St. Andrews by-the-Sea (also known simply as St. Andrews, New Brunswick or St. Andrews NB) was Canada’s first seaside resort and is one of the best remaining examples of colonial heritage left in North America. It was settled in 1783 and named after Saint Andrews, Scotland. It is located on Passamoquoddy Bay and perfect for those interested in adventure, culture, eco-tourism, and relaxation.
The quaint New England Style town is both charming and picturesque, and is an ideal getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is known as a summer resort town since the late 1880’s. St. Andrews by-the-Sea is located less than two hours from three different major airports, making it quite accessible. It is approximately 1 hour from Saint John or 103 km (64 miles), about 1 hour and 40 minutes from Fredericton or 137 km (85.1 miles), and around 30 minutes from the United States border or 34.6 km (21.5 miles).
These are some of the awesome places to visit and things to see in St. Andrews by-the-Sea:
Visit the Van Horne Estate on Ministers Island
Sir William Van Horne was the master builder of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the 19th century and early 20th century estate on Ministers Island was his summer getaway. His family stayed there from June – October. The 50-room residence was built in three sections from 1892-1901 and included 17 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, and 11 fireplaces. The 500 acre (202.3 hectare) island is about a 5-10 minute drive from St. Andrews by-the-Sea and can only be reached during low tide as you must drive, bike, or walk approximately one kilometer (1/2 mile) across the ocean floor to reach it. Therefore, during high tide the island is inaccessible as the bar that connects Ministers Island with the mainland is under at least 4.3 metres (14 feet) of water. You need to make sure you check the tide schedule before visiting so that you will have enough time on the island before having to depart, as well as the tide chart posted at either end of the bar before crossing. The island is safely accessible for about 5 hours during low tide. If the bar is underwater or partially underwater it may take up to 6 hours before you can safely reach the island or safely access the mainland. Tide schedules change daily and weekly. Depending on the season and day, low tide may occur only once a day during the estate viewing hours.
What to See
Ministers Island is recognized as a nationally and provincially designated historic site. Besides the mansion, you can check out the large collection of artworks and take a short walk to the bath house, which was essentially the swimming pool. The water to fill it came from the sea when the tide was high.
Moreover, just behind the mansion is a carriage house, stable, windmill, and gas building.
It is quite impressive and interesting to see how inventive Sir William Van Horne was and how he was able to overcome the challenges of an island cut-off from the mainland for large periods of time, due to the tides. He was able to be self-sufficient by using very advanced technology for the era and created a comfortable lifestyle for him and his family. For example, Van Horne generated gas for lighting and used solar power in his greenhouses to produce a wide range of fruits and vegetables, some of which were not available elsewhere in the region.
The estate also had a grain elevator and barn, which was a short drive from the mansion.
There are a number of trails (formerly carriage trails) on Ministers Island which you can hike, bike, or walk (nearly 20 kilometres or 12.4 miles). It is a great place for birding, especially during the spring and fall migrations (late April through May and then in August to mid-October). Alternatively, you can drive around the island. In winter the trails can be used for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
It is common to see artists and photographers around Ministers Island. The Gardener’s Cottage is available for artists in residence. Theatre and musical performances also take place on the island.
Tours and Operation
Guided tours of the buildings are available from about mid-May to mid-October where you will learn about the history of the island, culture, and Sir William Van Horne’s innovation. Make sure to check the schedule or book in advance. Similarly, guided tours of the trails can be booked in advance. Access to the island may be gained during off season, but not access to the Van Horne estate.
Ministers Island is an enchanting place. Visiting the Van Horne estate transforms you back in time to another era. The island is a wonderful getaway and a fantastic cultural, heritage, and eco-tourism (or ecotourism) experience. My favourite part of visiting Ministers Island was the tour of the Van Horne estate. I didn’t expect everything to be so self-sufficient and advanced for the time and I enjoyed learning about it and stories about the family. It was also pretty cool to see the bar that connects the island with the mainland, which is essentially the sea floor, get smaller and smaller nearing high tide (and eventually disappear)!
Take a Whale Watching Tour with Island Quest Marine
The Bay of Fundy is an ideal place for whale watching. I took a whale watching tour with Island Quest Marine, which is owned and operated by a local fisherman and his family. The custom built boat is 13.4 metres (44 feet) with indoor covered seating, outdoor seating, and an upper deck which passengers can take turns using. Tours run from approximately mid-June to mid-October and are fully guided and narrated. You will learn about the region’s culture, history, and wildlife.
