August 26, 2013

John Christie: St. Andrews gives visitors a taste of olden days

A scant half-hour drive east of the border crossing between Calais and St. Stephen in New Brunswick sits one of Canada's oldest and best-preserved 18th-century towns and its oldest seaside resort.

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The historic downtown district in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, is a popular area for shopping and hosts numerous seafood restaurants.

Town of St. Andrews

St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, as it's known throughout the world, has been designated as a National Historic District, and a visit to the quaint New England-style village and its compact and neatly organized business district bordering Passamaquoddy Bay easily confirms why so many people include St. Andrews in their Canadian travel itinerary.

We discovered the spot some 20 years ago when traveling to Fundy National Park for some camping with our sons, and now we can't resist a visit or two every summer. For us, it's a perfect spot to arrive at around lunch time as we travel to Campobello Island, where we camp several times each summer, as it's on the way to reach a small ferry that runs from Letete to Deer Island to connect with another ferry to Campobello.

Only about three and a half hours from our midcoast home via Route 9 to Calais, it's a nice alternative to driving Route 1 to Lubec and taking the bridge to New Brunswick, the route we usually take for our return home.

There's something special about the connection between St. Andrews and Maine, as the town was settled by United Empire Loyalists in 1783 following the American Revolution. Several of them were residents of Castine, loyal to England and opposed to the move to independence, who dismantled their homes and brought them in barges across the bay to reassemble them in Canada. Some of these houses still stand, making much of the compact residential district look much like the town from which they emigrated. Many of the more than 250 homes are some 200 years old and have been restored and marked with descriptive plaques by the St. Andrews Civic Trust.

The town's appeal is enhanced by the neatly squared-off streets of the village center, carefully trimmed lawns, and splashes of color from the many gardens and brightly painted homes and commercial buildings.

It was at the beginning of the 20th century that the town emerged as Canada's first seaside resort, to which many of the East's more prominent families were attracted. Some came to play golf at the 18-hole Algonquin Golf Course and to stay at the Algonquin Resort, now a Marriott property undergoing extensive upgrades and remodeling. The grand old hotel is the town's dominant landmark, spectacularly perched overlooking the peninsula.

When we can arrange it, we try to plan our visits on a Thursday, as that's the day the farmers market is held in Market Square in the center of town from the end of May until the middle of October, featuring far more than just native farm products. Booths filling the square present a variety of products, to the accompaniment of live music, including preserves, home baking, crafts, woodworking, knitting, quilted goods, plants and flowers.

Seafood restaurants abound in the downtown district, and a special favorite of ours is the Red Herring, with an outside deck (currently under renovation) overlooking the square and a beer batter-dipped haddock that's among my favorites.

The town dock is home port to several whale- and wildlife-spotting cruise ship operations that take you out to experience whales, seals, porpoises and a variety of seabirds, in a setting that includes historic lighthouses and modern aquaculture operations.

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