My city, Saint John, New Brunswick, has been killing it this summer with all the cool, outdoor, community events. From HULA to Area 506, Festival of Sail to Third Shift and Quality Block Party, Uptown Saint John is quickly becoming the place to be.
Last Saturday night, the latest event was added, and this one might just take the cake. Or should I say, the moon? The first ever Moonlight Bazaar was held in the Grannan Lane area of Uptown, and for it this city literally hung the moon. A giant, inflatable moon, that is. The event also featured street vendors, food, performances, and a DJ.
The moon was a truly awesome attraction, and everyone wanted to get a picture of it and with it. According to organizers, it weighed 150 lbs and was 7 metres wide. It hung, suspended and glowing above a temporary lawn behind Port City Royal and drew a crowd of thousands over the course of the evening. Across the street, people strolled down the city’s newly revamped Grannan Alley, just another dirty Saint John alley not so long ago, now the epicentre of this city’s mojo.
The Moonlight Bazaar was just one in a long line of must-see events that Saint John is starting to get a reputation for. The kind of event that people kick themselves later for missing.
I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be living in Saint John at this time, as the city gathers momentum and pulses with energy. When I moved to this city over a decade ago, you would never have seen an event like this. Any night of the week, you could go Uptown and pick and choose your parking spot. Now you’re lucky to find one at all, even on a slow Tuesday night.
This Uptown revitalization is the work of many, many people. It takes a village, after all. Companies willing to invest in Saint John, developers, passionate citizens and creative types who all envision a bright future for this city.
I’m no business person. I know I’m not going to be opening up my own shop or organizing the next big event. But I am a citizen of this city and I’m strongly invested in its future. And I’ll use my voice to shout from the rooftops about what’s happening here.
A city, down on its luck for so long, taking back its destiny. Creating the kind of artful community that gathers under a giant moon and dances in the streets. Dances to celebrate the shedding of its former skin into something new; something fresh. Something inspired.
Here are a few shots I took during the Midnight Bazaar:
We returned a few days ago from our 51 km, three-day trek around Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, and – spoiler alert – we survived! There were moments when I wasn’t so sure, especially when the rain was coming down in sheets on Saturday, but we persevered.
We arrived at the park shortly after 8 am on Friday, full of energy, clean and fresh. The parking lot is at Red Rocks, where the Visitor Centre is also located. We decided to do the hike counter-clockwise, although a lot of the hikers we met were travelling in the opposite direction. The reason we chose this direction is so that our longest day of hiking would be on the first day, and each day after that would require fewer kilometers.
Friday was a beautiful day for hiking. A bit foggy in the morning, but the sun broke out pretty early on. Luckily, it wasn’t too hot, as this leg of the hike would take us directly across the park, mostly through the forest, to Seal Cove.
The first 3 km or so of Day 1 is a steady uphill climb but after you reach the Y where we turned right for Eatonville, the trail levels off for most of the rest of the way. At the end of Day 1, we had hiked approximately 21 km, arriving at camp around 7 pm.
The Seal Cove campsites are small, but flat. Not all campsites have picnic tables, but the ones that are there seem to move around quite a bit. We managed to set up camp and have some time on the beach before it started to rain. It’s a short hike to the beach but well worth it. One of the nicest thing about this hike was all the small, private beaches along the way. They were so perfect, I wanted to climb down to each one, set up shop and live out my days there.
When we woke up on Day 2, it was already raining. Luckily, we had brought a tarp with us and set it up over the picnic table so we had somewhere to prepare and eat breakfast. On this day, we were planning to make it all the way to Refugee Cove, about 17 km along the coastal trail. We got a short break in the rain in the morning and couldn’t believe our luck. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last as it started to rain lightly for a long time and then quite heavily as we were coming into the Big Bald Rock area. This area is wide open and would be stunning on a nicer day, however, we had to boot it across the rock face to keep from drowning. We took shelter on the porch of the Big Bald Rock cabin while we waited out the worst of the rain. At this point in the hike we strongly considered getting the hell out of there but as we were halfway around the loop we figured any hike out would take just as long as the rest of the loop so after a short break, we headed back out.
We did eventually make it to the campsites at Refugee Cove, completely soaked through, tired and hungry. We were lucky that we have a dry pitch tent so that we could set up our tent without getting everything wet. We got into the driest clothes we had, ate some food and passed out pretty early.
