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.
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 NavyIsland.
“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.
Read the other stories in this package: Destination - If you decide to go Destination - A relaxing stroll through Kingsbrae Garden
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 MarketWharf, “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 MarketWharf, 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 MarketWharf’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 MarketWharf. 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 KingsbraeGarden. MinistersIsland 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: KingsbraeHorticulturalGarden, 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 FundyIslands. You’ll also find Science-by-the-Sea interpretive displays and a walking trail to Katy’s Cove.
Children will enjoy the HuntsmanAquariumMuseum (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 VisitorCenter 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 MinistersIsland, 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.