Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Great Trail in New Brunswick

We crossed the Confederation Bridge from PEI to New Brunswick in a shuttle on Sept 22nd, wearing t-shirts and shorts.  After hiking 980 km of roads, rail-trails, and footpaths, we walked across the Quebec border on Nov 4th, just one day before the first snow fell and the temperatures hit -20c.  In between, we had quite an adventure!

If the system of pathways that make up the Great Trail in New Brunswick could be summarized in one word, it would be 'diverse'.  The trail took us through freshwater marshes, around the Bay of Fundy with its world famous 16 m tides, through pristine coastal wilderness, along large river systems, and over rolling, forested hills.  In sections it was a gravel rail-trail, in others a boardwalk manoeuvring through a waterfowl park, for a several strenuous days it became a coastal pathway, and eventually it led us to follow alongside the Saint John River northward.   In this truly bilingual province we also visited two large cities, many Acadian villages, several Aboriginal communities and reserves, and countless smaller towns.

We began our trek across New Brunswick, when the shuttle from PEI which took us over the iconic Confederation Bridge dropped us off at the Cape Jouriman Wildlife Center, where we stopped to explore.  This is a great place to go birding, learn about the natural and cultural history of the area, visit the lighthouse, walk the nature trails, explore the beach, and enjoy a fantastic view of the Confederation Bridge from atop the lookout tower.

From the border to the small but lively university town of Sackville, we walked the Marshes tail.  This rail trail took us through a largely undeveloped landscape featuring forested areas, wetlands, many picturesque rivers and bridges, and a few small communities. Deer, moose, and coyote prints were abundant along the trail bed, and although there were still quite a few downed trees across the trail from hurricane Dorian, it was an enjoyable hike.  It ended with a gorgeous section of boardwalk through the Sackville Waterfowl Park, which is also a fantastic spot to go birding.

The walk from Sackville to Moncton was along roads, some of which were very busy.  As we made our way through the rolling hills, the fields of blueberries were beginning to turn a bright red, and the fall colours were really starting to set the landscape aglow.

The trail brought us back to the Bay of Fundy in the community of Dorchester, which is home to Shep, the world's largest Semipalmated Plover!  There we also spent a night in a cell of a haunted jail that was built in 1875, and which is now a B&B.  We spent the evening relaxing and walking on the ocean floor with the owner's three lovely goats giving us memorable highlight.


As we continued west we walked past the modern and fully functional Dorchester Penitentiary, and then followed the road along the Bay of Fundy.  Mostly we walked through a pastoral landscape, with fields, small farms, barns, and houses dotting the rolling landscape.  We passed through several Acadian villages, and we could detect evidence of early Acadian occupation in the old dykes that were still visible in the farmed floodplains.  The green fields, red waters and mudflats of the bay, and steep, dark, forested hills in the background made for a beautiful walk along the Sentier de l'Etoile.

We had hoped to camp between Dorchester and Moncton, but as we approached the outskirts of Dieppe the road became very busy, and we found ourselves walking through private property where it was frequently declared ‘that there was no room for hikers or tents’ and then more densely populated neighborhoods.  In the end we walked into Dieppe, a distance of more than 50 km on the Trans Canada Trail, in one very, very long day.

Through Dieppe and Moncton the Great Trail follows the Riverfront Trail.  This well-used, wide, flat, crushed stone-dust municipal trail winds through neighborhoods, forest stands, over bridges, and then along a boardwalk on the beautiful shores of the Petitcodiac River.  As it traverses Moncton's waterfront along a tastefully landscaped park, the walkway offers an interesting view of the city skyline, and provides information on the cultural and natural history of the region through interpretive signs and various monuments.  

Heading out of Moncton we walked for about 10 km along a sidewalk beside what felt like a future city bypass.  The wide road was bordered with trees and forests, but there were signs for new housing developments all along the way.  When we reached Riverview we met up with the Dobson pathway.  

The Dobson Trail is a 58 km long footpath of variable conditions that runs from Riverview to the northern edge of Fundy National Park. It took us over rolling hills covered in gorgeous deciduous and mixed forests, along babbling brooks and rivers, and around beautiful marshes and lakes.  There were established wilderness campsites throughout, and we spent three lovely nights on this trail.  

