Swallowtail Lighthouse on Grand Manan Island, NB
Photo: Maxime Coquard/Tourism New Brunswick
Exploring legends, lore and family roots in New Brunswick.
Legend says the Saint John River formed when the God-like Glooscap approached a frog monster that was hogging all the water. Glooscap cut down a tree, which fell on and killed the greedy amphibian, allowing the water to run and create the Maliseet First Nation.
Cultural interpreter Cecelia Brooks tells me the origin story as we walk through Fredericton's Odell Park, near the river. Today, Glooscap's water wends its way from Maine to the massive Bay of Fundy, home of the highest tides in the world.
I'm following the river's route to explore New Brunswick's natural delights—and to learn about a few human ones, including Salvador Dali, a railway baron, a saucy stone carver and my very own great-grandfather.
My road trip begins on a sunny afternoon with Brooks, her son and grandson, plus a pinch of tobacco. "To offer back to the forest," Brooks says. "It's a prayer." I carefully set the tobacco under a branch. During our walk in the woods, we spot medicinal plants, which kept locals healthy for millennia, and hear about the days when hundreds of Maliseet birchbark canoes plied local waterways.
One such canoe, the Grandfather Akwiten, took a rather large detour on its way to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in downtown Fredericton. In 1825, a wealthy British officer shipped the cargo canoe to his castle in Ireland. When the Irish famine hit, he lost his fortune trying to keep people fed. After he died, the canoe ended up at the National University of Ireland in Galway—where it sat, all but forgotten, for more than 150 years. In 2003, a professor at the university sent the canoe to Canada for restoration and repatriation.
The vessel, the oldest birchbark canoe in existence, will eventually move across the river to the Maliseet First Nation of St Mary's. For now, the six-metre boat is the first thing you see upon entering the gallery. "It's a sacred item," says guide Gerry Rhymes, "whose longevity resulted from the unintentional neglect of the university and Ireland's dampness."
As we walk through Beaverbrook's impressive collection, Rhymes spills plenty of entertaining details about the renowned artists and their works. "I could go on for days," he says, and I believe he would, if given the chance.
At Salvador Dali's giant masterpiece, Santiago El Grande, Rhymes tells me to lie on the floor to get the proper perspective of Saint James riding a white stallion. I grin as the guide points out an atomic explosion and other deliciously bizarre symbolism.