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