The next morning, the rain had mostly stopped, thank goodness. We packed up for the last time and headed out early for our last and most challenging 12 kms of the loop. There are two major hills to deal with on this leg of the loop, one to get out of Refugee Cove and one to get out of Mill Brook.
The park doesn’t make use of switchbacks nearly as much as we would have liked. Most of its major hills are straight up. In fact, Mill Brook hill is so long, there are two benches for resting along the way. In between these two hills and after Mill Brook, you find yourself hiking through a beautiful old growth forest. Lush with ferns and with a well groomed and easy-to-follow trail, this was one of my favourite parts of the hike.
When you get closer to Red Rocks (the finish line!), you have the choice of taking the main trail back or descending to the beach for the rest of the hike. If you time it right with low tide and you take the beach, it knocks off about 1.5 km from the hike. At this point, we were all for this so down to the beach we went. It was actually the perfect way to end the hike, walking on the floor of the Bay of Fundy, with cliffs towering above us and waves crashing to our right.
Even with the heavy rain, we still very much enjoyed this hike. Even when we were soaked completely through, we could still appreciate the incredible beauty right in our back yards.
Here are a few of my take-aways of the hike:
This is a stunning hike. With so much of the hike following the coast of the Bay of Fundy, with numerous little coves, red cliffs and 100 ft waterfalls, it’s well worth the sore feet and tight calves that it costs to do.
If the forecast calls for 15 or more mm of rain, I would recommend renting a cabin or bunkhouse, if available. They’re well built, with bunks for at least 8 people and a furnace or heater for those cool nights (or if you get soaked and need to dry out!).
Take your time. We only allotted two nights on the trails so each day was full of hiking and there wasn’t much time for checking out lookouts or stopping to admire the views. We plan to go back next summer and rent three bunkhouses/cabins and really take our time with the hike.
While there are some tough hills along the trail, most of it is pretty moderate, making this loop a great introduction to backpacking, for those interested in testing the waters. If it’s going to be your first outing though, I would recommend taking at least three nights on the trail, so you don’t overwhelm yourself the first time out.
Hiking poles are highly recommended. There were some pretty swampy areas of the trail between Big Bald Rock and Refugee Cove and many brook crossings along the way. Poles really helped us getting around these areas and provided balance when crossing swollen brooks.
Have fun! The right attitude is key. You are going to have ups and downs and times when you doubt whether you can keep going but it’s really important that you realize that nothing lasts forever, even Mill Brook hill.
And we highly recommend checking out the Wild Caraway Restaurant in Advocate Harbour, after your hike. You’ll surely be hungry and this place has amazing eats that are going to satisfy that post-hike hunger. They even have two rooms upstairs for rent, in case you want to get a shower ASAP.
Joel and I are preparing for a challenging, 51 km, three-day hike of Cape Chignecto. Cape Chignecto is a Provincial Park in Nova Scotia, with over 50 km of wilderness trails along the beautiful Bay of Fundy.
This will surely be the hardest hiking challenging I have faced yet. I’ve done plenty of overnight hikes, but never more than two days.
What’s great about this hike is that it’s a full loop, meaning that you don’t have to worry about ferrying cars around. It’s also nice because it’s a Provincial Park, with more facilities available than most wilderness hikes. I’ve also heard it’s stunning, with amazing coastal views almost the whole way around.
When you’re on longer hikes like this, you really rely on your gear, so having the right stuff with you is important. I thought I’d give you a preview of what we’ll be taking with us, in case you are curious what to take with you on a 3-day hike in the woods.
We use the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-person tent. It’s ultralightweight, coming in at under 4 lbs. It packs up pretty small, which is great when you have only so much room in your pack. We like that it has two doors on either side, so you don’t have to climb over the other person if you have to get up in the night. You’ll want to get the footprint also. It adds minimal weight but is really important for keeping you cozy and dry inside the tent. We’ve been backpacking with this tent in the rain a couple times and have had no problems staying dry. We love it.
Sleeping Pad and Bag
A sleeping pad is a must to create a barrier between you and the ground and keep you warm and dry. We use Static V full-sized lightweight inflatable pads. They weigh only 514 grams and because they are inflatable, pack down pretty well. They blow-up pretty easy with just a few breaths (apparently 12, see below). For a sleeping bag, I use The North Face Furnace 20/-7. This bag is down filled and doesn’t pack up as tightly as some other sleeping bags but I tend to get pretty cold at night so I like the extra warmth this bag provides. Make sure you have a compression sack for these bags, so that you can squish them down to their smallest size in your pack.
