Why Your Opinion of Saint John Needs Updating

Those of us who call Saint John, NB home have heard them all: The Dirty John, The Big Flush, The Armpit of the Maritimes, etc.  While perhaps these names may have been warranted at one time, if you still think these terms apply, you’re not looking deep enough.  We may be a city of contrasts but we are a city of change as well.  To borrow a term from our illustrious mayor, we are a Renaissance City.  Here’s some reasons why:

1.  Incredible Hiking/Green Space – we’ve got not one amazing park within city limits but two: Rockwood Park on the city’s north side is a place where you can feel like you’ve completely escaped from civilization, when in fact you are practically a stone’s throw from Costco.  You can hike or bike in here for hours, sometimes without seeing anyone.  The Irving Nature Park on the city’s west side is a wonderland of beaches, wooded trails, marshland and stunning coastal views.

Hiking in Rockwood Park

2.  Amazing Scenery – yeah, we’ve got our own Hollywood sign, and it doesn’t really matter whether you’re parked at the top of Fort Howe behind it in the evening summer light, watching the cruise ships drift lazily out of port or whether your standing on a cliff’s edge at Irving Nature Park, overlooking the Bay of Fundy.  Or maybe you’re watching the sky turn pink over the sailboats at one of my favorite spots in the city, the Royal Kennebecasis Yacht Club (RKYC).  I dare you to stand in front of one of these views and not be moved.  And if you’re not moved then I’m sorry, but we can’t be friends.

Sunset at RKYC

3.  Great Eats – Saint John’s restaurant scene is like, so hot right now.  What are you in the mood for: Local/organic? Maritime fare? Sushi? Thai? Indian? Middle Eastern? Italian?  I can name at least one fantastic restaurant in every one of these categories and more.  And now I’m hungry.

4.  Our Mayor is Cooler Than Your Mayor – he’s young, he’s hip, he’s social media savvy and he’s a total Star Wars geek.  Mayor Norton for the win.


5.  Beach Access/Water Fun – no matter where you are in Saint John and surrounding areas, you are never far from beach access.  Whether bordering the mighty Bay of Fundy (enter at your own risk, it’s flippin’ cold!) or the stunning Kennebecasis River (marginally warmer), there’s always a place to cool off in the summer.  Not to mention all the great boating/canoeing/kayaking opportunities there are.

Saints Rest Beach, Irving Nature Park

6.  Culture/History – Saint John is filled with history and beautiful architecture.  It is Canada’s oldest incorporated city, after all.  Just take a stroll around Uptown and you’ll see what I mean.  Wanna take in some theatre?  While we’re no Broadway, the Imperial Theatre at King’s Square is one of my absolute favourite places on Earth.  An evening spent here is always a good bet.



7.  Friendly People – I’ve lived in each of the Maritime provinces at one point or another in my life so I know that Maritimers are the friendliest people you’ll find anywhere.  However, my husband is a native Saint Johner, so I might be a wee bit biased here.  Saint Johners are so polite and friendly, in fact, that when the Harbour Bridge construction was under way for weeks on end and commuters were backed up for kilometers, there was not one chainsaw-wielding road rage incident, that I’m aware of.  People calmly took turns and inched slowly homeward.

Despite all these wonderful reasons to love SJ, there are always drawbacks, no matter where you live.  If you are going to call Saint John home, there are a few things you’re going to have to accept:

1.  The Deer – make nice with them because they’re everywhere, even in the city centre.  Accept that they are going to eat your flowers and shit on your lawn.  It’s a little bit of country inside the city.  And for the love of God, please don’t feed them.

A doe and a couple fawns in Millidgeville

2.  The Fog  – if you want to live Uptown (our Downtown, and yes, we do have Uptown Funk – thanks, Mark Ronson), you’re going to have to accept that it’s going to be about 8-10 degrees cooler in the summer than pretty much everywhere else.  The upside?  While everyone else in the Maritimes is sweating their butts off in August, you’ll be quite comfortable.

