Americans are funny. By and large, we don’t pay much attention to the world outside our borders, except when there is some kind of concern that something just over the border is an issue. Hence everybody is aware of Mexico and all the various points of view on immigration. So of course if we had a neighbor that was low-key and didn’t present much in the way of policy challenges, we’d hardly know they were there. Such is the fate of Canada, a mystery to most Americans. Of course, we know they’re up there, and they have nice clean cities, but it’s mostly trees and snow, right? And once you get to Montreal, there isn’t much else to the east, is there?
East Coasters are probably less clueless than those of us out west, but I wonder how much even easterners know about New Brunswick. Like our Original 13 Colonies, New Brunswick is one of the four colonies that came together to form the Dominion of Canada 150 years ago this year. Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia (another hazy concept in the US) were the other entities. And also like the US, Canada spread west over time, adding more large provinces. Somehow, the bright lights took off in that direction, and little New Brunswick kept its quiet distance. The metropolitan area of Saint John, probably the province’s best-known city, includes close to 130,000 people, and that of Moncton, close to 140,000. The whole of New Brunswick has around 756,000 inhabitants, and that’s in an area a little smaller than South Carolina. So there’s plenty of elbow room in New Brunswick, and they’ve been recently adding to their numbers by welcoming refugees from Syria and other war-ravaged areas. Canadians are so nice.
New Brunswick is one of the Maritime Provinces, along with Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and may be best known for its location on the Bay of Fundy, which has the greatest tidal variation in the world. Commonly, 56 feet of vertical movement can separate low from high tide, which is especially dramatic in the shallow inlets at the top of the bay. This great movement of water produces a feature called the Old Sow, the largest tidal whirlpool in the western hemisphere, and at its lower reaches the St. John River runs backward as the high tide forces its way in. Being on the coast, New Brunswick boasts of a variety of fresh seafood, and is the gathering point for as many as 12 kinds of whales, including Minke, Humpback, and Finback, as well as rare species such as the North Atlantic Right Whale and Sei Whale. The enormous tidal flow promotes the concentration of krill, squid, and small fish that these whales come in search of.
Natural resources are the bedrock of New Brunswick’s economy, although in more recent years service and manufacturing have played a bigger role. With trees covering 85% of New Brunswick’s land, forestry is still a big industry. The province draws praise for its efforts to manage its forests sustainably and preserve examples of the forest biome in parks and reserves. Farming is also widespread, with potatoes, dairy, eggs and poultry making up the majority of product. Fishing contributes to the economy, both commercially and as a world-renowned region for salmon sport fishing. Mining in New Brunswick provides a long list of important metals, as well as peat. New Brunswick is the world’s second largest exporter of peat moss, used in gardens everywhere. But the province goes well beyond traditional earth-based economies, and is one of the most wired-in regions in the world. Internet connectivity fuels a large and growing technology-based economic sector there. Add in the wide variety of recreational and tourist-friendly activities available, and New Brunswick has a broad spectrum of income sources. Unfortunately, the 2008 economic downturn of the U.S. was hard on the province and it has struggled to rebuild in the years since. There is optimism for improvement in the coming years, however, as Americans garner more cash to buy Canadian goods.
Stuffy economics aside, New Brunswick has a number of unique features and fun facts associated with its history and current culture. Things you probably didn’t know about New Brunswick: The logging town of Nackawick features the world’s largest axe, which stands 50 feet tall. Paul Bunyan would love it. The world’s longest covered bridge was built in Hartland, NB at the end of the 19th century. Shediac, on the coast outside of Moncton, hosts the world’s largest lobster. He’s 35 feet long, and stands 15 feet high. At 90 tons, he’d make a lot of bisque. Arthur Ganong, a fishing enthusiast, grew tired of having the chocolates he carried along to the river melt in his pockets and make an annoying mess. So in 1910, he developed a chocolate product shaped in a flat slab and neatly wrapped in tin foil, and thereby introduced the world’s first chocolate bars. If that groundbreaking development doesn’t inspire newfound respect for the province, then consider this: local legend has it that the inventor of the ice cream cone hailed from Sussex Corner, known as the Dairy Capital of New Brunswick. Walter Donelly was a baker there who accidentally produced some crispy pastry that wasn’t what he was hoping for. He took it to the ice cream shop next door and the marriage of the two products has been the delight of the world ever since. So New Brunswick has left its mark on the world in some interesting ways, and continues to be a location well worth visiting and getting to know better.