Welcome back everyone to my series of posts about my 2014 visit to the Maritime Provinces of Canada and a road-trip with my dear friend Lynne in a very old campervan / RV called Betsy. If I am being a little previous here in welcoming you back and you have not read the earlier posts in the series you can start from the beginning here.
If you are already up to speed with the journey you will know that I left you in a campground in Borden – Carleton which we had chosen in order to be close to the bridge so we could travel on to New Brunswick and ultimately back to New Minas where we had our “base” at Lynne’s Father’s home.
If you want to see what happens next then please read on.
27th July, 2014.
I awoke this morning before Lynne which was pretty usual and I went for a look round the KOA campground we were in and here is the report I wrote at the time.
Another quality campsite.
“There are only so many ways you can say great, friendly, clean facilities with plenty of warm water, nice swimming pool etc. and I have used them all before describing Maritime campsites. This site has them all in abundance.
We literally turned up just about when the office was going to close (we had booked ahead per’phone) and Lynne had gone in wherupon she was given an option of two sites. We could either stay near the washrooms, clubhouse etc. or further away if we did not fancy that. Very sensibly she chose the site near the facilities! (You can see this in one of the images where you can just see Betsy on the extreme left of the shot with the washrooms on the right.
Having a quick look round, I noticed that there was karaoke that night although when I eventually wandered over to the clubhouse it was finished. This was probably a blessing to both the musical sensibilites of the other travellers and my dignity as I do have a tendency to get a bit lively if I am ever persuaded to do karaoke which I am not particularly fond of.
I use this example merely to illustrate that karaoke was only one of many activities going on throughout the week, many of them designed for kids. They obviously have a very full entertainment programme for the guests which involves live music and the afore-mentioned karaoke on Saturday.
When I went for my morning shower, the gents facilities were immaculate and Lynne informed me that the ladies were of a similar standard. The pitch was great and there was no late night rowdiness or anything of that nature. To the tecnicalities now. They have a shop, can accommodate vehicles up to 100 feet with 50 amp. sites, sell propane and firewood, have a good Wi-fi connection and all the things you would expect from a site like this.
We had stayed at a couple of KOA sites previously and they always seemed to be bigger than many of the lovely little family-run operations we stayed at and this initially made me slightly apprehensive but they were always spotless, well-run, trouble-free and well-serviced. What more would you want from a site? I would have no hesitation in recommending this place highly.”
The KOA sits just off National Highway #1, the Trans-Canada which runs 4,860 miles from the Atlantic Ocean at St. John’s, Newfoundland to the Pacific at Victoria in British Columbia which makes it one of the longest such continuous routes in the world. I have flirted with it in the Maritimes and also in Alberta, many many miles West but that is a story for another blog series to come.
I should say that the campground is far enough off the TCH so that road noise is not an issue, it is very peaceful and yet within a few hundred yards of our overnight pitch we were on one of the main transportation arteries of this vast country. A further mile or so brought us onto the magnificent Confederation Bridge and I can use no other word to describe it.
We had seen it from afar which is inevitable as you can see a structure that huge for miles around so let me tell you all about it, starting with the bare statistics. The bridge is eight miles long, the longest bridge in Canada and the longest over ice-affected waters in the world. It is mostly 40 metres above the water but at the single shipping channel it rises to 60 metres.
It took 5,000 workers three and a half years to construct the bridge, which cost $1.3 billion CAD, and it opened on 31st May, 1997 in a nationally televised ceremony which included a flypast by the Snowbirds who we met all the way back in Greenwood so long ago on the very first day of our trip.
I have discussed in a previous post the problems of PEI’s isolation, especially during the winter months when the Northumberland Strait becomes ice-bound and the entire island / Province was regularly entirely cut off completely until ice breaking ships became available in the late 19th century.
There were all sorts of problems in trying to connect PEI to the newly constructed national railway system, not least that they ran on a different gauge, and had to utilise special ice-breaking ferries fitted to trans-ship railway wagons. The railway situation was seen as being of great importance and a guarantee to fund the railway and provide a marine connection was enshrined in the Canadian constitution as part of the agreement for PEI joining the Confederation. It actually took an amendment to the constitution to de-commission the ferries which were renedered instantly obsolete on the openig of the bridge.
Whilst there had been fairly “pie in the sky” ideas as far back as the mid 19th century to construct a bridge or tunnel across the Strait there was nothing seriously done about it until the 1980’s when the idea was resurrected by a Nova Scotia businessman.
