You Hung the Moon: Saint John’s First Moonlight Bazaar

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:

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Preparing for Cape Chignecto: What’s in My Pack?

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.

Cape Chignecto Map
Cape Chignecto loop trail

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.

Tent

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.

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MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-person ultralight tent

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.

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Static V lightweight sleeping pad
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The North Face Furnace 20/-7

Camping Cookware

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.

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JetBoil MiniMo System

 

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Light My Fire plastic sporks

Water Management

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.

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Platypus Hoser 2.0 L Hydration System
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Sawyer Water Filtration System

Food

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.

 

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AlpineAire Dehydrated Food Packs

Clothing

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

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.

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Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern

Backpack

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.

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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!

Our Grand (Manan) Adventure

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.

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In Blacks Harbour.  Here comes our vessel!
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Our first view of Swallowtail Lighthouse

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.

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Cliff edge views

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.

Mornings at Fish Head

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.

The famous Hole-in-the-Wall
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Views of Swallowtail Lighthouse from the trail
Amazing views past Swallowtail Lighthouse to the Bay of Fundy

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.

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Sun sets over the cliff in Grand Manan
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The full moon rises over the Bay of Fundy

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.

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Break time!

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.

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Lower Flock of Sheep, so named because the rocks looked like sheep from sea
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Southern Head
More cliff views

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.

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Last morning in Grand Manan

 

 

#SaintAwesome Ambassador

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.

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Views from the balcony at One Princess
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Views from the balcony at One Princess

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!).

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Adorable cookies from The Cooling Rack Cookie Co.

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.


And, when our city does well, we all do well.

Surprising Finds in the Maritimes: Parlee Brook Ice Wall

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:

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The Abbey, where the hike begins
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Winter Wonderland
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Following the brook into the amphitheatre
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The Outdoor Enthusiasts take a closer look at The Wall
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Good place for a break!

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Just part of The Wall
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Looking back where we came from

 

Photo Exploration of North End Saint John

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:

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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.

A Few of My Favourite Maritime Instagramers: 2017 Edition

It’s been about a year since my last A Few of My Favourite Maritime Instagramers post, where I presented some of my favourite IGers and the beautiful work they’re doing to highlight our spectacular corner of the world.

Some people say that Instagram is the last vestige of niceness left on the internet.  And while I think social networks are what you make them, I can’t disagree that Instagram is one of the friendliest and most positive apps.  It’s a place where you scroll through beautiful image after beautiful image and people seem to support each other, instead of trying to break them down.  But don’t let the light attitude fool you, some of these folks work incredibly hard, and produce awe-inspiring images to prove it.

In the past year I’ve increased my follow list substantially and I’ve got some new favourites to share with y’all.

Here’s a few of my favourites from this past year:


Al Douglas (@alexdouglas) – Al is the dude to follow if you want to know what’s new and hot in the food and beverage scene on Prince Edward Island.  And then there’s his incredible landscape photos of the island; so pretty you’ll want to get in your car and head for the Confederation Bridge right now.  You’re welcome.

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Strong winds and a sky on fire.

A post shared by Al Douglas (@alexgdouglas) on

Dave Culligan (@dave.culligan) – If you haven’t heard of Dave Culligan and his 365 video project, where you been, yo?  Dave is more than 200 days into his 365 project, and I promise you that watching his daily one minute videos will never fail to improve your mood.  His joie de vivre is infectious and will help you to appreciate all that life has to offer, even when a little rain must fall.

Hilary Hendsbee (@hilaryhendsbee) – Hilary is my kind of gal.  An explorer and adventurer, avid camper and hiker, Hilary and her trusty Tiguan go all the places you always wanted to go but never seem to have the time (and a few you’ve never heard of!). Her photographic style is stunning and reveals the wildness right in our own backyards.

Brinton Photography (@brintonphotography) – Using a commercial drone, photographer Gary Brinton captures some of the most stunning landscape photography I have ever seen. His work puts a whole new perspective on the beauty of this region, that we so often take for granted.

