A Decade in Saint John: A Month-Long Celebration

A decade ago this October, I packed up a truck-load of all my worldly possessions and drove into Saint John as this city’s newest resident.  I was moving to the Port City to take my first real, grown-up job as a Cytotechnologist at the Saint John Regional Hospital.

Driving into town for the first time, I missed the exit I was supposed to take and ended up driving over the Harbour Bridge.  Classic rookie mistake.  It did, however, give me a chance to see a bit of my new home town.  I remember thinking as I passed through, what is this place?  With the audacity to have its own Hollywood sign and a major highway straight through its centre?

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I think I loved it, right then and there.

It makes sense that I would love it here, really.  Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, I’ve seen so many communities struggle just to stay alive, in much the same way that Saint John has struggled.  Just as people like to root for the underdog, I like to root for the undervalued and unappreciated places in the Maritimes.

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When I first took the job in Saint John, people tried to tell me not to move.  It seemed that Saint John inspired a rather apathetic response in Maritimers, at best.  Why are you moving there? was a common question I received as I prepared to move my entire life there.  That is, except for a couple I met at the restaurant where I worked, who lived in Saint John. They boasted about the beauty of their city and its friendly people.  After chatting with them for a few minutes, I decided that there was hope for my new city, after all.  As it turns out, they were right.

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I haven’t regretted a moment that I’ve spent here.

In many ways, I feel as though I’ve found myself here.  I met the love of my life here and we married three years ago.  We bought a home, set up a busy, satisfying life here.  I have a rewarding career and enough hobbies to keep me busy 24 hours a day.  In the past couple of years I’ve unexpectedly discovered a new purpose: to use my passion and love for the region to spread the word about all the inspiring people and remarkable things that are happening here. Because this place deserves to be seen as more than the Armpit of the Maritimes.  It deserves to be a destination in its own right.

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If you saw the recent CBC documentary about Saint John, City on Fire, then you’ll understand that it’s an exciting time to live in Saint John.  There is a momentum building in the city, and it makes you want to get involved.  To be a part of the movement.  To prove that a community can take control of its own destiny, and decide for themselves who they’re going to be.  We don’t (and shouldn’t) have to wait for government to bail us out.  We can build a better community, all by ourselves, for ourselves.

To celebrate 10 years in the Port City, I’ll be bringing you posts of all my favourite places in the area, all month long.  Those most visited, and those I couldn’t live without.

So, after a decade in Saint John, the only real question left to answer is this: Can I offically call myself a Saint Johner now?

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A Trip to Dalvay-by-the-Sea, PEI

I’m not one to really celebrate dates.  My husband and I never celebrated the anniversary of our first date, we don’t really do anything for Valentine’s Day.  We’re low maintenance kind of people.

Our wedding anniversary seems different, though.  I think it’s important to celebrate this commitment and reaffirm it each year.  We normally do this by taking a trip together. Since getting married three years ago, we’ve been to Iceland and the Magdalen Islands for our first and second anniversaries. This year, we decided to stay closer to home but still wanted to commemorate the event. So, we ventured over the Confederation Bridge for a weekend of sun and surf at Dalvay-by-the-Sea in beautiful Prince Edward Island.

Dalvay-by-the-Sea is a National Historic Site situated within one of PEI’s National Parks, with 25 guest rooms at the Inn and eight, three bedroom cottages on the grounds.  The house was built in 1895 as a summer home for Alexander MacDonald, a wealthy businessman with the Standard Oil Company.  It was built in the Queen Anne Revival style, known for it’s whimsical and exuberant features, asymmetrical lines, many gables, bright colours and wraparound verandas.  Local materials were used extensively: Island sandstone boulders cover the entire lower part of the exterior and three massive indoor fireplaces are made from quarried blocks of the same stone.

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Dalvay-by-the-Sea

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Loved curling up by that fireplace!
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Grand staircase
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Library/sitting room

The effect is a truly stunning structure.  Many of the rooms are very small, and there are no televisions, but that just encourages you to spend more time in the common spaces, which are the true charm of the Inn.  Curling up with a drink by one of the three roaring fires quickly became my favourite activity.  Also, don’t miss out on trying a delicious meal in MacMillan Dining Room, courtesy of Chef Chris Colburn.

