Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fancy Morning Victuals, Whales and The Last Spike

Tuesday August 19, and Wednesday August 20th, 2014

We leave Shediac on the way to St. Andrews-by-the Sea, New Brunswick.  The sun has reappeared, and it turns out it has been sunny in St. Andrews the last few days, even while the deluge was parked over Shediac. We roll up to The Inn on Frederick in late afternoon...dispense with bags in a most lovely Victorian mansion, where the bathroom is larger than most hotel rooms.

Before arriving at the Inn, we stop at the Huntsman Marine Centre, where we learn a lot about the local marine (Bay of Fundy) ecosystem and its life.  This aquarium is reminiscent of the North Carolina Aquarium at Cape Fear.

 Sign outside and the welcoming door.  Just a block from the St. Andrews wharf. Upon arrival and settling in with the help of our doting hosts, I went down to the wharf to check out the whale watching tours. I signed up with Island Quest Tours, and I was quite pleased with the result. The staff consisted of two graduate student marine biologists and the captain uses his vacation time from his Coast Guard job to give these tours.
 The next two mornings, we were treated to artistically presented breakfasts, as pictured below,  a Korea-Canada culinary fusion. Taste treats and visual pleasure.
After the morning ablutions, we hopped, skipped and jumped to the Island Quest boat and emerged onto the Bay of Fundy under ideal conditions.  The cold water maintained shirtsleeve temperatures with light winds, smooth water and endless sun.

 Passing a lighthouse,
 And many islands, including Campobello, in the distance.  The enormous tides (40 feet at this part of the Bay) cause rapids between the islands which stirs things up, creating biological plenty which attracts many species to feed here...
including Humpback, Right, Minke and Finback whales.

A 60 foot Finback Whale makes an appearance.

 Above, a herring weir along the shore. There used to be a lot more of these. Now it is more common to see Salmon farms.

The warmth of the afternoon has caused the Harbour seals to bask, giving us a curious look or two before we proceed back to St. Andrews.

That afternoon, the waning tide permits us to pursue The Last Spike. How so, and why the caps?

The Last Spike refers to the Pierre Berton book. On the cover is a famous photo of Donald Smith driving in the last spike for the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Craigellachie, British Columbia at 9:22 am on November 7, 1885. Beside Smith is the brains behind the nation-building project conceived by our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald.  Of course, OF COURSE, this is William Cornelius Van Horne . W.C. moved to Montreal to oversee the new business, and proceeded to create a mammoth corporation at public expense.  Aside form the railway and monumental landholdings rivaling those of the Hudson's Bay Company, Van Horne also built a string of hotels, some as European destination points, such as the Banff Springs and, here in St. Andrews, The Algonquin.

Now, Van Horne's relationship to this area grew over the years. In the mid-1890's he bought a property near St. Andrews. The detailed story is fascinating, and it can be read at: my Alma Mater, McGill University in Montreal is closely related to Van Horne's story.

At low tide, one can drive along the sea floor to Ministers Island.  We did that, and had an awesome few hours touring.  Oddly enough, the site and the buildings are run by a very poorly financed local trust.  The site was purchased on behalf of the Province of New Brunswick.  Strangely, this is not a National Historic Park, and the Federal Government is noticeably absent from the maintenance, upkeep and interpretation of both Van Horne and this remaining large summer house.

The Guides are mainly local college students.  Although they are enthusiastic and well-versed, I was surprised by the answer when I queried our guide about Van Horne's winter home, a mansion on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal, which was purchased earlier in the 20th century by the neighbouring McGill University,

She became interested when I told her I had an office in the building during a summer during my schooling at McGill University.  it turned out I was one of the few last occupants of the building, as just after I graduated in 1972, McGill (with the federal, provincial and municipal governments looking away) demolished this historical building in favour of a concrete  monstrosity, the McGill Business School.

The Guide had been given a much sanitized version of the story.  I was happy to set her straight, but I doubt the real story will replace the sanitized version.

