With a Local: Saint John, New Brunswick

The city of Saint John, in New Brunswick, offers a fine night out. After an unexpectedly late finish to the previous day I pulled back the curtains in my waterfront hotel room to reveal a view of the mouth of the Saint John River, which opens into the Bay of Fundy, which was even foggier than my head.

What had I done the previous evening? After eating dinner in the Saint John Ale House (1 Market Square; tel. +1 506 657 2337) I moved on to the Happinez Wine Bar (42 Princess Street; tel. +1 506 634 7340). That was followed by a couple of locally brewed beers in Five & Dime (34 Grannan Street; tel. +1 506 898 0020) while shuffling my feet and swaying to the Stone Roses and other retro tunes. Hours later the beat of the Stone Roses was still thumping in my head.

Spinning the vinyl at Five & Dime in New Brunswick, Canada.
Spinning the vinyl at Five & Dime in New Brunswick, Canada.

To recover I stepped outside for a breath of fresh air on the wharf. After turning along Market Street I meandered uphill to the leafy park at King’s Square. From there I crossed Charlotte Street and entered Saint John’s Old City Market, which opened in 1876. It’s origins can be traced to a charter of 1785, making it the oldest continually operating farmers’ market in North America.

A sign by a depiction of a man wearing a tricorn hat and breeches informed me that I was in “Canada’s first incorporated city established by royal charter.”

I headed to the Slocum and Ferris (47 Charlotte Street; tel. +1 506 652 2260) store for a breakfast bagel featuring egg and dulse, a type of seaweed that some of New Brunswick’s residents use as an alternative to bacon. While there I met with Dave Forestell, who agreed to provide local insights into Saint John.

Dave Forestell at the Slocum and Ferris store in Saint John's City Market.
Dave Forestell at the Slocum and Ferris store in Saint John’s City Market.

“My store has been in the same location since 1895,” he explained, before we started the interview, and proudly showed me one of Slocum and Ferris’s old hand-written ledgers. “It’s done business in three different centuries, so for Saint John it’s a little bit of an older spot.”

Dave is a local. Eight years in Calgary, Alberta, helped heighten his appreciation of Saint John’s heritage, which includes a number of Victorian buildings.

Why should people visit Saint John?

Saint John had a massive fire in 1877 so, basically, they decided to build an incredible amount of brick homes of various styles. A lot of sea captains built grander ones.

Probably due to a relative lack of prosperity compared to other urban centres those buildings never got torn down for urban renewal. An incredible number of heritage housing is right here in Saint John, clustered in a brick forest…it’s great to walk around here. You really capture the atmosphere and the history.

People crossing Charlotte Street, outside of Saint John's City Market.
People crossing Charlotte Street, outside of Saint John’s City Market.

Where is your favourite place in Saint John?

My favourite place is the Old City Market, of course. It’s cool. It has so much character. People sometimes walk through quickly but if you hang around it becomes like our own Coronation Street: Lots of characters and not everyone gets along! Lots going on. Lots of intrigue and competition but, for the most part, it’s a very friendly and homogenous group.

It’s a nice opposite to a mall. We get to hang out with our customers. You’re really talking owner-operator when you buy at the City Market.

Street art, by Hula, on one of the docks of Saint John.
Street art, by Hula, on one of the docks of Saint John.

Where would you take a guest to eat in Saint John?

One of my customers, John Thompson, is a waiter at Britt’s (42 Princess Street; tel. +1 506 214 5335). He seems to know what’s going on, so you always have to check in there. It’s a lovely place and has some good beers too.

Chef Jesse Vergen is winning plaudits for the cuisine served at the Saint John Ale House.
Chef Jesse Vergen is winning plaudits for the cuisine served at the Saint John Ale House.

Where would you recommend for a drink in Saint John?

Picaroons (32 Canterbury Street; +1 506 648 9834) is a great spot. It’s a microbrewery with a lot of character. You can bring the family dog, you can bring food; it’s very relaxed. It has the coolest curved table, which is made to seat tons of people. People get talking to each other very quickly there.

The zip-line operated by Saint John Adventures provides views over Saint John's Reversing Rapids.
The zip-line operated by Saint John Adventures provides views over Saint John’s Reversing Rapids.

What is your favourite piece of history from Saint John?

Americans come to visit Saint John and are surprised to learn that Benedict Arnold lived here for a few years. The funny thing is that he’s famous as a traitor in the States. He was a bit of a butthead when he lived here.

He wasn’t a popular guy. He was not liked at all and had a few business dealings that went sour. He was not well-liked on either side of the border, so that’s a cool little story for Americans.

A breakfast bagel served at Slocum and Ferris. It is packed with egg and dulse.
A breakfast bagel served at Slocum and Ferris. It is packed with egg and dulse.