A rare, non-foggy summer day in King’s Square

3.  Industry – yes, we are an industry town.  That means that the west side often smells like the Pulp and Paper Mill and the east side is dominated by the mini steel-city that is the Irving Oil Refinery.  While these industries may not be some of our most beautiful features, they provide employment for many New Brunswickers and they do a lot for our city and the province.  They really are an integral part of the fabric of this city.  They have helped shape it’s form and will help shape it’s future.  And that future is exciting, even if it is not without it’s challenges.

What are your reasons for loving Saint John?

39 thoughts on “Why Your Opinion of Saint John Needs Updating

  1. George Allen April 12, 2015 / 11:02 pm

    Melissa, I believe the Jet Boat left last year. I enjoyed your blog though. George

    • Melissa Smith April 13, 2015 / 6:06 am

      That’s disappointing! That was a great addition to the city and something fun to do. I will update my post. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Kate April 12, 2015 / 11:48 pm

    I love this!! I have been living out of province and I used to hate it when people would always associate Saint John with only negative things! SJ is such a beautiful city and I miss it everyday. I think it’s important to explore the things in our own city. After returning for a visit this past summer, I did many things with visiting relatives that I wouldn’t have done otherwise and it was a fantastic way to really get to see the city in a new light.

    • Melissa Smith April 13, 2015 / 6:08 am

      It’s fun to be a tourist in your own city and you are right, it opens the city up in a way you might never have seen it before. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Stamatia April 13, 2015 / 7:43 am

    As someone whose small-town mom lived in Saint John in the early 70s and did not enjoy it, I’ve been fed a negative view of the city my whole life, which has been hard to surmount. I do enjoy the hiking, the architecture, the culinary scene. I’m warming to it. But I also went to school with a lot of Saint Johners who would crap all over Fredericton but act like SJ didn’t have any flaws (no smell? HA!).

    You did leave out the NB Museum, Fredericton and Moncton don’t have anything on par with that that I know of. I could spend hours in there!

    • Melissa Smith April 13, 2015 / 9:35 am

      Thanks for your comment! I plan to feature other cities in the region in the future. Each one has unique features worth exploring.

  4. Ryan April 13, 2015 / 8:22 am

    I think there is a misconception between what people mean when they say the negative things about Saint John. Yes there is a lot of beautiful things to explore , and our history is quite rich . It’s the economy that is horrible , the social welfare of the people is terrible . We have one of the highest illiteracy rates. Highest teen pregnancy , recent increase in the number of smokers. It’s not industry or nature that make saint john suck , it’s the social politics.

    • Melissa Smith April 13, 2015 / 9:39 am

      I agree with you in part. While I think everyone in the Maritimes is feeling the effects of our current economy, SJ has some unique social issues that I have hope we can work on improving in the future. Thanks for your comment!

  5. jody April 13, 2015 / 9:56 am

    Good post. And good comment re: Our social issues. We have a lot of good people working in the trenches of those ugly issues, so I hope it gets better with time.

    One thing worth mentioning re: the pollution problem, last year Harbour Cleanup was finished (a multi-million dollar initiative to stop emitting our sewerage outflows directly into an inner-city tributary). We now have the most sustainable waste treatment facility in the Maritimes.

    • Melissa Smith April 13, 2015 / 11:38 am

      Great comments, thanks!

  6. Shane April 13, 2015 / 10:06 am

    a great read but, while Mayor Norton is pretty cool he is no Naheed Nenshi. Calgary has the best mayor in the world… just google it. 🙂

  7. Joe April 13, 2015 / 1:04 pm

    The fishing! For kayak fishing, Saint John and the surrounding communities offers an amazing variety of adventures for all ages and experiences! For stories, pictures and videos have a look at http://nbkayakfishing.ca

    • Melissa Smith April 13, 2015 / 2:03 pm

      Thanks for that info!

  8. Aaron Dyck April 13, 2015 / 5:15 pm

    I miss the fog more than anything else. I would never put this in the negative category!

    • Melissa Smith April 13, 2015 / 5:32 pm

      Interesting! I had a hard time with the fog when I first moved here. I missed the sun, lol. I don’t mind it so much now.

