It happened. What can I say? My family will tell you that I parked my common sense on the sidewalk on King Street in Fredericton, slipped into a place called The White Lotus, and emerged with a 20 cmx5cm tattoo between my left wrist and elbow. It’s true. I blame this on the effect this small city (the capital of New Brunswick) has on me. I’ve visited in winter, spring, summer and fall. I keep falling in love with the place and losing my head. Each time I go, I find new things to do in Fredericton.
My most recent trip there was during a blizzard. Lucky for me, small mom and pop places were open like John Youseff’s Convenience Store. I went for a stroll in the storm to find something to munch on. To my surprise, I discovered that this wee shop also had two small tables, and the owner served Turkish coffee and baklava. What a treat!
Further down on King Street I roamed into one of my favourite haunts, Owl’s Book store, where I found a collector’s item about canoes I’d been searching for. Even in a blizzard, this small city has its charms.
Before the blizzard struck, however, I donned a pair of skates and took part in one of the hundreds of activities that the city offers during FROSTival, a winter festival that celebrates everything the season has to offer. For example, work crews make ice on a huge square smack in the middle of the historic downtown, where people can skate for free morning, noon and night.
Aside from scores of outdoor activities, which include moonlight snowshoeing treks and skiing, there are indoor activities ranging from art lovers’ tours at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery to classes on meditation, culinary workshops and special performances at The Playhouse.
Something that especially caught my fancy this time was the Heritage Trust Scavenger Hunt. The point was to identify photos on a page showing some of the city’s architecture, then to check off your “finds” by giving the locations. At first, I thought this would be a piece of cake but I soon realized that it’s no mean feat, considering there are at least 160 buildings of historic and architectural significance in the city.
Spring is another special time to visit the region. New Brunswick has the largest harvest of fiddleheads in Atlantic Canada. It’s a specialty food that grows in the wild, along river beds, usually during May. The St. John River, one of Canada’s most storied rivers, has many areas where they grow in abundance.
I was privileged to have a chance to forage for fiddleheads with Melvin Nash. His mother was Mi’kmaq, his father Maliseet, and it was their custom to take the family out to pick fiddleheads every spring.
Although I’m a fan of eating fiddleheads, I’d never picked any, so I was excited about the excursion and learning from a pro. A few years ago, Melvin published a book titled The First Ever Fiddlehead Harvesters Guide, followed by Cooking North America’s Finest Gourmet Fiddleheads.
Once we were situated on the river bank, the veteran picker said, “I can almost hear them pushing through the ground. The little rascals can grow two to six inches in 24 hours.”
As you can imagine, I learned a lot. We then proceeded to a friend’s home where we cooked them in boiling water for six minutes—“Not a minute more!” said Melvin. Then we drained them, added a glob of butter, salt and pepper and proceeded to have a feast. Licking our chops, we went back for seconds.
That evening, we dined at the Blue Door restaurant. As soon as found out that the feature was prosciutto-wrapped halibut laced with smoked tomato sauce, gnocchi and fiddleheads, I didn’t even read the menu. That wasn’t the end of it. When I returned to my lodgings at the Quartermain House B&B, owner Debra Quartermain asked me if I would like a Fiddlehead Quiche for breakfast. All I could do was nod and grin.
Another outdoor activity I enjoy a lot is kayaking or paddling in the region. The St. John River has lots of water and gorgeous topography spring, summer and fall. It’s also a safe place for both kayaks and canoes, including beginners.
Summertime offers a smorgasbord of activities. I always find time for an edVenture.
Picture this: I’m in a dark place. As my eyes adjust, I hear the swish of water. Beads of sweat break out over my brow and upper lip. You’re probably thinking I’m in a cave (or having a bad dream.) Not so.
I’m in a dark room, which is part of the photography lab at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design in Fredericton – learning about pin-hole photography. The instructor, Drew Gilbert, has explained how it all works but I’m still puzzled. I’m having trouble understanding how a tin container with a teeny hole and a piece of white paper inside can produce a photo.
Then slowly, a black and white image appears. Trees, streets and buildings stretch in a fascinating composition before my eyes. It’s more like magic than photography to me.
This is all part of the edVentures program, which is Atlantic Canada’s largest vacation learning program in craft and culture. With over 70 programs to choose from, there’s something for everyone. The program varies year to year and can span everything from making kites to learning how to make jewellery, play the fiddle, do Tai Chi and paint. It’s an impressive roster and includes programs for children and youth.
A must-go place if you’re in the city on a Saturday is the W.W. Boyce Farmers’ Market. It’s loaded with food vendors like the fourth generation Mulders who operate John Henry’s Fish, Mulders Meats and the Cheese Market. The family is legendary. It’s also where some of the region’s artisans sell their wares and you’ll find one-of-a-kind items in abundance.
Tip: Look for the guy who sells fresh lobster rolls. He starts making them at 6am.
A couple of years ago, when I was planning a getaway for Thanksgiving, I booked a rental with Lakeway Houseboat Vacations, located in Mactaquac, mere minutes from the city. Think “cottage on the water,” replete with fireplace, barbecue, bathroom, kitchen, waterslide and a hot tub on the top deck.
It didn’t take long to discover gorgeous coves so secluded we didn’t worry about being in our “birthday suits” while in the hot tub while watching the dancing stars and rising moon.
Our favourite stop was Kings Landing Historical Settlement. We parked the houseboat at the Prince William Ice Cream Parlour, paid the entrance fee, and proceeded to explore the site.
We found all kinds of activities taking place on the property, from cider-making to an old-fashioned dance. There was an auction where everything from pastries to pigs were auctioned off. And, of course, we had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at The King’s Head Inn. It was a mammoth and memorable meal.
One of the best reasons to visit Fredericton in the fall is the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival, held every September. This year marks the 25th Anniversary and with over 50 bands, such as JJ Grey & Mofro, The Record Company, Waylon Thibodeaux and Garett Mason, the city will be rockin’ and boppin’ for six days and nights.
Sandra Phinney has frequently been a guest of Fredericton Tourism and Tourism New Brunswick.