The boat once it left St. Andrews by-the-Sea went through Passamaquoddy Bay through Little Letete Passage, and then around several islands as there is a lot of mixing from the tides there which brings in a lot of fish, and therefore whales, as fish is their food source. Sometimes on the return trip to St. Andrews by-the-Sea they take the Western Passage, which is right between Canada and the United States.
What We Saw
We saw lighthouses including the East Quoddy Head Lighthouse (also called Head Harbour Lighstation), which is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world. This lighthouse is located on Campobello Island (which is a part of Canada), and is where Franklin Roosevelt spent his childhood. The island has a bridge that connects it to Maine.
In addition, we saw a variety of birds including a bald eagle and numerous shorebirds, marine life such as seals and a lion’s mane jellyfish, and several whales.
In this area it is common to see Finback, Minke, Humpback, and Right whales. As well, there is a chance you may see a porpoise, dolphins, and the occasional shark and bluefin tuna.
On board there is a touch and feel tank that you can learn about and touch a few creatures found in the Bay of Fundy such as a starfish, a sea urchin, and an oyster. There are also samples of whale baleen.
Awards and My Experience
Island Quest Marine was awarded a certificate of excellence by TripAdvisor in 2015. This was not a surprise to me. Although I have been whale watching before, this was the best whale watching experience I have had due to the fact that we got to see several different whales, some of which were in fairly close proximity. The tour was also very educational, informative, and interesting, and the boat ride was fun. Additionally, we got to see other animals besides whales. I especially liked the seals.
What’s more, this tour operator offers a whale guarantee, meaning if you don’t see a whale during the tour you can go on another excursion for free!
Stroll Through Kingsbrae Garden
It is 27 acres (11 hectares) of horticultural gardens with over 2,500 different varieties of trees, shrubs, and plants including the prehistoric Wollemi pine, numerous pathways, manicured lawns, a manor house, a genuine one-third scale Dutch Windmill, cedar hedges, two ponds, streams, an orchard, a woodland trail through an old-growth Acadian forest, a labyrinth, a cedar maze, and more.
Types of Gardens or Themed and Display Gardens
There are numerous themed gardens such as a White Garden, a Knot Garden, a Rose Garden, a Hydrangea Garden, a Perennial Garden, a Cottage Garden, a Bird and Butterfly Garden, a Sculpture Garden (which is constantly growing as it displays the winners of the yearly Kingsbrae Garden Canadian Sculpture Competition), a Children’s Fantasy Garden (with child sized play houses), a Heath and Heather Garden, Rhododendrons, a Secret Garden, a Therapy Garden and a Scents and Sensitivity Garden (designed for those with special needs), an Edible Garden, a Gravel Garden, an Ornamental Grasses Garden, and a Container Garden. Several of these gardens are used for demonstration and experimentation with different gardening styles and therefore are continuously changing, so there is often something new to discover even if you’ve been to the gardens several times.
Animals and Insects
You can also find a variety of birds, butterflies, and insects, plus animals such as alpacas, peacocks, pygmy goats, ducks, and miniature donkeys. In the summer, daily at 10:30 am, there are live ladybug releases that the public is allowed to take part in and experience.
Since opening in 1998 the garden has won several horticultural awards, including earning the title of Garden of the Year by Canadian Garden Tourism Awards in 2013. Kingsbrae Garden used environmentally acceptable best practices in its construction and continues to do so in their day to day maintenance and garden projects. It is designated a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Moreover, the Kingsbrae Garden is part of Canada’s Garden Route by Via Rail Canada. It was awarded Fodor’s Choice for Choice Travel Experiences in 2008 and the Project EverGreen Award in 2008.
Guide and Information
The garden is open from about mid-May to mid-October. You can do a self-guided tour (you will be provided with a walking map and a guide to the exhibits) or guided interpretive bilingual tours are available. There is a wide range of activities and special events throughout the year, including art workshops for children. It may take you anywhere from an hour to walk through the garden to several hours or even days to see and experience everything.
Other amenities include delicious meals and desserts at the Garden Café, which turns into the fine-dining restaurant Savour in the Garden in the evenings and houses a small art gallery. I highly recommend visiting it! You can read more about my visit to the Garden Café here.