    • John April 14, 2015 / 9:44 am

      When I lived in Saint John I loved walking around the city at about 3 a.m. when the fog had rolled in thick. The church bells muted by the moisture, the street lights glowing slowly revealing themselves, the silence.

  9. W. Janes April 13, 2015 / 5:42 pm

    Don’t forget the Reversing Toilet. The worst place ever to send tourists.

    • Melissa Smith April 14, 2015 / 6:56 am

      I had mentioned Reversing Falls initially but apparently the Jet Boat ride is no longer in business. Thanks for your comment!

  10. Kristen April 13, 2015 / 11:48 pm

    Very great points! The only one I must naysay is the smell on the west side! Its more often than not caused by the moosehead brewery (if you really get a good whiff it smells like hops!)

    • Melissa Smith April 14, 2015 / 6:57 am

      Ah, yes, I forgot about that. Thanks for your comment!

  11. Dan J April 14, 2015 / 12:28 am

    Very good article. You need to edit your it’s.

    • Melissa Smith April 14, 2015 / 6:57 am

      Thanks, I’ll look into that!

  12. Shelley Lynn Patriquin April 14, 2015 / 12:24 pm

    Awesome work Melissa – I think you ought to be working for the Tourism Dept.; I think you do better promotions for tourism than the “experts”. You’ve convinced me to take a more serious look at SJ in the future!!!

    • Melissa Smith April 14, 2015 / 2:01 pm

      Haha! Thanks, Shelley! xoxo

  13. plforestell April 14, 2015 / 4:06 pm

    Reblogged this on Re: Patrick and commented:
    Having grown up in and around Saint John, there are some incredible things about the city and the towns around it that often go unnoticed.

    This post does a great job of highlighting just a few of the reasons why Saint John is New Brunswick’s ‘Renaissance City’, while acknowledging the industrial side of things and the weather (fog, once the snow’s melted), but with a positive perspective on both.

    Makes me excited to plan a trip home at some point this summer…

  14. Kent McGovern April 14, 2015 / 4:58 pm

    It wasn’t until I moved way from the city and came back to visit with my new family that I really appreciated the scenery of Saint John, sometimes you don’t realize what you have until you are gone for a while. I love visiting, but Ontario is home now.

    • Melissa Smith April 14, 2015 / 9:35 pm

      Our perspective does change over time, you’re right. Thanks for your comment!

  15. Chase April 14, 2015 / 6:20 pm

    That smell on the west side is the brewery, you haven’t been able to smell the pulp mill since they stopped using sulphur many years ago.

    • Stamatia April 22, 2015 / 9:15 am

      That’s the smell I’m thinking of (I’m 32, and remembering shopping trips with my mom when I was younger), sulphur from the pulp mill. It definitely has improved. I used to have students at a school who lived near a pulp mill who didn’t realize it smelled until one day when the wind shifted and they were like “OMG WHAT STINKS WHY DOES EVERYTHING SMELL LIKE FARTS?!” and it’s like, that’s what your town makes other places smell like when the wind blows just right: farts. Hell, even just being there and drinking the water made my B.O. smell like cabbage.

      Also, sometimes harbours stink – I know I’ve been to Halifax before when the harbour stank of dead fish (which were floating in the water). Being near the ocean is usually refreshing, but sometimes stinky.

  16. David April 15, 2015 / 6:29 pm

    Thanks for this post. I am originally “from away” having lived in several different provinces across Canada before settling here, and it drives me crazy to hear people speak so negatively about this city. I absolutely love it here. I understand it is not perfect, but no city is. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

    • Melissa Smith April 15, 2015 / 7:47 pm

      I totally agree! Thanks for your comment!

  17. Jarrod April 16, 2015 / 10:00 pm

    Great write up. I find that a lot of Saint Johners speak through their emotions when describing this city. They either love this place or hate it. But the fact is that we are an ocean playground with many beaches and scenery. We have a rich history that I recommend everyone to learn. We have amazing wildlife to explore and discover. We display a high degree of hospitality and we’re great ambassadors to tourists and visitors. We also have our fair share flaws and pitfalls as well, and we make it known.

