It’s probably a good idea to say that this post is mostly for people who don’t travel to Canada very much, if at all. My guess is that’s a small percentage of Mainers, since Quebec and the Maritimes are so close. Still, St. Andrews isn’t on everyone’s itinerary – as well it should be: a small slice of perfect Canada just a few miles over the border.
St. Andrews: the heart and soul of Canadian “nice”
Part 1: Get some Muffets
When my wife and I decided to take a roadie to St. Andrews, New Brunswick (it’s just 2 miles as the crow flies from Calais, Maine), I checked with my mechanical advisor in Friendship, knowing he’d been there before and may have some tips.
“You could do me a favor,” he said.
“Sure. What do you need?”
“It’s a cereal you can’t get here in the states. Muffets.”
“Yeah, it’s like shredded wheat, only they’re round. One of my favorites.”
“Muffets,” I said. “Like Little Miss Muffit –“
“Yeah, Muffets. It’s made by Quaker Oats. Just write it down.”
“If you can get two boxes, even better.”
“Two boxes of Muffets,” I said, writing it down.
“Any decent sized supermarket should have Muffets.”
“Muffets. If I were a supermarket, I’d definitely carry Muffets. Anything else we can get for your from the supermarket?”
“No. Just Muffets.”
Once we had the Muffets order pretty well nailed down, he also requested some Iceberg vodka from Newfoundland at the Canadian duty free store on the way home. No problem. I guess you can’t get Iceberg here in Maine…
Part 2: A scant 3-4 hour drive from the Midcoast
My wife and I set off from Rockland in the late morning, heading north on 1 to Bucksport, then 46 north to the Airline, and across to St. Stephen on Canada’s Rte. 1, to Rte 127 south down a peninsula on the east side of the St. Croix River to St. Andrews, pulling in to the Picket Fence Motel a little after 4 Atlantic Time. Speedy! Easy!
I don’t think you can do better than the Picket Fence for the money – about $80 Canadian a night (that’s $60 US at today’s exchange rate) – or find better, more congenial hosts than proprietors Vernon and Sue and their apple-eating retriever Betsy. Comfy rooms, great beds, fridge, coffee, gardens, a central apple orchard… nothing not to like.
My wife and I went there to do photography, but St. Andrews is a resort town and offers gobs of distractions and things to do. Whale-watching (at least six different boat lines), sailing, kayaking, fishing, golf, tennis, warm water swimming in Katy’s Cove, biking and hiking…
If you’re of a mind to drop bigger bucks for the ultimate pamper-me resort experience, the Algonquin Resort has it all. It’s enormous, loaded with history, and although built during the gilded age by huge wads of cash from honchos at Canadian Pacific Railway, it’s now owned by the Province of New Brunswick! Nice work, N.B.!
Part 3: Doing nearly nothing. Smiling. Chatting. Nothing.
So we didn’t whale-watch or bike or kayak or exert ourselves or even pamper ourselves in any way. What we wanted to do, after we’d bought the obligatory two boxes of disc-shaped Muffets at the supermarket, was suck down a long draught of Maritime congeniality, relax, eat great food, poke around, mosey, take photos. It worked beautifully. We met many people. In St. Andrews, it’s nearly impossible not to meet many people and have a friendly chat, unless, of course, you’re monstrously reserved and disinclined to be affected by other people’s good nature. We met a young man who loved to talk about his affection for Canada and N.B., and how alarmed he was in some U.S. cities to smile at strangers and say hi only to watch them cowering in fear or running for safety.
We said hi and made eye contact with dozens of people in St. Andrews, and dozens of times it was returned in kind. We’ve met super-nice Canadians in all the Maritimes and in B.C., but the people of St. Andrews win the all-time Canadian Conviviality Award – in my book.
Part 4: Oh yes, the cigar mission
There’s just one place in St. Andrews (we were told) that sells, you know, those special cigars — in a cabinet-sized humidor with blacked-out glass. It’s the Red Herring Pub, right at the foot of the town’s long central wharf on Water St. Well, it happens we have a family member who loves these “special” cigars, and so we had a look. The bartender came over with a key, opened the cabinet, we inhaled deeply, and my wife proceeded to imagine buying some of them. Or maybe she did more than imagine. Ain’t sayin’. From the Island Nation where they’re made, it’s perfectly okay to bring some in to the States for personal use. But it’s still not okay from any “third country,” which Canada is in this case, and so it makes no sense to tell the whole story about what we did or didn’t do. And it makes no sense, either, that you can bring them in from that Island Nation but from no where else. But it does make sense that when we were safely in Calais, on the way home, our shoulders dropped several inches down from our ears.
Beyond terrific cigars, the Red Herring has great bar food, a nice outdoor patio, and a fine 1.5 oz. martini, which is better called a martini-ette.
Part 5: Great eats!
St. Andrews is jammed with restaurants of all kinds, and TripAdvisor ranks 39 of them here, saving me the trouble. Yes, Rossmount at the Rossmount Inn comes out on top – on nearly everyone’s list – but it’s tough getting a reservation on short notice. So we cruised Water St. to suss out what was left – plenty!
We ate at Gables, the Harbour Front, The Red Herring, and had a first rate breakfast at Station on King.
Solid service and smiles everywhere, waterfront patio dining, and the food is Maine-tasty. What we didn’t eat was the Red Herring’s poutine, which we first discovered in Bona Vista, Newfoundland: french fries with cheese curds and topped with a rich gravy. If ever there was a fat pill, poutine is it.
Part 6: Canadian politics… it’s confusing
A few people we chatted with ventured their opinions, ever so cautiously, on politics and the upcoming national election. Canada has three main parties: Conservatives (led by current Prime Minister Stephen Harper), Liberals (led by Justin Trudeau – Pierre’s son), and the New Democratic Party (NDP, led by Tom Mulcair). Canada also has a parliamentary system, which can be confusing to many Americans because votes in Parliament generally reflect the will of the people. Imagine that!
Right now, polls show that the three parties are quite close, with about 30% popular support each, but with a recent ticking up for Conservatives. Still, about 60% of Canadians tilt strongly left of center (more, when you count the Green Party, polling about 4%) — including the St. Andrews locals we talked to. They don’t like Stephen Harper. At all. Not a whit. Granted, our sample was small – three people – but you have to start somewhere.
Part 7: Pix
Thanks, St. Andrews, for being so close. We’ll be back…
There you have it.