It’s been named one of the top ten cities in which to live in Canada. But Fredericton, New Brunswick should also be named one of the top ten to visit. And I have ten reasons why.
Number one is an eco-friendly network of 85 km of walking and cycling paths extending along the St. John and Nashwaak River.
The walking and cycling bridge connects the two sides of the river. Stop in the middle for spectacular views.
I’m walking along the South Riverfront Trail and the St. John River is as still as a millpond, the reflected clouds creating an otherworldly atmosphere. I might be only 2km from the centre of town, but the waterside peace is broken only by the occasional cyclist who pedals swiftly past.
Half of me wishes I’d brought my bicycle, but the other half recognizes that my experience here would be very different at 15 km per hour. What a joy to be in a city where peace is so easily accessible.
The trail winds along the river, bringing me to reason two: the Historic Garrison District, a National Historic Site on the waterfront edge of downtown Fredericton. Here, British troops were garrisoned from 1784 until 1869.
On the sward where once British troops exercised, there’s a twice-daily changing of the guard during the summer months. The marching columns of scarlet coats and smart white helmets, led by a kilted piper and drummer, make an impressive pageant. And despite their youth, the guards here stand as statue still as those at Buckingham Palace.
I can’t resist trying an old trick. “Are you supposed to stand still and say nothing at all?” I ask one guard. It works. “Yes, ma’am,” he responds, then blushes as he realizes his mistake. It was mean of me.
While the military buildings in the Garrison District still remain, today their lower levels house local artisans. Inside the cool stone arches, pottery, needlecraft, jewelry and photography make tempting displays that I’m finding it hard to resist. And so, here is reason three.
A few steps away, downtown Fredericton repays an hour’s browsing with some wonderful and even unusual shops; my favourite rejoices in the name, The Geek Chic Boutique. It’s got to be reason four.
Sheldon Cooper and Captain America bobble head dolls share shelf space with memorabilia from Star Wars, Dr. Who, and many more. What’s scary is that I find myself tempted by a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Bazinga!” And if you understand that, be very afraid!
It’s time to reprogram my brain with a different kind of culture, so I head for the Beaverbook Art Gallery. My reason five for visiting Fredericton is just a five minute walk away. Actually, nothing is far away in this little city.
Presented in 1958 by Lord Beaverbrook, aka press baron, Max Aitkens who spent his childhood in Fredericton, this gallery includes famous works by world-renowned artists such as Gainsborough, Turner, Krieghoff, Constable and Reynolds.
In the front hall hangs Salvador Dali’s remarkable Santiago el Grande. The docent tells us to lie on the floor in order to get the best view of this massive painting. “You really need to see it from below to get the full effect,” she explains, adding with a laugh, “I’ve seen elegantly dressed women lying down there.” So I dutifully lie down for my own worm’s eye view, and gasp at the effect. This painting is worthy of a reason of its own – number six.
While an exhibition room features different depictions of Lord Beaverbook himself, the eponymous gallery apparently boasts another, somewhat more sinister version of the late lord. His ghost has been seen wandering its halls. Perhaps he simply couldn’t bear to part with these wonderful treasures for eternity?
And speaking of ghosts, reason seven to visit is one of the most impressive churches in the region, Christ Church Cathedral. Queen Victoria was prevailed upon by Bishop John Medley to designate Fredericton a city, simply in order that he might construct this magnificent, soaring cathedral.
It repays some browsing inside and must be the only church in Christendom with a clock above the altar; do the congregants time the sermon, I wonder? But it’s not the bishop’s ghost but that of his dutiful wife, Margaret, who wanders its precincts. “She used to bring the bishop his dinner when he worked late here,” says the verger, Hank Williams, who encountered Margaret late one night. “There is nowhere in the building where one could cook food, but I could smell tomato soup.”
Have I made you hungry? Downtown Fredericton has more than its share of great places to get a bowl of soup of your own. And if that’s not enough, you have to visit the Boyce Market on a Saturday morning, my reason eight.
Fredericton has one more good reason to entice you to visit. Each September since 1991, the city has played host to the largest music festival in The Maritimes, the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival. It’s reason nine. David Seabrook has been involved since its inception. “No venue is so large you can’t get up close to the bands and there are so many places to catch the music,” he enthuses. “The Festival has introduced dozens of great bands.”
Then he adds, “Besides the music, there’s that great Maritime hospitality.” There it is – number ten and the main reason to visit Fredericton.
If you go:
- Check Fredericton Tourism’s site for info: www.frederictontourism.ca
- For the music: www.harvestjazzandblues.com
- Things to do: Edventures is a unique program that lets you learn crafts and skills from professionals: www.edventures.ca