The last part of the Dobson trail led us high up into the hills, where the Kent Wind Farm is located.  After passing among the many wind turbines, we had to divert to a nearby logging road when we lost the trail as a result of downed trees.  On our last day we ran into an active logging operation which rerouted the trail route, as well as a heavily hunted area filled with ATVers.  As a result, unable to access the northern portion of the Fundy National Park we ended up following a logging road into Alma past a beautiful covered bridge at Forty-five Creek.

While in the charming seaside town of Alma we visited the wharf and saw the fishing vessels sitting on the bottom of the Harbour during low tide, we walked on the sea floor when the ocean was out, we enjoyed the famous sticky buns from Kelly's Bakehouse, and we spent an evening at a kitchen party, learning about Myrtle 'Molly' Kool,
Canada's first female sea captain.

During this memorable evening of singing, dancing, music, cider, and re-enactments I got to play Molly Kool!


From Alma the Great Trail took us through the beautiful Fundy National Park, to the start of the Fundy Footpath.  We spent a night at the Chignecto Campground giving a presentation with the helps of Parks Canada staff near Alma before moving on to the Point Wolfe Campground.  From there it was a 12 km hike down the well groomed and maintained Goose River trail and a small connector to the zero kilometer marker of the Fundy Footpath.

The Fundy Footpath is a 47 km trail that takes hikers through pristine coastal wilderness.  It is a challenging hike, leading from sea level to elevations of 300 m and back down in a series of extremely steep ascents and descents.  There are several river crossings which need to be done at low tide.  Parts of the trail follow cliff edges high above the Atlantic, and other sections involve climbing and descending steep hills via a series of cable assisted ladders.  There are established wilderness campsites throughout, some of which are on beautiful beaches with fascinating geology. We spent four nights camping on this wild, rugged, and challenging trail.

The Fundy Footpath ends at the Big Salmon River Interpretive Center, which marks the beginning of the Fundy Parkway Trail.  This 10 km long trail is a wide, smooth, multi-use trail that can be hiked or biked. It offers views of the Atlantic, waterfalls, the flowerpot rock and other interesting geological formations, as well as access to beautiful sandy beaches and grassy picnic areas.  There is a road that parallels the trail, so many of the lookouts and points of interest can be reached by car or tour bus as well.

We walked the parkway on a rainy day, so there weren't many people out enjoying it.  When we reached the end we had another 10 km walk down the road to reach the seaside village of St. Martin's.  This beautiful little town boasts two covered bridges, as well as the picturesque sea caves which we were fortunate to take the time to enjoy and photograph.   Here we were fortunate to be able to rest for a couple of days at the cozy Not Your Average Hostel and were given a welcoming tour of the region and local Art Studio by our hosts!

From St. Martin's to Saint John we had just over 90 km of road walking.  The Great Trail took us up through rolling and mostly forested hills, which were ablaze with fall colours.  In the picturesque and prosperous riverside town of Hampton there were a few kilometers of lovely, forested municipal trail along the river.  
From there we walked along the Kennebecasis River valley, among hills ablaze with fall colours.  We took the quaint little cable ferry from Reeds Point to Quispamsis, and from there walked through urban neighborhoods into Rothesay, a suburb of Saint John.
As we approached the city we walked through Rockwood Park.  This hilly, forested, urban park offers more than 5 km of hiking and biking trails, as well as camping, chances to enjoy a beautiful lake in all seasons, a museum, and Lily's, a waterside restaurant offering delicious local food. At Lily’s we were treated to a wonderful lunch by the hosts, a break which we were delighted to accept and which we deeply enjoyed!
We followed the Great Trail along the waterfront, around the city of Saint John, and on to Grand Bay West, where it turned into a water trail.  After spending a few days relaxing, recharging, and exploring Saint John we took a bus north to Oromocto, around section where the TCT became a paddling route, where we continued on the terrestrial portion of the trail.
After so much road walking, we were delighted to find ourselves on a lovely rail trail that took us from Oromocto to Fredericton.  The forested trail was busy with other hikers, joggers, and bike riders who were also enjoying the beautiful fall sunshine. Within the city limits of the city of Fredericton the Trans Canada Trail took us past historical sites including the Historic Garrison and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, as well as into the beautiful downtown core.  Here we were hosted by a wonderful couple who have dedicated years toward the development of the Great Trail in the province of New Brunswick.  While staying with them we were fortunate to have the opportunity to give a talk at the University of New Brunswick hosted by the Kinesiology department and to explore the surrounding region.  

