Saturday 25 August 2012--I have a late breakfast on the hotel's front porch. It's a beautiful morning...I like the brisk sea air more than
some folks do, I guess, but I'm absolutely amazed at a woman sitting at a nearby table who complains to her husband that she's freezing. I couldn't
ask for a nicer day.
St Andrews was founded by Loyalists in the wake of the American Revolution. Some of them floated their houses here on barges from Castine, Maine, after finding out that they hadn't fled quite far enough. Settled by English and named for a Scottish city, the town became a point of Irish immigration in the 19th century. (I'm tempted at this point to insert a bad pun regarding the currently popular activity of watching whales, but I shall refrain.) It has become a popular seaside resort, thanks in good part to the Algonquin, the large hotel up the hill overlooking the town. Built in 1889, it was acquired by the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1903, becoming another link in their chain of destination resorts. William Cornelius Van Horne, the American president of the CPR, had stayed in the Algonquin in its early days, and built his lavish summer residence nearby, on Minister's Island. There was a period of flux in the 1970's, when ownership of the hotel passed to a local group and then to the province of New Brunswick, but management by Canadian Pacific (later Fairmont) was constant until 2010, when there appears to have been a dispute over money for renovation. This year the province sold the hotel to a holding company, and management passed to Marriott, after 109 years of CP/Fairmont tenure. It will be closed through the coming winter as major renovations are undertaken. Marriott is promising to retain the property's 19th-century charm while bringing the amenities up to 21st-century standards. It's long overdue--I remember staying in an attic room without air-conditioning, in the days when I came here on bus tours. Even in this cool maritime climate, it could get really hot up there.
None of this is on my mind as I wander up and down Water Street this morning. After perusing a tourist map in the center of town, I decide to take a walk around the tip of the peninsula and up the east side, with an eye toward visiting Van Horne's estate on Minister's Island, accessible via a causeway at low tide. I pass by the Pendleton Lighthouse, and check out the Science-By-The-Sea kiosk by the campground. Close by that is a Celtic cross, commemorating Irish immigration and memorializing those who died in quarantine on Hospital Island. It's quite plain, easily the least charming of a number of similar memorials I've seen around eastern Canada. The landscaping here could use a rethink, as well.
I set off on a trail past a salt marsh--would love to see it with the tide coming in--then clamber over a shingle beach, and along a rough trail. There are some interesting properties along the way, idiosyncratic homes that sit outside mainstream St Andrews, literally and figuratively. It soon becomes clear that I have foolishly allowed myself to be deluded by the distorted scale of the tourist map in town. By the time I reach the road that leads to the causeway to Minister's Island, I'm exhausted, and it's getting on in the afternoon, as well. I turn back toward town on a better-maintained trail further inland, which fortuitously passes by the snack bar at Katy's Cove. I've neglected to bring water along, and now buy two bottles, one of which is immediately absorbed.
Back in town, I consider a visit to Kingsbrae Garden, but the $14 admission is too much for the time and energy I have to give to it. Should have come here rather than wandering through the woods. Head over to the Algonquin to have a pint, but find the bars already closed for renovation. I soak up atmosphere on the porch. Begin a survey of the town's classic British colonial grid, but my camera batteries die in the Loyalist cemetery. The spares I'm carrying are dead, too. I can take a hint...I go back to the hotel and take a short nap.
Batteries (camera and personal) recharged, I visit the War of 1812-era battery at the west end of town. There is just time to have a quick look at the blockhouse before it's locked up for the day. It's the last surviving structure of its kind in the province, part of the fortifications built by the townspeople to guard against raids from the south. They weren't really worried about their neighbors across the river--the war passed pretty amicably here, as the two communities ignored the wider conflict and went about their business, much of which was with each other.
Dinner is at the Harbour Front, on the deck overlooking the water. Mussels, salmon, sauvignon blanc, the sun slowly sinking over the bay... good stuff. When I'm done, there is yet enough light to photograph several of the town's churches, and I get a few twilight shots before having a pint or two at the Red Herring.