Additionally, there is a gift shop and if you would like to take some plants home with you then you may want to visit the Plant Centre during the growing season, which has a variety of hard to find perennials, shrubs, and trees in addition to roses, herbs, and annuals. A range of flower and vegetable seeds, soils, compost, mulches, organic products, tools, pots, and garden accessories can also be found. The Plant Centre can be accessed from the main parking lot, admission to Kingsbrae Garden is not required.
All of the gardens were magnificent! It was easy to see why it is a popular place for weddings. My favourite parts of Kingsbrae Garden were the flower trees located outside the entrance and within the garden as they were beautiful and unique, the miniature life-like play houses in the Children’s Fantasy Garden (they almost made me want to be a kid again), and the Sculpture Garden (especially the Beaver Frolic Sculpture by Gary Briggs which received an honourable mention in the 2014 competition). The sculptures are all quite impressive and some of the sculptures in the sculpture garden are for sale. Kingsbrae Garden is a great place to relax and you can spend quite a lot of time there without difficulty. It is beautiful even in the rain, so if you happen to visit and the weather isn’t sunny no need to worry (if you forgot your umbrella they will even lend you one!) 🙂
The Kingsbrae Garden, Island Quest Marine whale watching tours, and the Van Horne Estate on Ministers Island are all Bay of Fundy recommended experiences.
Visit the Algonquin Resort
The Algonquin Resort was commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, making it one of the oldest hotels in Canada and a major landmark in the town. Many famous celebrities have stayed at this luxury hotel, so don’t be surprised if you accidentally run into one. You can read more about my experience at the hotel here.
Take an Off-Kilter Bike Tour
Take a sightseeing interpretive bike tour to explore St. Andrews by-the-Sea on a high-end mountain bike wearing a custom made kilt. There are 2 hour tours for beginners, as well as full day tours, overnights, and multi-days for different skill levels.
Walk Through the Downtown and Take in the Architecture
Many prominent families had grand summer “cottages” which today would be called mansions, several of which were designed by the famous architects, Edward and W.S. Maxwell. A large number of the homes, commercial buildings, and churches that are 100 – 200+ years old have been restored and there are various styles, thus displaying the town’s architectural development. Hence, St. Andrews by-the-Sea has been designated a National Historic Site since 1998.
Visit the Farmers’ Market
The St. Andrews by-the-Sea Farmers’ Market is located downtown outdoors in Market Square on Thursdays from the end of May until September between 8:30 am – 1:00 pm. There are local products for sale including homemade foods and pastries, local in season produce, flowers, plants, handmade jewellery, crafts, handmade soaps/oils, fine arts, hand forged iron work, leather work, pottery, traditional archery, stone products, paper products, weaving, sewn items, hand spun scarfs, handmade baskets, photography, and more. It is a great place to find local treasures.
Other Activites in St. Andrews by-the-Sea
Furthermore, there is excellent dining, the Fundy Discovery Aquarium, several art galleries, museums, shopping, golfing, bird watching, hiking, biking, kayaking, scuba diving, day trips to nearby islands, performing arts performances, many lighthouses and covered bridges, festivals and special events, and more. Likewise, there are winter activities available in St. Andrews by-the-Sea such as cross-country skiing, curling, skating, snowshoeing, the Winter Festival which includes the “Garden of Lights” and “Festival of Trees,” and more.
If you have the opportunity to spend a week or even a few days in this quaint little historic town, I would recommend at a minimum the following activities: visit the Van Horne Estate on Ministers Island, take a whale watching tour with Island Quest Marine, stroll through Kingsbrae Garden, eat at Garden Café or Savour in the Garden, walk through the downtown and take in the architecture, visit the Algonquin Resort, take an off-kilter bike tour, and visit the farmers’ market. Of course, these are just some of the wonderful things to see and do in Saint Andrews by-the-Sea, there are many other activities also offered if you have more time.
Besides the large range of activities available and relaxed pace, what I liked most about Saint Andrews by-the-Sea was the Maritime hospitality. Although throughout New Brunswick people are very warm, kind, welcoming, friendly, and helpful, I found them to be even more so in this little historic town! It is a magical place I would love to go back to!
Map of the Bay of Fundy
What is your favourite summer destination?
This was a complimentary trip courtesy of New Brunswick Tourism. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.