Gillian Barfoot (@eyegillian) – Gillian is a New Brunswick based photographer with a special knack for turning ordinary objects into fascinating subjects.  She’s been on fire with her photography so far this year and I can’t wait to see what she’s got in store next. But no pressure!

Chillin With Bernie (@chillinwithbernie) – There are a number of young Halifax photographers currently taking Instagram by storm, but perhaps none more so than Bernie, aka Chillin With Bernie.  His photos have an edgy, stylistic vibe and deftly display the intimate relationship between subject and environment.

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😍😍😍

A post shared by BERNIE (@chillinwithbernie) on

Jon Billings (@jonbillings) – Jon is a photographer based on the island of Grand Manan, where the highest tides in the world relentlessly batter this small spit of land whilst creating some of the most majestic landscapes you’ll ever see.  But don’t just take my word for it, go check out Jon’s feed.

Explore the East (@exploreeast) – Explore the East has been featured on the blog before, but their work is so good, I had to include them here.  The Instagram account was started by Nicole Boutilier and Colby Veinotte as a way to share their adventures and highlight lesser known areas of the region.  They not only feature their photos, but those of other Instagramers as well.  It’s a wonderfully collaborative page, focused on highlighting the best of the East Coast.

Do you know of a great Maritime Instagramer doing great work?  Let me know in the comments section!

A Decade in Saint John: My Best Of List

Since posting that I’m celebrating my 10 year anniversary of moving to Saint John, its become clear that my schedule is not going allow me to write a separate post for each of my favourite places in Saint John as I’d hoped .  If you follow me on Instagram, I’ve been posting a few photos of my favourite places in Saint John over there (link on sidebar).

Since time is pressing and October is almost done, I decided that a single post with all of my Port City Best Of’s would be more efficient.

So here are my Best Of Saint John:

Best Place to Find Outdoor Adventure

Rockwood Park – with over 55 trails and endless activities to choose from, you can disappear into the wilderness, right inside the city.

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Best Place to Catch Live Music/Eat Your Body Weight in Wings

Peppers Pub – showcasing the best in local and come-from -away talent.  Wing nights are Thursday.  Get there early.

Best Place to Watch a Sunset

Brothers Cove/RKYC – any night of the week in the summer, you can find people drawn to this beautiful spot to watch the sun disappear over the Kennebecasis River in fantastic fashion.

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Best Views of the City

Fort Howe – panoramic views of the city and harbour.  Also, get a selfie with the famous Saint John sign!

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Best Place to People Watch

King’s Square – pack a lunch and park yourself on one of the benches around the King’s Square Bandstand and watch the people go by.

Best Place to Catch an Amazing Show

Imperial Theatre – a theatre circa 1913, restored in incredible detail.  I don’t know what I love more: The shows or the setting.

Best Place for a Fancy Meal

East Coast Bistro – Chefs Tim Muehlbauer and Kim Steele serve up locally sourced food with a distinctively Maritime twist.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Best Place for Bargain Meal

Thai Pho – owners Julia and Dave Park welcome you to Thai Pho as if it was their home. They take great care to serve delicious Thai and Vietnamese food at a great price.

Best Place to Score Killer Style

Exchange on Germain – selling mid to high-end consignment items, I find something great every time I open the doors.

Best Place for a Cocktail

Port City Royal – house mixologist Eric Scouten was named one of 10 Mixologists Putting Canada on the Map, by destinationcanada.com.

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Best Place to Get a Coffee

Java Moose – I’m going to say specifically in the Saint John City Market, this iconic Saint John coffee company is much loved by locals and visitors alike.

Best Place for a Romantic Getaway

Chipman Hill Suites – with numerous beautiful buildings around historic Uptown Saint John, you can have a romantic getaway right in the heart of the city.

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Best Place for a Walk on the Beach

Bayshore Beach – while most people will tell you that New River Beach is the nicest beach around (and I wouldn’t disagree), Bayshore Beach on the city’s west side allows you to stroll along the famous Bay of Fundy ocean floor in much closer proximity.

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?

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!