If you think the Inn looks familiar and you’re an Anne of Green Gables fan, you might remember it as the White Sands Hotel from the Road to Avonlea series and the Anne of Green Gables movies produced in the 1990’s.

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One of the many carriages used by the MacDonald family

Staying at an Inn inside a National Park has some great advantages.  You’re super close to hiking trails, walking distances from beaches and there are even bicycle rentals right on site.  The Inn is also situated on a lake, and canoe and kayaks are available to take out for a spin.

As we were driving into Dalvay Friday night, the sun was setting just behind the sand dunes in the most gorgeous shades of pinks and oranges I’ve ever seen.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of it, we were tired and just wanted to get out of the car.  You will have to take my word for it, it was stunning!  We checked in just in time to get settled and have a couple night caps by the fire in the main lobby.

Saturday morning we got up early, had a delicious breakfast at the Inn and headed out to hike Robinson’s Island, in the park.  The trail is an easy 5 km loop taking you through forest and along the shoreline, with a few beach access points along the way.  As we walked through the sun-filtered woods and explored the deserted beaches, I understood how these landscapes could inspire Lucy Maud Montgomery to pen her famous series.

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Pretty light
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Washed ashore
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Footsteps in the sand

The woods call to us with a hundred voices, but the sea has one only — a mighty voice that drowns our souls in its majestic music. The woods are human, but the sea is of the company of the archangels” – L M Montgomery, from Anne’s House of Dreams.

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A camper by the dunes
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Hanging with my homies

After our hike we made our way over to the PEI Preserve Company to buy some of the best preserves you can get anywhere.  Seriously, check out the Peach Salsa and Strawberry & Grand Marnier jam.  So good.

We had a lovely dinner at The Dunes Studio Gallery and Cafe, which is a really unique spot close to Brackley Beach. Not only do they serve great food, but you get to eat it surrounded by an incredibly eclectic collection of locally made arts and crafts.  There are so many interesting things to look at, you might find yourself spending hours strolling through the seemingly never-ending compound and gardens.

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Very unique fish bowls
Wood carvings on the grounds
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The Iron Throne, but with monkeys?

Back to the Inn for one more drink by the fire and a moonlight stroll along the beach pretty much brought us to the end of our Dalvay stay.  It’s a charming place and feels a little like going back in time.  The season is coming to a close for them very soon but if you can, you should definitely check this place out next season when they reopen!

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Goodnight, Dalvay!

A Kaleidoscope of Colours: The Atlantic Balloon Fiesta

The Atlantic Balloon Fiesta takes place is Sussex, New Brunswick, every year around this time.  With dozens of colourful hot air balloons launching twice daily, it’s truly a sight to behold.  I had never been so I thought I’d get up early this morning and check it out. Early is a bit of an understatement, as the morning balloon launch begins at 6:30 am, meaning I had to get up at 5 am to make it there from Saint John on time!

It was so worth getting up early on a Saturday though, and those who gathered to watch got lucky as conditions were nearly perfect.  Often the balloons aren’t able to launch due to strong winds or cloud cover.  Calm, early mornings are often your best bet to see them in the air.

It’s impossible not to smile when you see those beautiful big balloons going up into the air. Silhouetted against the blue sky, in a multitude of patterns and colours, it’s pure magic.  I can’t even imagine how excited the children in attendance must have been.  I know I felt like a kid.

The fiesta runs through Sunday but with the rain scheduled to come in, this evening at 5:30 pm might be your last chance to see them.  Hot air balloon rides are available, at a price of $180/person but I’m guessing most of the seats have already been sold.  There’s also a craft fair, live music, a carnival and several other events happening on site.

Here are a few pics from my fantastic morning at the fiesta:

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Beautiful morning for a hot air balloon launch!
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Filling up
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Getting there…
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First launch
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Second launch
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Perspectives
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They’re coming fast and furious now!
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Look up
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So magical!
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Love the rocket
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Rocket launch successful!
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Have a great trip!
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The sky’s the limit
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Bye, Tweety Bird!