The only stove we use in the backcountry is the Jetboil MiniMo. These things are awesome. They boil water is a matter of seconds and they’re super compact and light. While you can cook food directly in the stove using the simmer option, we tend to use it just to boil water which we then add to dehydrated foods. As for cookware, I use the Woods individual enamel set. I don’t take the plate into the backcountry, just the cup (for morning tea) and the bowl (for morning oatmeal). Evening meals we usually eat out of the bag (more on that later). To eat with, you’re going to need a spork. What’s a spork you ask? It’s a utensil with a fork on one side and a spoon on the other. Titanium sporks are amazing because they’re pretty much indestructible but they are very expensive. The plastic ones work fine, just don’t put too much weight on them or they’ll snap.
Water is life, on the trail. I use a Platypus Hoser 2.0 L hydration system. These are great because they slide right into a slot designed in your backpack, with an attached hose that threads up through so that you can have hands-free access to water at all times. Now, obviously on a 3-day hike, 2 L of water isn’t going to be enough. For that, we use a Sawyer Water Filtration System, with water we collect on the trail. It weighs next to nothing but is one of the most vital pieces of gear we carry in the backcountry.
Ah, food. Food is tricky on the trail. You want enough food to keep you moving, but not too much that it will weigh you down. It’s a little extra tough for me because I can’t eat gluten so I have to come up with easy-to-prepare, gluten free options. As I said before, we use a JetBoil stove, so we usually eat food on the trail that we can just add hot water to, like dehydrated camp meals, or noodles. For my money, I really like the AlpineAire camp meals, especially the rice-based ones. They are pretty delicious and the gluten free ones are well marked, which takes the danger and guesswork out for me. These meals act as their own bowl also, minimizing clean-up. They are expensive but oh, so worth it. For breakfast, we eat quick-and-easy oatmeal. We snack a lot along the way on trail mix, dried fruit, KIND Bars, beef jerky, etc. We’re also going to take along a couple bagels prepared with peanut butter and Nutella – drool – for quick lunches. What we don’t want to take is anything in heavy cans or that requires a lot of preparation. For us, at the end of a long day of hiking, you want something good, quick and easy.
Clothing is another tricky one. It’s sometimes hard to know exactly what you’ll need. Even if the weather doesn’t call for it, we always bring a lightweight rain jacket. You want clothes that are light and dry quickly, so synthetic materials and wicking layers are great. I’m bringing along two pairs of light cushion hiking socks (I like Darn Tough), underwear (obvi), light hiking pants and a sweater for cooler nights, two light t-shirts and a long sleeve wicking layer. That’s it. I’ll strap a hat to the back of my backpack but I don’t usually wear it hiking. We’ll surely be ripe when we get out of the woods three days later but when every gram you’re carrying counts, you have to take only what’s necessary. Keep in mind that you always want to hang your food in a bear hang away from camp at night. You don’t want visitors in the backcountry.
Other Necessary Items
There are numerous other small items we take with us that are pretty important to a successful trip. A small First Aid kit, paracord rope, fire starter (cotton ball slathered in petroleum jelly), a hatchet and knife, a tarp, bug spray, sunscreen, antibacterial wipes for cleaning, a garbage bag, toilet paper (obvi), head lamp and hiking poles. We also take waterproof pack covers for when it rains, because your pack may be water-resistant but everything inside it will eventually get soaked and putting on wet clothes sucks.
Luxury items are those things you don’t need to survive, but you really want to bring. I bring a Eureka! inflatable pillow, for instance. It’s really light and doesn’t take up much space in my pack but really increases my ability to sleep comfortably. I also take along a tripod and my DSLR, huge luxury items but I can’t help it, I’m a photographer at heart and I don’t want to miss a shot. We also take a Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern, which is a bit of a luxury item but more a necessity. It’s super light, doesn’t need batteries, packs down really small and is great to have around the campsite at night. We think every camper needs one.
All these items will go in my Osprey Ariel 55. It is by no means the biggest pack available in women’s sizes but it works well for two or three day trips. A good fitting pack is absolutely essential on backpacking trips. A good fitting pack can make 30 lbs feel like nothing. What I like about my Osprey pack is that the torso is adjustable, making for a better fit, it has spacer mesh at your back to promote air flow, a separate compartment for your sleeping bag (for easy access) and lots of other pockets and compartments for all your little stuff. Lots of other companies make great packs, though. Joel really like Gregory packs, and has a Zulu 65. I would just encourage you to try a lot on before you buy, it’s really important to get that good fit.