From Fredericton onward we followed the local waterways and majestic Saint John River northward toward the Quebec border.  Once again despite the general course of our adventure being from East to West, the route of the Great Trail was determined to take us either north or south en route.  Regardless, and steadfast to our chosen trail we continued onward from Fredericton to Woolastook, the Kings Landing and then onto the community of Nackawic, home of both the Big Axe Brewing company and the World’s Largest Axe!

Continuing onward into the frequently driving rains of the late fall we came to one of our largest challenges to date.  In the community of Meductic, road construction had led to the removal of the bridge and therefore the trail across the Eel River.   Unfortunately the nature of the construction, the slope of the landscape and depth of the Eel River meant that it would be impossible for us to simply ford the waterway.  In addition, the signed reroute of the pathway involved a more than 50 km diversion as walking was not allowed on the busy HWY 2.  


Thankfully our guests from Fredericton, TCT volunteers, were only a phone call away and they soon proposed helping us past the gap in the trail.  The result was that we were soon transported the 2 km down HWY 2 to the other side of the Eel River, enjoyed a lunch with our trail angles and got out of the cold rain for a few minutes!  The kindness of Eric and Gabrielle once again aided our trek in New Brunswick, transforming a moment of crisis into one of hope! 


As we progressed on from Meductic to Woodstock we trekked along the side of the local roadway which despite the colours of the trees and beauty of the waterway was empty.  Here in New Brunswick, as has happened across the nation, the expansion of the nearby Trans Canada highway had led to the virtual abandonment of concession and back-country routes in favour of the speed of the main artery through the province.  Yet given the noise of the local highway, and the speed which cars were travelling on it, neither of us was sure that the time saved was a worthwhile trade off for an appreciation of the landscapes and wildlife which one could view along the back-country road at a slower pace.  

This is a tale as old as the nation.  Again and again as we travel, we encounter historical plaques and stories of towns long lost to modernization.  Fishing communities in Newfoundland were relocated for provincial cost savings and efficiency.  Historical towns throughout the Maritime Provinces were abandoned with the development of the Trans National railway, while others similarly empty with the construction of the trans Canada highway a century later. 

From Woodstock to Hartland and onward to Grand Falls the Great Trail would depart the road and instead follow the route of one of the abandoned rail lines alongside the river.   Over the coming week we would travel to and through the communities of Florenceville, Bristol, Bath, Killburn, Perth-Andover, and into Grand Falls.   


Throughout this region, we were amazed by the local beauty, the kindness of the local residents, and the nearness of the state of Maine which we spent days mesmerized by.  During this time our conversations would often turn to comparisons of Canadian and American communities.  Perhaps more amazing than the geographic closeness of our two nations, is the fact that we enjoy (rarely considering) that for so long we have peacefully maintained this border for more than two centuries.  Certainly this is a testament to the security and stability we all enjoy as Canadians. 

As our time in New Brunswick came to an end, we ventured from Grand Falls to St. Leonard to Edmunston following along highway 144.  As the fall colours, now faded and diminished by the lateness of the season we crossed the city of Edmunston picking up the final section of The Great Trail in the province – Le Petit Témis, which we would follow to the Quebec border and then onward to the St. Lawrence River.  

With the seasons again changing and winter threatening we completed our fourth province and with it also finished our trek across Canada’s Maritime region! 

As we struck northward it was now a race to see how far we could get before the harsh winter temperatures of the Gaspe and Charlevoix regions of the province of Quebec settled in!


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