    I talk to a lot of Saint Johners of how they feel about living here and whether their opinion is good or bad, what they all have in common is great passion. If we all could direct that passion positivity and “walk the talk”, meaning to take ownership of our city; if that means to pick up a timmies cup or working as a community to clean and park, playground or beach, this would be an even more amazing place to live. Several small positive acts done by many people are just as good a one big positive act done by a few people.

    • Melissa Smith April 17, 2015 / 9:49 am

      Great point! Thoughts and actions are separate things!

  18. Sherry April 21, 2015 / 9:29 pm

    Don’t forget our incredible St. John River system! And the Kennebecasis River! Love sailing and motoring into all the coves!

  19. sj July 18, 2015 / 9:36 pm

    What about the economy?!? Nice place to visit while tasting oil due to irving polution but dont plan on living there… unless you want to starve & live on the streets. The diet- no jobs-high stress & highest cancer rate in the country city due to no jobs; but she’s pretty & foggy. Lol come visit the reversing falls… heart of the pollution & industry sector.. perfect place to tear down the only attraction hub we had and put up a tent to have locals volunteer & help the only industry left.. tourism.. laughable lol deeeeeep breath…… smell that oil & polution while waiting in line at the EI-welfare office then the food bank, but dont worry, you’ll never burn or tan, the fog will cover you, depress you, make you blind just like the politicians do.. its a great life!!!?!? Haha.

  20. Phil Blaney September 27, 2015 / 12:31 am

    All the wonderful things you mentioned we have always had. Scenery, Parks, Architecture. All of our flaws and failing are the result of the direct actions of the Promoters of projects like Energy East, and of those in the same organizations who came before them.
    We are hardly a city on the upswing. We are a city living in fear, with the exception of the usual suspects who have freely drank deep of the Kool Aid. And who have profited at the expense of the rest of us. Rose coloured glasses will not change this fact.
    Come election time we continually have the lowest voter turnout. And this isn’t because we are happy to just leave things in the hands of our Overlords. Those who challenge the local corporate Dogma or those who just have some concerns and merely wish to ask some questions. These citizen are denounced, demonized, demeaned, disrespected,dismissed and belittled by the business elite, politicians municipally, provincially and federally by the media Telegraph Journal Irving Owned as if you didn’t know that. Just spelling it out so you know some of us don’t walk in fear. I have heard politicians say we need to promote Energy East. But not just promote it but silence any opposition. You read the TJ its editorials it attacks those opposing Energy East. It misrepresents and takes out of context statements by those in opposition to their masters plans. Like recently at the Human Development debates the TJ represented Ms. Murphy of the Greens as someone out of their depth and portrayed her as flighty. I was there and Ms. Murphy was insightful she challenged the False Narrative of True Growth 2.0. Put forward alternatives to what we are being offered. And brought up issues that some do not want to talk about in this city. And she received some of the most positive responses from the audience.
    Then there is Mr. Peacock who dismisses those who organize in opposition to Energy East. Like when the march to the end of the line event happened here. Was very dismissive especially of the Aboriginal communities who came in solidarity from across the country. Aboriginal Peoples ,English, Acadians ,Quebecers and Mainers as well as others. All united in their desire to have the governments of Canada respect and Honour Treaties and take action to tackle the issue of Climate Change.
    Now this, these people they are something to be proud of worthy of praise. These are the people and the community of ideas they bring forth that can and will usher in a new age a new dawn for Saint John for New Brunswick for Canada and Humanity.
    And as far as the Mayor and Star Wars is concerned. Star Wars is Ok I’ve seen the movies I was entertained and I will go to the new one. But it’s only cool if your 10 years old. Sorry but Doctor Who is where its at.

    • Melissa Smith September 27, 2015 / 8:53 am

      With the article I was trying to change opinions about how our city is viewed, especially to those outside it – not get into a political debate. These are my opinions, thank you for yours.

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