So, there you have it. Most of what we’re taking with us on our hiking trek of Cape Chignecto. Most of these items are available at MEC, or your local Scout and/or trail shop. If you follow me on Instagram (link on sidebar), I’ll be adding stories of our adventure for as long as I have cell phone service. Wish us luck!
Joel and I recently returned from a quick weekend trip to Grand Manan Island, located off the coast of New Brunswick, in the Bay of Fundy.
For accommodations, we decided to try out our new MSR tent at the Hole-in-the-Wall Campground that I have heard so many wonderful things about. Hole-in-the-Wall is a wilderness campground located in North Head which boasts cliff edge campsites where you can listen to whales playing in the Bay of Fundy as you drift to sleep.
The campground is located on an old airfield. The centre part of the park, once the site of landing strips, is now a place where dulse is laid out to dry in the sun and seabirds bath in a small pond nearby.
The campground was a little more rustic than I was expecting, with the only running water available at the entrance buildings. But what it lacks in amenities, it more than makes up for in wow factor. The views from the cliff edge campsites are spectacular. From our cliff edge site at the top of Fish Head, we had a nearly 270 degree view of the Bay of Fundy. All campsites have fire pits and chemical toilets are available nearby. Small kids and dogs are, understandably, not permitted on cliff edge sites, for which the park also has cliff top sites, RV sites and camp cabins.
The park has a walking trail that hikers can use to travel all the way from Swallowtail Lighthouse to Whale Cove, including a stop at the famous Hole-in-the-Wall rock formation, where the park gets its name. We did most of the hike, but stopped at the Hole-in-the-Wall without continuing on to Whale Cove. The trail to the rock formation is very well traveled and easy to follow. The trail to Swallowtail Lighthouse is longer and a little more overgrown. Keep in mind that the trail cuts through many of the cliff edge campsites, so privacy might be an issue for some people. We didn’t mind, though, as it gave us the chance to chat with fellow campers and visitors to the park.
One more thing I should mention about staying at Hole-in-the-Wall. While on clear nights, it is pure magic watching the sun set and moon rise over the bay, with the sounds of whales breaching in the distance – and you can indeed hear whales – when the fog rolls in, be warned that the fog horn will go off, for as long as there is fog. On our first night, the horn went off all night long. While I wouldn’t let this keep me from staying here again, I would bring ear plugs next time.
On our second day, we wanted to see a little more of the island, so we picked up a “Heritage Trails and Footpaths” guide, published by The Friends of Grand Manan Trails and headed south to find adventure.
Since the west side of the island is accessible only by foot or ATV – with the exception of Dark Harbour – we wanted to explore a little bit of that side, as well as the southern tip of the island. We parked our car just above Deep Cove, at Bradford Cove Pond Road and headed out on an ATV trail across the southern tip of the island, to Bradford Cove. For me, this was the worst part of the trek. With huge puddles across the trail, and little for paths to go around, we were forced to bushwhack our way through, trying our best not to get soaked. We eventually fought our way through to Bradford Cove, where we headed south on the trail, stopping for lunch at the fantastic Hay Point.
The trail south at this point is well maintained and easy to follow, with amazing sea views as you get closer to Southern Head. We continued on past Southern Head to Pats Cove, via the Lower and Upper Flock of Sheep. These are large, smooth rocks deposited on the shoreline by glaciers that apparently looked like flocks of sheep from sea, hence their name. From Pats Cove, we hiked along the roadway a couple kilometers back to our car. The whole loop was approximately 12km, easy to moderate in difficulty and had some amazing views of the cliffs and rocky shores of this gem of an island.
Our weekend was a great introduction to Grand Manan, but there is so much more to see, including Ross Island and White Head Island, as well as Anchorage Provincial Park and Machias Seal Island, a puffin breeding site. Joel already has plans to return to do an epic hike almost all the way around the island. Me? I’ve just added another to my all-time favourite islands list.
This past week, I was invited to a very cool event put on by the good people at Discover Saint John. The event was a delicious ice cream social, put on as a way to thank a few social media influencers who have really embraced the SaintAwesome hashtag and helped to promote the area on their social media accounts.
I was honoured to be one of the chosen guests.
The event was held at the beautiful and historic One Princess location: part Strong and Free shop and part Airbnb. The Airbnb suites are beautiful done and have incredible views of the Saint John Harbour and cityscape.
