Maritime Growing Season: The Wild Blueberry Harvest

My family owns a few wild blueberry fields in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia.  Every year around this time, the blueberry harvest begins and it’s like a siren call luring me home.  I take a week off work each year to make the trip from Saint John to help my parents out with the harvest.

Most blueberries are harvested now using large tractors with special attachments but some fields aren’t conducive to this method or have sections that the tractors can’t get to. So me, my parents, my siblings, the older grand-kids and anyone else who wants to earn a few extra bucks and give themselves a backache, head to the fields to handpick a path for the tractors and anywhere else that my father, aka the Blueberry Warden, deems fit.

At one time, blueberry fields would be completely handpicked.  Bus loads of workers would wearily make their way to the fields each morning, straining away all day in the hot sun, doing this incredibly physical work everyday for 3 or 4 weeks.  You got paid by the bucket; depending on how good the berries were you would probably get $1.25 or $1.50 a bucket in my childhood.  Not many people want to work so hard for so little reward these days and the harvesters do the work much faster so the days of handpicking are pretty much over, at least in Cumberland County.

And it is backbreaking work, let me assure you.  For those of you that have never had the distinct “pleasure” of handpicking wild blueberries, let me paint you a picture: you spend your entire day bent over in the late August heat, with blueberry vines scratching at your legs while you heave away at those loathsome blue bastards using your metal-teethed torture device (that you are likely to stab yourself with at least once by the end of the week).  You will come to hate those devil-spawn berries, probably by the end of the first day.  It will hurt to bend over; it will hurt to stand up.  You will see blueberries when you close your eyes at night.  They will stain all your clothes and your hands.  And don’t even get me started on blueberry spiders – I live in fear of those monsters.

But the thing is, despite all the hard work, I have a lot of fond memories of picking blueberries. Memories of childhood summers spent running around Papa’s blueberry fields and well deserved afternoon treats of ice-cold Popsicles.  Stuffing your face with blueberries, straight off the vine and warmed by the sun, until Papa yells at you to “stop eating all my profits!”.

These days, the harvest is one of the few times a year my whole family gets together.  It’s a reunion and it’s a time to catch up.  My maternal grandmother picked blueberries well into her 60’s and when she finally had to stop, she found she really missed the social aspect of it.  You’ve got lots of time to chat in the blueberry field.  It’s also a time to celebrate the end of summer and reset ourselves for the start of a new season.  To this day, every blueberry harvest season makes me feel like I’m going back to school.  And there are benefits to your family owning blueberry fields: all the blueberries you can eat.  I love a bowl of them with milk and a little bit of sugar.

There will come a time, perhaps soon, when we will no longer get together for the blueberry harvest.  We’re all getting older, it’s harder on our bodies.  We won’t converge on this lonely hilltop for a week in late August to share in the experience of hard work and a job well done.  We won’t tease my father for being a slave driver and each other about who picked more.  And as strange as it might be to some, I will probably miss it. Because nothing bonds a family quite like a common goal.  And this year was particularly sweet, as we had another reason to celebrate – my father’s 60th birthday. The celebration brought family and friends together for an incredible feast and was a wonderful way to end our visit and another successful blueberry harvest season.

Here are a few photos from blueberry harvest 2015:

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Third Shift: A Night of Art and Magic

I wasn’t planning on writing another post about Saint John this week.  But last night, something pretty special happened and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. What happened was that the folks at Third Space Gallery put on Third Shift, Saint John’s first (and hopefully not last) interactive outdoor art show.

Comprised of 17 exhibits from 29 artists and spread over the Trinity Royal District of Uptown, this event was all kinds of magic.  When my husband and I arrived Uptown around 8pm, the event was in full swing and the streets were pulsing with people and excitement.  The Saint John fog was thick and lent a air of mystery to the whole affair. There was a large crowd enjoying Acre Architects’ re-imagining of public spaces, The Park, which transformed Grannan Lane into a sparkling urban oasis, where only a street had existed before.

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Another favourite of mine was I Love You More With Every Remembering by Amy Ash, which asked participants to write a love letter to a place they had left behind and pin them on strings located around Canterbury Car Park.  The exhibit made excellent use of this property, currently undergoing construction.  Picaroons’ was giving away free samples of their brews, soon to be sold in this very location.  The entire property was aglow in red light and looked spectacular, even in it’s unfinished state.

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Crossing the street, we played with the ingenious Light Graffiti exhibit by Kate MacDonald and checked out Photomatic: Travelling Tintype Studio by Karen Stentaford and Christie Lawrence.  Venturing a little further up the street brought us to another magical exhibit, Field Recording by Jud Crandall, where bubbles were floating across Canterbury as an audio recording from a winter snowstorm earlier this year played.  The effect was dreamlike.

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And there were so many more wonderful exhibits.  I don’t think we even saw them all. The event was an unequivocal success.  It gave the people of Saint John, myself included, a chance to experience art in a totally new, inclusive way.  It caused you fall even more in love with your city while at the same time seeing it in a whole new light. And I guess that’s the point of art, to push our consciousness to expand and develop. And Third Shift certainly succeeded.

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I walked by Grannan Lane today and the grass is gone, but the magical feeling remains. And I think few who were Uptown last night will soon forget the experience.  Thank you to all the organizers, artists, contributors and volunteers who made the event a night of art and magic to remember.

Summer in Saint John

I can feel it in the air.

Summer is starting to wind down.  You can feel the slightest bite in the early morning air, the days are getting shorter and the occasional brown leaf flutters across the driveway after a late summer storm.  Soon it will be all sweaters and boots and pumpkin spiced lattes.  But for now it’s still summer in the city.  That most coveted time when a sweater is not (always) required to have drinks on the boardwalk.  That time when the Bay of Fundy fog is sometimes even a welcome, cooling blanket.  And it seems like we’re in for a late summer heat wave so it’s a perfect weekend to head to the boardwalk or to one of the many beaches around Saint John.

