with lots of nice shops and restaurants. Everyone who comes here likes St. Andrews.”
“There’s so much to see and do here,” says local boater Tim Easley. “But the biggest tourist attraction is B.B. Chamberlain, the wharfinger [harbormaster].”
B.B., who is 63, seems to know everyone in town and will arrange for whatever service boaters request. His office on Market Wharf, “B.B.’s Emporium,” is the hangout for locals and visitors — fishermen, aquaculture workers and pleasure boaters. Conversation and advice flow as freely as the coffee. Locals nursing java helpfully supplement B.B.’s recommendations on restaurants, attractions and the delights of gunkholing around Passamaquoddy Bay.
Approaching the harbor, you’ll spot the 1824 Greenock Presbyterian Church’s white steeple and, on the hilltop, the 1889 Algonquin Hotel’s red roof. The town clusters around Market Wharf, as it has since 1783 when Loyalists from Castine, Maine, barged their homes here after the Revolutionary War to settle the tip of this peninsula.
In addition to being a prominent Colonial port, St. Andrews has been a premier Atlantic Canada resort town since the 1840s. For generations the Canadian Pacific Railroad brought wealthy industrialists from the inland cities to vacation here. Today, downtown’s simple 19th century clapboard structures have a vintage appeal, and several buildings that date to 1820 are historic sites and museums. Others contain a variety of restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and services.
The railroad was abandoned decades ago, and its track bed along the shore has eroded. A bulkhead protects shops along Water Street from the ravages of storm tides. At low tide, mud flats sprawl 100 feet or so from shore, almost to Market Wharf’s floating dinghy dock. Near shore, vessels on wooden cradles await high tide, while men probe the flats for the worms that are prized as bait.
St. Andrews’ population of 1,700 year-round residents swells to 2,600 with summer tourism, though the aquaculture boats and equipment in the harbor indicate the equally important salmon industry. Fishermen take their harvests from the Passamaquoddy Bay pens to other harbors for processing and shipping.“Boaters like the fact that most everything in St. Andrews is within two blocks of the dinghy dock,” says B.B. “Even golf, tennis and the beach are within walking distance.” So is the Visitor’s Center, where you can pick up maps and brochures.
Water Street extends north and south from Market Wharf. Boutiques specialize in hand-knitted goods, English woolens, bone china and Celtic items in a range of prices. Galleries feature local artists and craftspeople, from painters and jewelry makers to potters and glass blowers. Restaurants cater to a variety of tastes, from fudge and 27 flavors of ice cream to coffee shops and sidewalk cafes to the Kennedy Inn and the highly recommended Europa, both popular with boaters. Knowledgeable locals stress getting to Sweet Harvest Market early for Pam’s legendary cinnamon buns. Many restaurants serve breakfast, but none equal the Fairmont Algonquin’s luxurious Victorian Sunday Brunch, which includes prime rib.
The resort, dominating the hilltop, was built in 1889 by a group of investors to attract Canada’s wealthy. It was so successful that several tycoons built their own shingle-style “cottages” nearby. One estate is now Kingsbrae Garden. Ministers Island Provincial Historic Site protects the estate of Sir William Van Horne, builder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and other estates line Prince of Wales Street.
In fact, the entire 5-by-15-block downtown is a National Historic District. The architecture and streetscapes are charming, and locals are proud of their classic, well-kept homes. Some eagerly explain their homes’ histories to passersby, especially if the attic beams bear Roman numerals for reassembly after the 18th century trip from Castine.
Just up Market Street from the wharf lies St. Andrews’ most popular attraction: Kingsbrae Horticultural Garden, ranked among Canada’s Top 10 public gardens (see accompanying story). South along the harbor are the informal St. Andrews Royal Yacht Club (home to 20-some friendly boaters), the 1833 octagonal Pendlebury Light (awaiting restoration by St. Andrews Civic Trust), and Indian Point’s expansive views of Passamaquoddy Bay and the Fundy Islands. You’ll also find Science-by-the-Sea interpretive displays and a walking trail to Katy’s Cove.
Children will enjoy the Huntsman Aquarium Museum (a half-mile north of town) featuring Bay of Fundy marine life. A twice-daily highlight is watching the staff feed the harbor seal family.
Golf draws many to the Fairmont Algonquin’s wooded seaside course. The 18-hole, par-72 course designed by Thomas McBroom is ranked Best in New Brunswick and among Canada’s Top 100. The Algonquin Golf Club, with its 1895 clubhouse, is the oldest in Atlantic Canada.
Several companies rent kayaks and bicycles, and offer whale-watching, tide-running and nature cruises. You’ll also find downtown public tennis courts, saltwater swimming at Katy’s Cove, picnic areas and children’s playgrounds. The town hall and the Visitor Center list performances in churches, restaurants and the W.C. O’Neill Arena Theater.
The restored 1808 West Point Blockhouse stands at the north end of town and is one of three built to protect St. Andrews from American invasion during the War of 1812. Three 18-pound cannons are still trained on the river, though they never fired a shot in anger.
For a night ashore, you can choose among motels, bed and breakfast inns, cottages and the Fairmont Algonquin, all within a few blocks of the harbor.
Few boaters rent cars to visit nearby sites, according to B.B. Among the most popular attractions are Ministers Island, the St. Croix Island International Historic Site (where the first French colonists wintered in 1604), and the Atlantic Salmon Interpretive Centre (for a detailed look into the life and conservation of wild salmon).
Tim Easley, who cruised to St. Andrews many times on his 32-foot cutter during his working years, retired here in 2000. “I came back to paradise,” he says. The Davisons and others agree.