It was wonderful to meet the team at Discover Saint John. I so admire the work they do to bring our sweet little gem of a city to the world. They are all lovely people who are as passionate about this city as I am. I love that.
It was also great to meet other people in the community, some I’ve followed on social media for awhile. It’s a reminder that when social media is used correctly, it can bring communities together toward a common goal.
The party was perfect, with a huge spread of sundae toppings and the cutest cookies I’ve ever seen made by The Cooling Rack Cookie Co. We were gifted with our very own #SaintAwesome Ambassador t-shirts to proudly wear around town and were given a hint at some of the exciting events happening in the city this summer (it’s going to be amazing!).
I want to thank Discover Saint John to inviting me to be a #SaintAwesome Ambassador, it’s a label I will wear with pride. I believe that we have something truly special here in Saint John, and we should take every opportunity to share it with the world.
If you are a Game of Thrones fan, then surely you are familiar with The Wall, the massive wall of ice that protects the Seven Kingdoms from the wildlings and White Walkers that live Beyond. According to George R.R. Martin, it’s some 300 miles long, 700 feet tall and made of solid ice.
But, I bet you didn’t know that New Brunswick has it’s own version of The Wall, in the form of the Parlee Brook Amphitheatre. The natural amphitheatre becomes encased in sheets of ice on three sides during winter. And while it may not be GOT epic, when you’re standing at the bottom staring up at those massive ice walls, it’s pretty amazing.
Earlier this winter, Joel and I, our friend Mandy and her beagle Toby, decided to try to find NB’s elusive ice wall. Armed with our hiking gear, we arrived at the Abbey (for directions, go to hikingnb.ca). Just as we were arriving, the Saint John Outdoor Enthusiasts were gearing up to head into the amphitheatre. They asked us if we had ice cleats. We stared blankly back. We did not have ice cleats. “Do we really need them?” we asked.
Turns out, we really kinda did. We survived the icy hike but we all fell on our asses at least once, too. So yeah, ice cleats are highly recommended. It’s probably not highly recommended for dogs either, with all the ice but we did see quite a few heading in with dogs and they didn’t seem to be having too much trouble.
This is an amazing winter adventure. It’s not difficult, other than the ice. If you prepare and have ice cleats to go over your boots, you should be fine. You follow a dirt road in for the first few kilometers and veer off into the woods at the trail marker, following a frozen brook up into the amphitheatre. And since winter doesn’t seem to be loosening its grip on us anytime soon, I’m sure there is plenty of ice still to be seen. Just watch out for those White Walkers, would ya?
Here are some images from our hike earlier this winter:
I know, I’ve been a bit MIA lately. Sometimes, you just need a little break, ya know?
It’s not that we haven’t been on some amazing adventures. And if you follow me on Instagram (link in sidebar), than you know that we’ve been to Parlee Brook Amphitheatre and Fundy National Park this winter, both amazing experiences. But it’s spring now, and with it comes some nicer temperatures for getting outside and exploring with a camera.
If you are not familiar with the IGers brand of Instagram accounts, it’s a worldwide network designed to bring amateur photographers together. They organize regular InstaMeets, where you can get together with other members of your community, take some photos and hopefully make a few friends along the way. We’re very lucky to have our own IGers account here in the city of Saint John, as they are not often given out to cities with a population of less than 100, 000. But co-moderator Monique Gionet wrote to Instagramers.com with an essay on why we deserve our own account. I don’t know what she said in that essay, but she won them over.
Yesterday, as part of Worldwide Instagram Meet #15, me and a few other Saint John IGers (@igerssaintjohn) took to the streets of old north end Saint John to spread some love and make some art.
It was such a fun experience. Talking to people I’ve only known online and who are as passionate about photography and this city as I am was wonderful. And there was so much to explore in the north end. Places I didn’t even know existed, like Victoria Square and Nicolle Community Centre. And the people we met on the streets were so friendly! From people shouting hello to us from second story windows, to people on the streets who stopped to chat, there is a real sense of community here. And I think people were happy to see that their often forgotten neighbourhood was getting a little bit of attention.
This neighbourhood has many challenges, that’s for certain. There were so many more boarded up buildings than I imagined there would be. But there’s so much potential here, if people would just take a closer look.
Here’s my photo exploration of Saint John North, as part of #wwim15:
I want to thank Monique and Bryn for organizing such a wonderful event. I can’t wait for the next meet!
If you’d like to see more photos from our meet and you’re on Instagram, search for the hashtag #wwim15sj.