From Canada Day celebrations to Buskers on the Bay, to late night drinks with friends, summer is a wonderful time in Uptown Saint John.  I feel like Uptown really is the heart of soul of this city.  It’s where we gather for celebrations small and large and it’s the place visitors gravitate towards, and for good reason.  From the lively boardwalk patios to the somber Loyalist Burial Grounds; from the charming brownstone homes on Germain Street to the stunning view down Princess Street when the sun is dipping low. You could almost imagine that those lazy days of summer will go on forever.  Until they’re over.  The wind will shift ever so slightly and suddenly it will be fall.  And that’s not so bad, really.  We’ve got a lovely September and October to look forward to.  And I do love to wear tights.  But first a few more beautiful summer weekends in Saint John, please.

Here are some shots from my summer in Saint John:


  

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Tourist At Home: Hopewell Rocks Edition

Sometimes you live in a place your whole life, with natural wonders right under your nose and yet you never visit them.  I lived in Nova Scotia for 26 years and have never been to the Cabot Trail (it’s on my list!).  My husband has lived in New Brunswick his whole life and has never been to Hopewell Rocks.  I hadn’t seen it either.  We decided to go this weekend.

For those who might not know, Hopewell Rocks is an attraction along the Bay of Fundy that perhaps best showcases the magnitude and effects of the world’s highest tides. When the tide is out, visitors are able to walk on the ocean floor among sandstone rock formations, molded by many centuries of the tide’s forces.  When the tide comes in, visitors (watching safely from an observation deck), can watch the waters rise 14 metres, erasing their earlier footsteps.  The entrance fee for the park actually allows visitors to come back the next day to see both low and high tides.

I was a little worried when we arrived at Hopewell Cape and saw how full the parking lot was.  Uh oh, I thought, have we willingly entered a tourist trap?  There certainly were droves of tourists.  Inspection of some of the license plates in the parking lot showed visitors from all over Canada and the U.S.  I needn’t have worried, however, because once you make it down the metal stairwell to the beach (don’t stop to take pictures on the stairs, people!), the space really opens up with over 2km of beach.  I couldn’t believe how far it went.  Every time you rounded the corner into a cove, you found there was another just behind it.  There are plenty of nooks in the rocks to explore and Joel had a fun time playing in the mud barefoot (free mud bath!).

After fully exploring the beach and all the cool rock formations along the way, I have to say that Hopewell Rocks is pretty impressive and definitely worth the trip if you have not been.  It gives you a deeper appreciation for the Bay of Fundy and just how powerful those tides really are.  It was also great to see that the place is so busy and popular with visitors!  I’d love to come back sometime to do the kayaking.

Here are some pictures from our at-home tourist excursion to Hopewell Rocks:

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Pit stop in Alma. Tide’s out! Perfect timing.
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Flowerpot Rocks
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Checking out some of the nooks and crannies carved out by the Bay
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Flowerpot Rocks, the Stairs of Tedium and lots of tourists
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Me under a Flowerpot. The water line is much higher than my head.
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Joel playing in the mud
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Muddy feet!
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A keyhole to the sea
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That is clearly a face
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More rock formations…
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…and another…
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One last look from the observation deck

If you would like more information on Hopewell Rocks, please visit thehopewellrocks.ca.

New Brunswick Is Not A Drive-Through Province

Happy New Brunswick Day!  I love seeing so many photos of people enjoying this beautiful long weekend outdoors.  It gives me a feeling of nostalgia for my childhood, when summers meant nothing but running free, fresh air and the smell of sunscreen.

I’ve heard it said that New Brunswick is primarily used by tourists as a highway to Nova Scotia or PEI but I say that NB is NOT a drive-through province but a destination in its own right.  Here’s some reasons why:

Culturally Unique – We are the only province in Canada with 2 official languages.  And while this sometimes creates friction in our province, it also makes us culturally unique and attractive to visitors.  I think we need to embrace and celebrate our unique culture; it’s one of the things that makes us stand out among Canadian provinces.

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Hiking – NB has some terrific hiking.  From the challenging and breathtaking Fundy Foot Path to Seek the Highest Peak at Mount Carleton and everything in between, we’ve got those nature lovers covered.  For more info on hiking in NB, visit nbhiking.ca.

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Beach Love – From our beaches along the Bay of Fundy to the Mac Daddy of them all, Parlee Beach on the Northumberland Strait, there are plenty of places to get your summer beach day on.

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‘Dem Bay of Fundy Views – From the uber-charming St. Andrews by-the-Sea to Hopewell Rocks, no visit to NB is complete without exploring this stunning shoreline and everything this natural wonder has to offer.

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City Buzz and Country Charm – We’ve got the best of both worlds.  Whether you are looking for a night on the town or a quiet cottage in the woods, we’ve got them both. You can even sleep in a treehouse in Miramichi, which I think looks really fun.

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East Coast Hospitality – Just like Nova Scotia and PEI, we’ve got that east coast hospitality thing down.  We love sharing our beautiful province with visitors and we’re more than willing to help you make the most of it.

I swear, I’m not getting paid to say this stuff.  I’m just passionate about this province and I think it deserves to take its place as a premier tourist destination on the east coast, alongside NS and PEI.  If you would like more information on tourism in New Brunswick, please visit tourismnewbrunswick.ca.

I’ll leave you with a video that was released by the government of NB for New Brunswick Day, entitled, Why Do You Love New Brunswick?

These have been some of the reasons I love NB, what are yours?