My father was of New Brunswick stock. His ancestors were United Empire Loyalists who fled colonial America and settled in eastern Canada. His family became part of that North American historical network of mercantile traffic up and down the coast of the Atlantic Ocean which embraced even Dalhousie Law School where I later studied in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The insignificance of international boundaries is especially apparent if one drives as we did from Ottawa, Ontario to St. Andrews by the Sea, New Brunswick. Ottawa, Montreal, Sherbrooke, Bangor (Maine) and St. Andrews by the Sea are on roughly the same latitudinal parallel. And to capture the true backwoods flavour of the nexus, St. Andrews by the Sea is almost contiguous to Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge which is in Maine directly across a straight from St. Andrews by the Sea. If, as so many people appear to do, one wishes to travel as the crow flies, the direct route between Ottawa and St. Andrews by the Sea is across the vast northern tree-covered tip of Maine instead of the longer route to Quebec City along the St. Lawrence River.
Many years ago I heard of St. Andrews by the Sea and its historic Algonquin Hotel which apparently has attracted political luminaries from around the world. Its remoteness makes it a perfect convention resort. During our stay we mingled with financial planners from across Canada.
While I won’t say that I am widely traveled, whenever I have the opportunity I prefer to stay in well-known hotels which over the years have included the Waldorf-Atoria, the Plaza, the Pierre, the Carlyle (New York City), the Royal York (Toronto), the Château Laurier (Ottawa), the Jekyll Island Club (Jekyll Island) and the Pier House (Key West). The attraction of the Algonquin Hotel was supplemented by my desire to fulfill some sort of spiritual need I felt to connect with my late father to whom I was never close. During our time together my father and I had never discussed or enacted much in the way of New Brunswick mutuality. While he often returned to New Brunswick from his retirement home in Upper Canada to visit family and to supervise 200 acres of land he inherited from his father, I never had either the opportunity, time or inclination to participate in such adventures. After I retired however the thought of checking out St. Andrews by the Sea gathered momentum and the hope of reconnecting with my distant maritime roots.
Unquestionably part of my interest in St. Andrews by the Sea was that it was “by the sea”. This turns out to be a misnomer in my vernacular. When I think of the sea I think of the ocean, preferably the Atlantic Ocean.
Saint Andrews is located at the southern tip of a triangular-shaped peninsula (15 km on the west side, 12 km on the east side) extending into Passamaquoddy Bay at the western edge of Charlotte County.
Saint Andrews was founded in 1783 by United Empire Loyalists and named in honour of St Andrews, Scotland.
In spite of its quaintness, St. Andrews by the Sea is in fact isolated from the Atlantic Ocean. Nova Scotia is effectively a barrier island which shelters St. Andrews by the Sea from the gusto of the Atlantic Ocean. St. Andrews by the Sea is more closely aligned with the Bay of Fundy.
The drive to St. Andrews by the Sea was characterized by two distinct elements; one, the sprawling urban corridor between Ottawa and Sherbrooke; and two, the endless forests of Maine and New Brunswick.
We enjoyed the scenery in the wilderness areas and driving along what were often bucolic, winding roads. Two of our rest stops in Maine included an “outhouse” (one of which even provided pleasing hand sanitizer). The four-lane highways in the urban areas were smooth and highly navigable but otherwise uninteresting.
Our stay at the Algonquin Hotel was remarkable for its fine dining, refreshing outdoor pool, gratuitous bicycles and traditional old-world accommodations (which included the usual high ceilings and paper-thin walls). We dined al fresco both nights of our stay.
Following our last dinner I took the chance to play the Yamaha grand piano in the lounge area between the dining rooms and the front veranda of the Hotel. Playing a piano in a public venue can be a risky business if someone has the cheek to enquire whether you pay your union dues. On this occasion I escaped interrogation. To my astonishment a bit of a crowd gathered to listen while sipping their pousse-cafés. The performance acquired the ambience of a doting family environment which somehow befitted the relaxed atmosphere of the Hotel.
As generous as many of the audience were about my playing I maintain that a bit of alcoholic lubrication goes a long way to encouraging such magnanimity. It also helped that I was playing to a geriatric crowd (though one of the young female servers gushed about my rendition of a Vangelis number). As usual my performance was solid schmaltz, an easy way to wind down at the end of the day.
We have exhausted our interest in New Brunswick. I still maintain an inquisitiveness about the south shore of Nova Scotia but that must await another day. That particular romance involves my life-long dream of a saltbox overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The New Brunswick experience at least confirms our commitment to Hilton Head Island which if nothing else lends itself more readily to bicycling. At my age even a 10% incline is unwanted. And nothing competes with cycling on the beach. As I had imagined, my father and I hadn’t much in common.