Delightful St. Andrews offers simple pleasures

A man in St. Andrews prepares to take a boat into Passamaquoddy Bay.

A man in St. Andrews prepares to take a boat into Passamaquoddy Bay.

Story and photos by Charles Williams

Charles is the editor of Pursuits with Enterprise. Email the author.

New Brunswick’s resort town is a great getaway for a family vacation or romantic weekend.

Just beyond the military blockhouse in Centennial Park, two black dogs — one with a tinge of brown — playfully spar in the water and then retreat to shore. They shake off the dampness before resuming their chase around 19th-century cannons.

The Loyalists who settled in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, built the defensive fortifications during the War of 1812, fearing an invasion by their nearby American neighbour. It never happened. But none of this mattered to the dogs, whose playful attitude is reflected by so many who visit one of the prettiest resort towns in Canada.

St. Andrews, also referred to as St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, is nestled between the St. Croix River and Passamaquoddy Bay. Founded in 1783, it’s a historical town where half the 550 buildings were built before 1880. It’s also an uncomplicated getaway.

The appeal of this destination is simple — charm, nature and relaxation. And the variety of activities — beachgoing, golfing, whale watching, shopping, fishing, fine dining — ensures that travellers of all ages will have plenty to do.

I stayed at the historic Algonquin Resort, which opened in 1889 and has undergone many renovations. Visitors at this casual yet elegant resort may do as much or as little as they please. Some guests have a drink on the spacious veranda or snuggle inside by a cozy fire, while others enjoy fine dining at Braxton’s restaurant. Even Prince Charles and Princess Diana stopped here during their 1983 visit to Canada.

St. Andrews is both lovely and liveable. Water Street is the main throughway, and it’s lined with shops that have memorable names — Kit & Kaboodle, Scrooge & Marley’s and Toose's On Water Street. Also occupying prime real estate on the street are everyday necessities such as a drugstore, a bank, and the weary traveller’s best friend, a coin-operated laundromat.

On a rainy autumn morning, I popped into the adorable Honeybeans Coffee, Tea & Treats. The delicious cheese-and-bacon scones, coupled with a steaming cup of coffee, cut through the damp dreariness. While the owners chatted with other customers, I read the local paper and made plans for a full day of sightseeing.

First, I visited the 27-acre Kingsbrae Gardens, one of the top 10 public gardens in Canada. Opened in 1998, the garden’s 10-foot-high cedar hedges surround more than 50,000 perennials. Many of the trees date back to the early 1900s. You can stroll among the beautiful flowers, see landscaped ponds and view a working Dutch windmill. Along the way, you will see alpacas, pygmy goats, peacocks and more, making this a great spot for children.

I expected a beautiful garden, but I didn’t count on the sculpture park with dozens of whimsical pieces, or the amazing Garden Cafe, which serves delicious meals from the kitchen of award-winning chef Alex Haun. Visitors will want to at least stop in for dessert and coffee.

If you’re seeking a more active connection with nature, head to the dock and hop aboard a whale-watching cruise. Several outfitters offer trips, and I selected Quoddy Link Marine, whose 55-foot catamaran whisked me out to the Bay of Fundy, home to 12 species of whales. Our boat was lucky enough to get alongside an endangered North Atlantic right whale. The 55-foot animal spouted a few times before flipping its tail and diving. On the way back to shore, we spotted several smaller minke whales swimming and seals basking in the sun on nearby rocks.

At Pagan Point Nature Preserve, children were tidepooling — exploring the plants and animals exposed when the Bay of Fundy’s tide recedes by 22 feet. I stopped and joined in the fun. While standing among the frenzied strands of colourful seaweed, I envisioned a Jackson Pollock-like painting.

As the day faded, I headed back down to Water Street, where many of the buildings date from the late 18th or early 19th century. At The Red Herring Pub & Eatery, I finished the day noshing a lobster roll at the bar and chatting with locals. Talk turned to jobs, the bartender’s birthday and the upcoming U.S. presidential election, which would soon take place just across the St. Croix River.

Like the spirited dogs at Centennial Park, we let the conversation wander, nipping at opinions and occasionally rolling over in defeat. But the playful banter with locals was like everything else in this beautiful community — something I hadn’t planned but something I won’t soon forget.


View all articles

Read more stories about Canada.