Where do you recommend visit nearby if people have an extra day in the region?

Saint John in the only city on the Bay of Fundy. It’s such a magical coast. There’s so much to do.

Right outside the city, at St Martin’s, there’s some fantastic caves that you can kayak in at high tide and walk in at low tide.

Just beyond that is the Fundy Trail, which is a beautiful seacoast that’s been opening up. You can go all the way to Hopewell Rocks. In the other direction of St Andrews is a favourite for me.

A beacon on a foggy morning in Saint John?
A beacon on a foggy morning in Saint John?

Further information

Find out more via the Discover Saint John website and by checking out the city’s #SaintAwesome hashtag on social media.

The New Brunswick and Destination Canada websites are also useful sources of information.

Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.

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Declaration – Stuart travelled to New Brunswick as a guest of Tourism New Brunswick.

18 Comments

  • Brooke Herron

    October 13, 2017 at 08:38 Reply

    Love the street art… and the brick buildings.
    Have been hearing great things about St John via travel blogger/writer friends so must get there at some point to experience myself!

    • Stuart Forster

      October 13, 2017 at 08:45 Reply

      I really did enjoy spending time in Saint John. For a sizeable city it has a laid-back vibe.

  • Georgette

    October 14, 2017 at 12:10 Reply

    This is a really great write-up and I concur with Brooke about the interesting street art. I haven’t yet been to Canada (hands in head in shame) but hoping my husband and I can do a road-trip in this area sometime next year!

    • Stuart Forster

      October 15, 2017 at 12:19 Reply

      Hello Georgette, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if you do get to New Brunswick. Driving there is relatively stressless, I found, and the natural scenery is impressive. I’ll be posting more about the province soon, so please pop back for further information.

  • Emma @ Adventures of a London Kiwi

    October 14, 2017 at 16:02 Reply

    “It’s a little bit of an older spot” is an intriguing ‘humblebrag’ isn’t it?

    • Stuart Forster

      October 15, 2017 at 12:23 Reply

      I suppose it is. I met a handful of people in Saint John who went out of their way to show me what they regard as the highlights of their city. Dave was certainly not alone in being proud of his city. It’s lovely to experience that.

  • Daniel Welsch

    October 15, 2017 at 14:10 Reply

    Looks like a great place to visit! I haven’t been to Canada forever.

    • Stuart Forster

      October 16, 2017 at 07:41 Reply

      There are some good deals on transatlantic flights at present. Now is the time.

  • Nikki @ Notes of Life

    October 15, 2017 at 17:58 Reply

    I love Canada and Saint John looks like a wonderful place to visit 🙂

    • Stuart Forster

      October 16, 2017 at 07:40 Reply

      It’s one of many destinations across Canada that I’d have no hesitation in returning to!

  • Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me)

    October 15, 2017 at 19:15 Reply

    I’ll look forward to reading more about New Brunswick. Perhaps someone should commission a soap around Old City Market….

    • Stuart Forster

      October 16, 2017 at 07:42 Reply

      Now that could be fun. Know any script writers?

  • Kathryn @TravelWithKat

    October 18, 2017 at 13:38 Reply

    Did you get to the Fundy Trail? I only caught a glimpse of it but would love to go back one day. And what about the zip line? Did you try it? It’s certainly one of the scariest I’ve ever been on. Love Saint John – the people, the buildings, the parks not to mention the food and beer! Fabulous city.

    • Stuart Forster

      October 22, 2017 at 10:45 Reply

      I would have loved more time for the Fundy Trail. Saint John’s vibe made it a lovely city to spend time. I’m not a fan of heights and the zip-line proved too much for me, unfortunately. I’d have loved to have been able to follow the course because the views over the Reversing Rapids must have been spectacular.

  • Shobha George

    November 4, 2017 at 13:30 Reply

    I really don’t know much about Canada! Saint John’s sounds really cool. Great story about Benedict Arnold. I saw his memorial plaque at West Point which is half-hidden in the eaves because he was both a graduate as well as a traitor. He’s definitely made his name in history but not in a good way.

    • Stuart Forster

      November 6, 2017 at 18:24 Reply

      I think Canada is a wonderful destination. I bet West Point is a fascinating place for anyone interested in history and traditions.

  • Ferne Arfin

    November 10, 2017 at 15:35 Reply

    Interesting piece but not sure about that egg and dulse bagel. And as an ex New Yorker, not even sure I’d call that a bagel. But it looks like an interesting town if you are doing an east coast Canada trip.

    • Stuart Forster

      November 14, 2017 at 17:46 Reply

      Saint John proved a fun place to pause during my tour of New Brunswick. The bagel was a tasty way to start the day.

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