After much arguing and a plebiscite in 1988 where 59.4% of the electorate voted in favour of the link, private tenders were invited and eventually a consortium was chosen for the work which was only approved in December 1992 after numerous legal challenges. Plus ça change, lawyers get rich.
That is the story of the bridge and I must admit to a little trepidation as we paid the rather hefty toll (still marginally cheaper than the ferry) and began the long journey. I have mentioned often that I do not like exposed heights and the Confederation Bridge is both exposed and high but I was actually quite comfortable which surprised me.
I suppose the Provincial boundary must be half way across and so, somewhere about 130 feet above the Abegweit Passage we left Prince Edward Island and entered New Brunswick. I must admit that I was a little sad to leave PEI as I had fallen completely in love with the island. To constitute a mere 0.1% of the landmass of this vast country it seems to punch way above it’s weight in every department and I really would recommend it to any traveller.
With nothing better to do or possibly to take my mind off the height, I got busy with the camera. I took one video of us on the bridge which you can see here and another of us coming off it on the NB side which you can see here. I did not film the whole thing as it would have been pretty boring given the 80 km/h speed limit which Betsy was never going to trouble.
Whilst not troubling either the speed limit or the traffic police it was about now, if I recall correctly, that Betsy started troubling us ever so slightly as she was making some strange noises, well, stranger than those she had been making all trip. Nothing too serious but just enough to make us pay attention.
Into New Brunswick then, our third Province, things were going well. This was the Province I knew least about before I came to Canada although I was not exactly an expert on either NS or PEI. We only spent a couple of days there (remember I was flying home five days from then) but I did learn a bit about it and have studied more since so let me give you a quick rundown.
The area now known as NB was originally populated by the Miq’mak in the coastal areas (where we would visit) and the Maliseet people further West. The first European settlement was the Acadian French who moved here following the foundation of Port-Royal, now Annapolis Royal which we visited a long time ago in this series. Even today about one third of the NB population are Francophone although French was strangely not recognised as an official language until 1969.
The subsequent history of the Province is very similar to that of Nova Scotia which we have examined often here and NB was originally a part of NS. There was the Anglo – French War, the expulsion of the Acadians and the influx of Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution, which eventually resuted in NS and NB separating. They did not stay separated for long, however, as in 1867 they both confederated with what now forms Quebec and Ontario to create a prototype Canada.
Confederation was not kind to the Brunswickers as the protectionism it created stifled trade with adjoining Maine in the USA and the traditional trades of lumber and ship-building suffered greatly although the latter was exacerbated by the decline in wooden vessels. The situation continues to this day with the Province being the recipient of much Federal funding and it is regarded as one of the cheapest places in Canada to live due to a completely stagnant housing market with people moving away in search of work.
If NB took it’s time recognising the French language officially, it is a similar story with the flag you can see in the image which was only officially adopted in 1965, within my lifetime. I don’t know what they did from Confederation for almost a century and, if you think that is strange, wait until you hear what I am going to tell you next (apologies if you already know this).
The Canadian flag is today one of the most recognisable in the world and is highly regarded by vexillologists. Yes, it is a big word, yes I just learned it five minutes ago and yes I am showing off by using it but I think it is a lovely word and you know what I am like about words. It means someone who studies flags, that’s all!
Anyway, the famous maple leaf flag was also only adopted in 1965 which amazed me when I read it. Until then the unofficial but de facto Canadian flag was a red ensign similar to that flown on British merchant ships, as well as St. Dunstan’s Church in Stepney near where I live but that is a digression too far even for me. Sometimes it would incorporate a Canadian coat of arms in the centre of the red ground but that was optional. Dare I say every day is a schoolday?
That was us in New Brunswick and we were literally in the shadow of the bridge when we made our first stop which meant that if you discounted the bridge itself we had driven about two miles. The reason for our stop was the Cape Jourimain National Wildlife Area, complete with Visitor Information Centre and a wonderful building full of interesting exhibits. Let me take you through it.
We parked up in the ample carpark and first of all Lynne had a look under Betsy’s bonnet. I left her to it because me peering at an engine would be akin to looking into a trepanned skull as my knowledge of motor mechanics is as non-existent as my knowledge of brain surgery. Lynne, who is good at such things, pronounced that there was nothing obvious although things were clearly not quite right.
