From Fundy to Sunday

Published in Canadian Family, September 2003

Somewhere in Taiwan, there are multiple camcorder recordings of a two-person kayak foundering off the Hopewell Rocks in the Bay of Fundy. The front kayaker was my 12-year-old son, Kevin. The person in the back, and the culprit responsible for the predicament, was me. Kayaker's wear something called a skirt, a waterproof girdle that prevents water from entering the boat if waves wash over the deck. Unfortunately, I was having a hard time keeping my skirt down (a traditional problem with Pitt men) and my rear end was taking on seawater (a new one, even for my lineage). Instead of gracefully flitting among the beautiful flowerpot stone formations like the twenty other kayaks in our party, Kevin and I were sloshing toward the beach like a stunned beluga.

A bus load of Taiwanese tourists arrived just as my son and I gave the mutual order to abandon ship. Be advised that shucking yourself gracefully out of a skintight kayak is easy for a 12-year-old, but nearly impossible for a man in his forties with a Fred Flintstone build. Kevin nailed his dismount in one fluid motion while I rocked and rolled in the surf for almost a minute. Eventually I crawled up on the beach Surrounded by awestruck Asian tourists with cameras still rolling, I stood up covered in sand, shells and dead mud shrimp looking like a 200-pound Tim Horton's "Sprinkly".

High overhead, my wife Nimmi waved from a spectator platform. "Are you having fun?" she called.

Yes, we actually were.

Even from a clam's eye view, New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy is a nature lover's nirvana. Overhead, sandpipers swirled in flocks so dense we originally mistook them for smoke clouds. Whales, seals and porpoises routinely cruised the bay when the tide was in. When it was not, we walked on the ocean floor - keeping in mind that every 12 hours, the world's highest tidal bore will cover the spot we were standing with up to 46 feet of seawater. That works out to 100 billion tons of water, twice a day, so we stepped lively.

The best thing to do when you fall out of a kayak is to get right back in. At least, that's what the kayak-guide said with a straight face trying to convince Kevin and me to have another try. He was right. All we needed were a few adjustments to my kayak seat and suddenly Kevin and I were skimming the waves with the best of them - the best in our party being two retired German kindergarten teachers in their seventies.

Nimmi worked up a good appetite watching her boys battle the brine for 90 minutes. As soon as we landed, she announced that we had dinner reservations at the Windjammer, a 4 star restaurant in nearby Moncton. The Delta Beauséjour Hotel's water bill must have spiked that night while Kevin and I took turns washing the porpoise poop out of our hair. The next day, we headed to the North Shore to discover our Acadian roots.

It doesn't matter where you are from, everyone is "Acadien" during New Brunswick's annual Acadian festival which runs through the first two weeks of August. The Acadian tricolour flag adorns everything from building tops to bikini bottoms. Acadian food calls coquettishly from every menu. It should be noted that although related, Acadian fare in no way resembles Cajun cooking. Instead of tongue blistering spices, Acadian food consists mainly of hearty stews and meat pies. The official Pitt favourite turned out to be Rappie Pie which is like Shepherd's Pie with chicken and bacon.

Our first stop was Acadian Historic Village, a collection of heritage buildings representing more than 200 years of Acadian settlement. As quick as you can say Kouchibouguac, the horse taxi arrived to take us back in time. Unilingual Canadians can only envy the way many New Brunswickers can effortlessly switch back and forth between English and French and it is contagious. I found myself dusting off my old high school French and to my surprise, no one laughed - except Kevin and Nimmi.

Acadie's resurrection can be traced to a small town called Caraquet at the northeast corner of the province. In 1963, the town organized a one day festival to mark the founding of Acadia in 1604. Antoine Landry, mayor of Caraquet, remembers the first Acadian Day: "We had no budget. There were just a small parade, a few local singers and some dancing."

Today, the Caraquet Acadian Festival has a million dollar budget, lasts more than 2 weeks with performances by more than over 200 artists, musicians and actors. The festival culminates on August 15 with a street party drawing more than 30,000 people from around the world.

Mayor Landry warns that if you are planning to visit Acadia in 2004, you should book well ahead because 2004 marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia and record crowds are expected.

