Recession jitters will prompt many Canadians to stick close to home on their holidays this year. This is the ninth instalment of our summertime series of Insider's Guides to some of the country's top vacation destinations. This week: New Brunswick.
A river of chocolate? A hill where cars roll upward? Moncton, the Acadian city in the southeast corner of New Brunswick, has loads of attractions to engage the visitor, many of which Arnold London and Heidi Wulfraat, owners of the London-Wul store (thewoolworks.com), are pleased to share with out-of-towners who drop by.
Along with running one of the region's hottest fibre-arts stores and galleries, the Moncton couple are ambassadors for the city's growing reputation as a creative force. With its 126,500 residents, it is second only to Halifax as the Maritimes' fastest-growing community. Shipbuilding and farming launched the region in the early 1700s, but it's the culture and natural beauty that draw visitors to town today.
The Hub City has long been a transportation centre for the Maritimes, whether by land, air or water. First shipbuilding and later the railroad led to a century each of economic growth before their collapse. The loss of the CN Rail yards and other major employers 20 years ago forced the city to do some serious reinvention. After the initial shock, community leaders realized they had to expand the city's scope, so they built it into the vibrant cultural centre it is today.
Art is pervasive. Wulfraat and London delight in showing guests the work of local creative minds that adorns the walls of public places - either with colleagues from the Economuseum network (artisansatwork.ca) or on more casual tours through the downtown galleries and halls. This might also include a stroll through the flower-laden parks that line the Petitcodiac River, a.k.a. Chocolate River (named for its muddy banks), which runs through Moncton.
To fuel up for these excursions, the couple recommend a stop at the Taj Mahal Flavour of India on Main Street. On Saturday mornings, they will indulge in Tony Holden's famous pastries from his Moncton City Market booth (marchemonctonmarket.ca) - Bill Gates and Lady Diana are among the celebrities this pastry artist has fed in the past.
"There is so much talent out there," Wulfraat says, "and there are many more places exhibiting it. You can find art in places you wouldn't have thought of."
Back in 1775, the Acadians living here were deported from the region by the British because they refused to take up arms against France during the Seven Years War. Later, they returned and, of course, now they're flourishing. Today, the Acadian sense of flair carries over to the food, outfits and joie de vivre of the city's festivals. And the Acadian flag, with its red, white and blue stripes and a gold star in the corner, adorns everything from buildings and costumes to the minutiae of daily life. There's a European flavour to a stroll among the many downtown shops, as you hear snatches of French conversation. The bilingual population reflects the New Brunswick personality, with one-third of citizens speaking French.
Starting this week, thousands of Acadians from around the globe will be here for the Acadian World Congress. The Aug. 7 to 23 celebration is a family reunion spanning New Brunswick's eastern shore. Descendants of the families who were originally expelled mix with their international cousins as they remember and reconnect during one of the province's largest parties of the summer.
The red carpet was also out in April for the annual Northrop Frye literary festival (frye.ca). It's a point of pride for Monctonians that the influential Canadian literary theorist was raised here.
On the western edge of the city, Magnetic Hill (magnetichill.com) is an irresistible draw for visitors. Thanks to an optical illusion, car passengers can't quite believe their eyes as their car, left in neutral, appears to coast uphill. The Hill is also a magnet for musical royalty. The 2005 Rolling Stones concert here is still much discussed, as are performances by Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and The Eagles. Bon Jovi performed here in June, and AC/DC, just yesterday, drew enormous crowds. Nearby, Magnetic Hill Zoo (moncton.org/zoo) and Magic Mountain water park (magicmountain.ca) make this a popular destination for families.
For a quieter getaway, Wulfraat and London like to take their guests on a 20 minute drive to the Bay of Fundy, Canada's only representative in the recent contest to choose seven wonders of the natural world. Nestled between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, its unique shape and tidal action make it a natural treasure. "It's beautiful," Wulfraat says, "and you sometimes forget just how great it is. The mud flats, the wildlife, it's really something. It's fun showing people the Bay for the first time and seeing their expressions."
A hike with their dogs on little-known Fundy trails is one of the couple's top ways to spend a day off. Watching friends discover the shores and tides makes this couple appreciate the area even more. Kayakers, sailors and divers are also regular sights in and around the water. As well as being an important breeding site for whales, the Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides in the world and has recently been made a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (fundy-biosphere.ca).
Returning home for dinner, Wulfraat and London will often pick up some fresh lobster from a local fisherman for a buttery feast. Savouring local fare while supporting neighbouring businesses is important for this couple. It's one small way they support a community that has been so good to them.
For more information on Moncton, visit gomoncton.ca
.....back to the London-Wul Homepage: www.thewoolworks.com
...back to Heidi's Blog