Saint John, New Brunswick is a study in the juxtaposition of the beautiful and the ugly, placed alongside and amidst each other. Old sandstone buildings that harken back to an era where classical architecture drew inspiration from the days of the Greeks and the Romans to shape their otherwise functional masterpieces, but broken up by the presence of the downtrodden, victims of economic decline in the past decade.
The smell of industry, intermixed with an incredible force of nature, manifested 2 to 3 times per day as the mighty Bay of Fundy barges its way up the Saint John River, causing it to run backwards for a brief time.
The dramatic landscapes of the uplands of the interior, dropping precipitously to the Fundy coast, all with a highly original city strewn around it … which sometimes gets draped with the wet blanket of an inconvenient fog.
Saint John is a place that some people may have polarizing opinions about, but this fact is undeniable: the traveler that visits here will have a wide variety of things to see and activities to do, all while meeting some of the most authentic people that you’ll find in the region. Some may have had less than a perfect life, but its this life experience that will lead to you meeting characters that will have you admiring their tenacity and strength.
Historically being New Brunswick’s largest city (Moncton has since stolen this title away from the gritty port city), it makes sense that the New Brunswick Museum would be located here, as its economic importance and its overall size would have made a compelling case. Aside from the standard exhibits telling the story of this underrated province, the key attraction here is the plaster casting of a mastodon and a blue whale skeleton, which is always popular with the youngsters. Speaking of the kids, a Science Discovery Centre is also located here, which allows them to uncover and learn about the mysteries of science.
Back in the early 19th century, tensions were boiling again between the British and the barely born nation of America, resulting in the War of 1812 breaking out. Anticipating that the Americans would soon take the fight to the Maritimes, colonial authorities in Saint John hastily began construction of the Carleton Martello Tower, which would serve as a watchtower and an artillery pillbox. They never needed to use it in that conflict, as the fortification was completed one year after the war had ended. It did serve a purpose to the military right up to the end of World War II, as it housed an artillery magazine and soldier’s barracks during that time.
Need to feed your inner thespian? If so, the Imperial Theatre, in the midst of Saint John’s historic Uptown (which ironically, is the city downtown) will handily take care of your urges, as it has put on stage shows for over 100 years. From popular plays to concerts by musical artists of both local, national and international repute, the Imperial always has something intellectually stimulating playing on its stage.
Shaped in a manner that funnels the Atlantic Ocean to cause the sea to recede and rise in a much more exaggerated manner than in other places around the world, the tides in this part of the globe are the highest in the world, with a 50 foot difference in certain locations. While the tide changes aren’t as extreme in Saint John, the power of the Atlantic makes itself apparent 2-3 times per day at the Reversing Falls.
More like rapids instead of an actual cataract, visitors are nonetheless treated to the shockingly spectacle of the ocean forcing a river to flow backwards for several minutes at these times, causing outrageously choppy water as the two forces battle and collide. Jet boats offer thrill rides out into the void, daredevil kayakers tempt fate as well, and the much more timid can look on from a viewing platform when this natural show happens, each day, every day.
The oldest daily urban food and crafts market in Canada (founded in 1785) can be found at the Saint John City Market. Here, the finest local produce, meats, bakery goods, seafood and much more can be found for your consumption pleasure. If you’d rather have something cook for you than take this stuff back to your hostel/kitchenette/camper van, then there are plenty of restaurants located along the sides of the market, or just a little further along the downtown pedway in the connected malls.
Finally, if you need a break from the urban grit that Saint John has in spades, then Irving Nature Park offers an escape to the seaside wilderness that used to be found throughout the area before this city was founded. From wild, wavy beaches, to trails wending their way through coastal forest, this nature reserve is the perfect way to end your time in the urban area in New Brunswick that feels the most like a city in this province.