Fortunately Bathurst, the nearest city to Caraquet, has greatly expanded its tourist facilities since 1963. Typical is Danny's Inn which started as a one-cabin side business in 1947. Now, Robert DeGrace, son of Danny, operates an award winning 40-room motel that rivals the Bay of Fundy in the way it fills to capacity every night. He says most of his business is still split between Americans and Quebeckers but the rest of Canada is slowly beginning to catch on. "Canadians enjoy the experience of being in a place that is different from home and yet familiar too."

From New Brunswick, our next destination was Bethel, Maine. We knew we were going to feel at home: in 1774, Bethel's original name was Sudbury Canada.

Today, the village looks like a stand-by set for a Disney movie. Elegant New England buildings surround a panerai replica grassy town square complete with band shell and Civil War monument. Nestled deep in the Longfellow Mountain range, Bethel is best known for two things: rock hunting and skiing. Summer is Bethel's off-season so lucky visitors like us can enjoy Bethel's accommodations, fine dining and exceptional scenery at off-season rates.

Feeling in the mood for something a little different, we checked ourselves into L'Auberge, a big-boned country inn which started life as an 1850s cow barn. Wood and whimsy seems to be the decorating motif of owners Alexandra and Adam Adler. Our suite (the former hayloft) sported a thirty-foot ceiling painted sky blue with clouds aplenty. A gilded wooden staircase ran up one wall leading to a tiny balcony from which, Adam says, farm hands used to entertain each other with amateur plays.

There are no amateur performances in the kitchen, however. Alexandra's cooking has earned L'Auberge's an article in Gourmet magazine and a listing in Best Restaurants of New England.

If you want to try your hand at rock hunting, amethyst, aquamarine, tourmaline and topaz are commonly found in the local Bethel quarries where amateurs are allowed to prowl on off-business days. All you need is a hammer, magnifying glass, sharp eye and lots of mosquito repellant. If you are a beginner, you might want to stop off at Mt. Mann Jewellers on Main Street to see their rock collection to get an idea of what you are looking for. They are happy to provide directions, advice and, if you come back empty handed, you can try their "Crystal Cave for Kids" in the basement.

Just five minutes walk from our inn rambles the Sunday River. Its shady banks and rustic scenery make it a natural magnet for family outings. Jeff Parsons, a former Royal Marine and Outward Bound instructor, operates Bethel Outdoor Adventure and Campground on the bank of the Sunday. He offers river "adventures" ranging from one hour to three days by kayak, canoe and pontoon raft. Guides are available, depending on the client's expertise.

After hearing about our Bay of Fundy excursion, Jeff suggested we go for the one hour trip -with a guide. For some reason, Kevin opted to kayak solo this time.
The Sunday River is aptly named. First we laboured to launch our boats and then we rested as the gentle current carried us along. Once, we ran the chute of a 2-inch waterfall - my idea of extreme water adventure - but most of the time we barely wet our paddles. Of course, Jeff has more challenging routes but many of his customers are just families like us looking for a little fresh air and scenery.

Jeff also surprised me by saying that I was not the worst canoeist he ever saw. "I once got a cell phone call from a New Jersey kayaker complaining that his boat kept going backwards whenever he stopped paddling. I had to tell him to turnaround because he was trying to go upriver instead of down."

A New Jersey kayak going backwards? Ha! Now that is something I'd like to see on a Taiwanese camcorder.

Where to Eat

Danny's Inn Restaurant - Bathurst, New Brunswick. Great Acadian dishes and seafood.

The Windjammer, Delta Beauséjour Hotel in Moncton, New Brunswick - Definitely deserves medals for fine dining. Many dishes (Caesar Salad, Pepper Steak, Pepper Strawberries) are prepared at your table and are 4 star show in themselves

The Sunday River Brewing Company - Bethel Maine - Great salads and burgers. Huge portions.

The Sudbury Inn -Bethel Maine, great pub grub downstairs, fine dining above. The Seafood Bisque is not to be missed.

L'Auberge - Bethel Maine, fine dining with a French theme. Lovely accommodations as well.

The Good Food Store - Bethel, Maine - If you are planning a rock hunt, nature walk or river trip, this place makes outstanding picnic food

Things to Do

Hopewell Rocks - New Brunswick - Nature hikes, bird watching, family kayaking, cave tours,

Acadian Historic Village - Caraquet, New Brunswick, contact New Brunswick Tourist Bureau -, 1-800-561-0123

Acadian Festival - August 1 to 15, Caraquet, New Brunswick.

Bethel Outdoors Adventure - camping, canoeing and river adventures ranging up to 3 days

Gem hunting - contact the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-442-5826

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