The entire wildlife area and Interpretive Centre is run by a non-profit organisation which was formed in 1997, the year the bridge opened, on land granted to it on the understanding it would be run on an eco-friendly basis, which it certainly is. The solar fountain you can see in one of the images is testament to that.
The Centre itself is fantastic with a well stocked gift shop, restaurant, and various video and static presentations which were very interesting. I think my favourite of the exhibits was Flash, the North American cougar who had died in 2007 and has now been stuffed and put in pride of place here. I would dearly love to see one of these in the wild although it is unlikely as they are quite shy of humans and the population in Eastern North America has more or less died out although there are larger groups further West and there is evidence of small groups still clinging on in NB.
Of equal interest to us as the exhibition was the Visitor Information Centre where the ladies were every bit as friendly as their sistren (rarely brethren in VIC’s) in NS and PEI and we left with another armful of free literature.
If you are in a wildlife area it would be rude not to go and have a look round and so we did. The Wildlife Area comprises a piece of the shoreline and what were once the islands of Jourimain and Trenholm which were joined to the NB mainland by a causeway in the mid 1960’s in an ultimately aborted attempt at building a crossing.
What the causeway did was alter the effect of the fast-flowing tides in the Northumberland Strait and formed a brackish lagoon which proved to be an ideal habitat for wildlife so now there are up to 170 species of migratory birds to be seen hereabouts. No cougars, sadly!
There we were, in the Province of New Brunswick but not really in it yet, we were still on an island. There are several well defined paths in the Area, one of which leads down to the Cape Jourimain lighthouse although we did not venture that far. We did, however, venture upwards rather than outwards and I risked the observation tower which gave lovely views back over the Strait to PEI, to the NB mainland and all over the island. Again, I didn’t feel uneasy, maybe Canada was doing something about my vertigo. Naturally it gives great views of the bridge although you don’t need to be high up to see that monster.
After a bit more wandering about we got back on the road with Betsy still protesting slightly and no sooner had we gained the mainland than we got off the Highway in favour of a minor road, again following our unwritten rule of keeping the sea close on or starboard (right) side. It had served us well thus far so no need the change at this late stage of proceedings.
A few miles along the peaceful 955 road brought us to the Murray Beach Provincial Park which would have been another place we would surely have considered stopping had it been later in the day and with a few more miles behind us. We had a bit of a wander round and then headed West again where we were corralled onto Highway #15 although we did our usual excursions off it to follow the coast.
It was one such diversion along the 950 that brought us to the delightful fishing village of Cap – Pelé and when I say fishing village I mean it. Apart from the harbour which had a fair few boats moored, presumably the rest were at sea, there were fish wholesalers everywhere so I knew my wallet was going to take another hammering and poisson was on the menu that evening.
The reason I say poisson rather than fish is that is is obviously a very Acadian area as the road names are all French. Allée Evangeline (almost inevitably), Rue Niles, Rue Robichaud etc. and even the 950 is officially the Chemin Bas-Cap-Pelé here. Parked up I started looking for a fishmonger and a drink in no particular order and was lucky enough to find both in the same building! Let me tell you about it in the order I did things.
What a venue for a drink.
“Whilst travelling along Highway 15 we decided on a whim to take a short detour and go to have a look at Cap Pelé Harbour which sits a couple of miles off the main road and what a good decision that turned out to be.
Having parked up beside the beautiful harbour which is obviously still very much a functioning entity, we wandered around a little and admired the view and Lynne decided that she wanted a little doze in the RV. That is no problem as the poor lady had to do all the driving and deserved it but I was happy enough as I had seen the sign I wanted to see – BAR!
The name of the premises was Qaui (Wharf) l’Aboiteau which I have subsequently discovered means “a dyke with a sluicegate that allows flood water to drain but keeps the sea water out” and that makes absolute sense here.
This is an Acadian region therefore French speaking and the Acadians were noted for their ability to control water by sluices, dykes and the like. I should say that whilst there was a lot of French being spoken around me that the several people I chatted to were all good enough to indulge me by speaking English as my French is rudimentary to say the least. Such is the unfailing hospitality and civility of people in this region.
The young lady behind the bar was similarly delightful and promptly served me a beer whereupon I had a look round to take in the views which were beautiful. The fishing fleet were tied up in the harbour and, as the bar is basically a hut set on top of the roof of a fish warehouse the views out over the sea were delightful as well. Although there was a bit of a breeze blowing, it was not chilly and was very pleasant.