St. Andrews, a Canadian port of entry, stands near the head of Passamaquoddy Bay at the mouth of the St. Croix River, whose waters separate Maine from Canada. The harbor is protected from the southwest by Navy Island. At low tide, mud flats and sand spits create additional protection for the moorings and anchorage.
A well-marked channel leads north from the bay to St. Andrews. At the harbor entrance the channel passes between the skeletal tower off North Point (to starboard) and the sand spit off Navy Island (to port). Boaters cruising down the St. Croix River from the north can follow markers through the northern shallows into the harbor, but the southern route is preferred.
B.B. Chamberlain, wharfinger (harbormaster) of St. Andrews, says boaters should have no trouble entering the harbor if they pay attention to the markers and the tides, which range around 28 feet. “Come in on the flood, and leave on the ebb,” he says. “Avoid the middle two hours of either tide, when currents are at their maximum.”
B.B. meets every visiting vessel at the harbor entrance, leads it to the anchorage or a mooring (in 14- to 16-foot depths), and hands the mooring line to the boater. “That way I know they’re secure,” he says. He prides himself on arranging for whatever services cruisers request. Overnight mooring rates include dinghy dockage, trash disposal, pumpout, water on request and fuel delivery. (The rate, $25 Canadian per night, was under review for this year.) Boaters who anchor also can use Market Wharf’s free floating dinghy docks. However, there’s a nominal charge for pumpout.
Clearing customs can be done by phone through CanPass at (888) 226-7277. “Boaters will have to answer questions and must have their passports and boat documentation or registration,” says B.B. “Alcohol, drugs and guns are prohibited and will be seized.”
St. Andrews is on Atlantic Time, one hour ahead of Eastern Time. Navy Island Dive Co. on Williams Street sells Canadian charts, which are marked in meters, not feet. NOAA chart 13328 (Calais to West Quoddy Head, Eastport Harbor) and Canadian chart 4011 (Approach to the Bay of Fundy) cover St. Andrews and approaches.
• St. Andrews Chamber of Commerce, (506) 529-3555, www.townofstandrews.ca
• St. Andrews Government Wharf, Market Wharf, (506) 529-5170, www.townofstandrews.ca
• Kingsbrae Horticultural Garden, (506) 529-9024, www.kingsbraegarden.com
• The Fairmont Algonquin, (800) 257-7544, www.fairmont.com/Algonquin
• July 1: Canada Day and New Brunswick Day festivities, with craft fairs, parades, special events, music and food on Main Street, and fireworks over the harbor, (506) 529-3555.
• July and August: Daily morning children’s program and activities in the Children’s Garden at Kingsbrae, (506) 529-3335.
• Through September: Thursday Farmers Market, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Market Square, (506) 529-5899.
A relaxing stroll through Kingsbrae Garden
Created on a former grand estate, Kingsbrae Horticultural Garden’s 27-acre hilltop grounds showcase some 50,000 trees, shrubs and perennials in a score of separate gardens. Though you may not be a gardener or even own land for a garden, there’s something here for everyone’s enjoyment.
Strolling through Kingsbrae, immersed in the interplay of colors and textures amid the ever-changing light, is an experience. And you needn’t read the labels giving the Latin and common names of every plant to enjoy the walk. Everywhere there are colorful plantings, playful sculptures and life — not just enthusiastic visitors and diligent employees, but also butterflies and hummingbirds, goats and ducks, cats and peacocks, even two dogs to keep the deer away.
A self-guided trail meanders through the grounds, beginning with the formal gardens of the original estate. Here, 100-year old cedar hedges frame the Knot, Rose and Perennial gardens, and form the Cedar Maze that emerges into the Fiddlehead Labyrinth. Beyond are informal gardens, divided by color, species, season and mission. All were created and are maintained using environmentally friendly techniques.
Most visitors just enjoy the colors and the unexpected whimsical sculptures: “flower pot people,” a foul-weather-clad fisherman floating in a small boat, metal figures with “changeable hair-dos” made of living plants, among others. The motion of the stained glass and wrought iron stabile is reminiscent of the nearby 1/3-scale Dutch windmill built in Holland, which pumps water to the upper irrigation pond.
Youngsters likely will prefer the Fantasy Garden, where the playhouse has a plant-covered roof; a chair, bed and Loch Ness monster are of moss; and the fence is of living apple suckers. Munching on strawberries and tomatoes in the Edible Garden also is a treat.
Horticulturalists will thrill to see the Wollemi pine seedling, remnant of a species that flourished during the Jurassic era 200 million years ago and was presumed extinct. The seedling was propagated from a tree discovered in an Australian rain forest in 1994. That discovery “is the equivalent of finding a small dinosaur still alive on Earth,” writes professor Carrick Chambers, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia. Fewer than 100 Wollemi pines exist in the wild, making it one of the world’s oldest and rarest trees. Acquired at auction, the 3-foot plant was coddled and quarantined for three months before arriving at Kingsbrae Garden in 2006. (Proceeds from the Sotheby’s auction went to preserve the undisclosed original habitat.)
The Garden Café offers gifts, art, light meals and a spacious lawn for croquet and bocce. Ranked among Canada’s Top 10 public gardens, Kingsbrae is up King Street from Market Wharf. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (including holidays), May 16 to Oct. 11. Admission is $9.75 for adults, $8.25 for students and seniors, and $23.50 for a family (two adults and their children under 18). Children under 6 are free. www.kingsbraegarden.com