Thankfully, the Sir William Van Horne House on Ministers island is still intact, more or less, as are some of the farm buildings.  There is fundraising going on for maintenance, but it was easy to see that it is a losing battle.  The managers require millions, and they are receiving thousands. I encourage you to go take a look if you are in the area:

 E,C. Maxwell, the architect, was from Montreal. This is a front entrance view.  It reminds me of a train station.
 Sir William and friends could retire to the billiards room for a cigar and cognac following dinner,

 A view out onto the Bay of Fundy from the veranda.
 The chimney and large windows on a foundation of local stone.
The Carriage House, home to a few stable boys, horses and carriages. I wonder if I could stay here on our next visit.

 At the left, the base of the 3 story bath house. The tidal bath is between the building and the Bay. The tides would fill the pool naturally each day, affording guests the opportunity for a salt water warm pool experience.  An almost natural swimming pool (it had been dug out and "squared").
 Your Blogger enjoying 4 O'clock tea on the veranda.  Sir William might have sat here doing the same thing!
 Another view of the impressive building.

The barn is reputed to be the second largest wooden structure in Canada. Sir William (and later, his daughter) raised prize winning cattle and horses as well as other farm animals in this brilliantly designed barn which maximized creature comfort and minimized labour. Note the price. United States average wage at the time was $0.17 an hour.

The above barn swallow was busy feeding young, another brood in the third week of August!

Main door of barn, above. Another outbuilding, below (creamery?)

Below, perspective on the length of the barn.

Was that the end of our day? Not by a long shot.....

Above, the lovely and stately Algonquin Hotel, originally a CP Hotel, bought by Fairmont and since taken over by the Marriott chain.  The long corridors inspired Steven King to write "The Shining".

In summer, you can rock on the long veranda and enjoy some wine before dinner. Now that is a great way to end an enjoyable day.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Beach Bums and Birds And Pointe-de-Chene

August 18, 2014  Shediac  Monsoon conditions, and it isn't warm either!

It isn't too far from Judy and Paul's to Cap Brule and  Pointe-de Chene. We don rain gear and head out, camera in hand, with lens wipes to remove raindrops.  When I was last here with Gershon, Paul assisted us in renting a cottage on the beach for a few days.  After our lobster expedition, it took a whole day to recover. We did see both Lesser and Greater Yellow-legs and Spruce Grouse right outside our door that time.

So I had great expectations for the return journey.

There were shorebirds on the mud flats. I could hear Yellow-legs too, but they were distant.  I was quite happy to see this Black-bellied Plover (above), still retaining some of its summer plumage, and the Semipalmated Plover, below.  On a previous visit to New Brunswick, we saw thousands of these birds on the mud flats of the Bay of Fundy.

Then, on the wharf at Point-de-Chene, a few Ruddy Turnstones were huddled up against the cold.  This one, like the Plovers above, still had much of its summer plumage. Hopefully I will get to see these birds again in their Fall plumage when I head to Chincoteague, Va.

On the way to New Brunswick, we did have one important stop, on August 15th, and 16th.

We were fortunate to get a room at Beaupre, Quebec, just east of Quebec City on the north shore of the St. Lawrence.  There are several attractions nearby.

The skiers love Mont Ste. Anne, one of the most desirable ski resorts in the east. The place we stayed is one of the skier condo communities.  It is an excellent choice for accommodation near Quebec City in summer.  Of course, there are also the Chutes Montmorency, the famous Cathedral at Ste. Anne de Beaupre, and, for me, the crown jewel, just moments away, the Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area.   The latter has been on my list of "must-see's" since 1968, and this was my first time there.

Cap Tourmente is spectacular.  The cape juts out into the St. Lawrence. It is a Canadian Shield escarpment many hundreds of feet high, rising out of the marshes as a granite cliff face, facing the river.  The cape, therefore, forms a natural barrier, with very large marshes between it and the river.  The microclimate is relatively mild, making this a great spot for stop-overs of migratory birds, and a nesting spot for birds one would not expect just a kilometer form the Canadian Shield.
 Two views of the Cape curving downward into the St. Lawrence,  with the wet meadows, filled with Joe Pye Weed, awaiting the 500,000 Snow Geese that use this location as a long migratory stop.