The bar doubles as a restaurant with the fish and shellfish coming from the shop downstairs (see below) and although I did not eat, everything I saw served looked delightful.
If you want to try something a little different you may want to have a go at the signature drink here which is a “Crabby Caesar”. Before I went to Canada I had never heard of a Ceasar and for those in the same position I shall explain. It is basically a Bloody Mary with the tomato juice replaced by a drink called Clamato which is effectively tomato juice mixed with clam juice as the name suggests. Presumably you can see where this is going now. Yes, you guessed it, they put crab in it and it seemed to be a very popular choice. I really should have tried one but I rarely drink spirits.
The pleasures of the afternoon were not over yet as the next thing I noticed was a guy dragging a bit of a PA and a guitar case etc. up the stairs which I didn’t envy him having done a bit of roadie work myself. He set up and proceeded to entertain us with an excellent set which was a mixture of “troubadour” standards, many of which I do myself, and a few I hadn’t heard before. He really was rather good.
I should mention that this bar is seasonal and I really would not fancy sitting up there in the teeth of a howling winter gale but if you are lucky enough to visit this place in season then I really do suggest you stop off for a drink and / or a bite to eat.”
After her powernap Lynne rejoined me and I apologise to her in advance for the image above but I couldn’t resist it. I did tell you it was a bit breezy and Lynne has lovely long hair (I am so jealous!) but, as you can see, it can be a bit of a handful in a stiff Northumberland Strait breeze. I had tied mine back by then as it was driving me mad.
The second image is there by way of a warning. It has been truly said that I will drink just about anything which I am not particularly proud of but I have tried most things alcoholic over the years. I love drinking and I love iced tea so you would think a combination of the two would have been right up my allée as they would say here.
Wrong, wrong and thrice wrong as is this vile concoction which itself is just plain wrong. Whoever thought this obscenity up should be publicly drowned in a barrel of it. At least that way it will be put to good use as it is no use at all for drinking. I had to have another beer to get the taste of it out of my mouth. Good, I’m glad I got that off my chest!
Having finished our drinking, well my drinking and poor Lynne’s very noble keeping me company whilst on soft drinks, we headed downstairs to the fishmongers and this is what I wrote about it.
It doesn’t get much fresher.
“We had decided to go down to Cap-Pelé for a look at the harbour and stumbled upon this place by accident. As we were parking I noticed that there was a queue of people well out the door which is always a good sign for a shop as far as I am concerned. I should add that this is not a tourist sort of place and is a bit off the track so these were obviously all locals who knew what was what in an area where there are many many good fish / seafood shops.
Certainly, it is not big inside but there were a lot of people waiting patiently to be served and the staff were working really hard so this place must have a very good reputation locally.
The shop itself is nothing fancy although spotlessly clean and with an excellent range of produce. I reckon if you had stood at the door and thrown an oyster shell you could have hit the water, having cleared the boats moored up alongside the adjacent quay, that is how fresh the stuff is and I’ll bet everything on sale came in within the previous 24 hours. Local is good and where the locals go is better which is why I have to recommend this place.”
I would say you could buy anything in here and it would be of the finest quality and I am no expert on local prices but Lynne informed me they were not excessive. I bought a couple of beautiful fish fillets which you’ll be meeting before this post is over.
Back on the road again we took off Southwest as Lynne had decided we were staying that night in the Ponderosa Pines campground a little South of Hillsborough. We cruised along at a very sedate pace with Betsy still grumbling occasionally but we made the campground in one piece and after getting set up it was another night of relaxing, drinking, chatting, watching recorded TV programmes on Lynne’s computer and generally being happy in our cosy little home.
Betsy really did feel like home by this point. After our initial crockery accident the first day we had worked out how to handle her and all her funny little habits, all the little tweaks you need to learn to survive in a 33 year old rig that I believe was destined to be broken up for parts before Ron had rescued her for us.
It must have been another one of our “convivial” evenings as we had a snack at about 2030 which you can see here. I would call it bruschetta but it is rather hefty, what I would call “butch bruschetta”. Still it filled a hole and we didn’t need a proper meal until gone 0100 and would you look at that lovely fillet of fish, it was so fresh so it was done with a simple sauce, some baby carrots and boiled potatoes, lovely if I say so myself. Eventually we dragged ourselves off to bed to ready ourselves for the morrow.
In the next instalment we visit two of the best of the many museums we had visited on this trip, drop by a couple of pubs and have another very late supper! If you want to know all about it then stay tuned and spread the word.