Below, a look northward to the granite cliffs.  Just as I took this photo, I noticed a mature Golden Eagle flying along the cliff face, too far for a photograph.

 Above, Red-Osier Dogwood .  And below, Joe Pye Weed, both common in the wet meadows.

Joe-Pye Weed (above) framed by the treed granitic cliff

High Bush Cranberry, Viburnum opulus,  is one of the frequently seen species in eastern Canada.  The berries are very sour, which may account for birds leaving them until all other types of berries are consumed.

The fruit of Red-Osier Dogwood, Cornus sericea, one of our most attractive native shrubs.  Plant one today!

I didn't expect to see this bird on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence.  It is a Common Gallinule, a bird I often see in the marshes in Florida.

The bird above gave me some identification challenges.  It is a young Hooded Merganser, hatched not too many weeks before this was taken in August..

The plant above, Angelica atropurpurea (purple-stemmed Angelica) looks much like Cow Parsnip or Giant Hogweed, except for the purple stems.  The Kingbird found this very tall plant a convenient fly-catching perch.

Above and below, Chutes Montmorency, just east of Quebec City on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River

Next: St. Andrews, New Brunswick

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

L'Acadie- a Touch of the Sea- La Mer me fait Signe

By the sea (the Northumberland Strait, New Brunswick) in Mid-August. 

Sunday August 17: Torrential rains greeted us.  Not daunted, we visited with friends Paul and Judy, visiting the local Shediac Museum where daughter Chloe guided.  Paul and Judy are from Northern Ontario, and Montreal respectively.  Chloe was raised in Shediac, and is immersed in the culture of L'Acadie, including the local dialect referred to as Chiac (recognizable as French, with a LOT of nuance).

We asked about the origin of the word "Acadia". Some say it originates from the European concept of Arcadia.  That doesn't make sense to me.  I prefer the other explanation, that it originates from a Mi' kmaq word "Quoddy" (fertile area), a name often found in place names in Maine and New Brunswick, or "Algatig", meaing "camp". I will pass this on to Marv, my friend of Mi' kmaq origin, and ask for his learned response.

Most of the Canadians that read this may recall the 42 seconds of history you learned in grade school related to the Acadian expulsions following the defeat of the French in North America in 1763,  This clumsy and cruel policy resulted in Acadians being moved to the other parts of the newly occupied former French possessions known as Louisiane.  So some Acadians stayed along the Mississippi, and became known as Cajuns.  Many eventually moved back to the Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI shores, where they continue to fish and farm to this day.

One can see the Acadian flag flying along the Northumberland shore of New Brunswick.  And if you are fortunate, as Paul and I were, to arrive at a local dock at 3 PM during lobster season, you may be able to buy a few from the lobster fishers before the wholesalers make off with the harvest.

 At the dock at Cormierville, the Acadien Flag flies, while a Great Black-backed Gull (below) watches and waits for any tasty morsels tossed from the lobster boats.

Paul's friend Danny, had arranged for a few lobsters for us to take home for our supper.  Here he (in blue)  is helping to load lobsters and prepare the boats for the next day.  The lobster fishers explained the proper method of cooking lobsters.  Fill you large pot 3/4 full and add 3/4 cup salt. Bring to a boil.  Fill the pot with lobster (size doesn't matter).  Bring back to boil, for 12 minutes.  Remove immediately from the stove, and immerse in cold water. Ta daaaaa!

This is what our 15 lobsters looked like after the above process.  Hmmm, fresh from the sea is best!

Crated lobsters (above)  just off the boat (below).  The crates, which you can see on the dock, are loaded into refrigerated trucks for shipment to the local processing plant, or they go directly off to North American cities.  Note:  the best ones stay in the Maritimes!

On a previous trip to Shediac, my friend Gershon and I were treated to a full day of lobster fishing with Paul's friend Gilles. We were at the dock at 4 AM and back by 4 PM.  We learned more about the local sea (Northumberland Strait) and the economics of fishing than we could have learned in a year at school. Proving again that direct experience is the best education one can receive.

The next day, Monday August 18,  we toured the Parlee Beach and Pointe des Chenes shoreline with Judy, in the rain.