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Articles Blog

Filtering by Tag: Canada

St. John, Canada

Karyn Planett

Many Great Men 

Someone once asked the riveting question, “What was the secret behind all the great men that this tiny, rather backward corner of Canada produced?” Alistair Horne replied, as quoted in the 1961 Canada and the Canadians, “It’s the challenge of having to creep out to the outhouse every winter’s day at 30 degrees below zero!”           

Well, times have changed but New Brunswick in general and St. John in particular has enjoyed its share of great men and great women over the years. A few of their stories follow after a brief introduction to this city found at the mouth of the St. John River on the Bay of Fundy.

A Long and Colorful History 

This region’s first inhabitants were members of the Maritime Archaic Indian civilization then, several thousand years ago, the Passamoquoddy Nations people. Sailors from across the Atlantic found their way here including Basque, Breton and Norman fishermen as well as a Spaniard named Gomez in 1524. Samuel de Champlain also explored the area in 1604. The French established settlements and traded with the tribal people. The British followed and ultimately there were military engagements with the American revolutionaries. In 1785, St. John became British North America’s (currently Canada’s) first incorporated city.           

During the Irish potato famine large numbers of immigrants arrived by the leaking boatload only to be summarily quarantined on Partridge Island. So many perished in their perilous journey or in unsanitary conditions on the island. Theirs is an amazing tale and their brave legacy lives on in the history and character of this fine city.           

Shipbuilding brought prosperity to St. John as it grew into New Brunswick’s leading industrial center during the 19th century. At that time it was the world’s fourth largest shipbuilding center. Wealthy families erected enormous mansions as a display of their success. Then a monstrous fire raged through the city in 1877 swallowing up much of the central business district. Ask someone to tell you the story about the fire wagons that had no horses to pull them. Many feel this oversight led to the fire’s opportunity to get a good hold before much help could arrive. Irish immigrants played an important role in raising this city from the ashes.

Naming Names Of Some “Great” Men 

Benedict Arnold moved to St. John after surrendering West Point to the British. Lived here six years. Some historians call him great while others disagree.           

Lois B. Mayer, Hollywood producer of MGM fame, moved from Minsk to St. John with his parents at the age of three, only leaving at the age of 20.           

Walter Pidgeon, famous movie star, was born in St. John in 1898 and made his debut performance as a singer here at 13.           

Donald Sutherland, famous actor, was born here in1935 and went on to star in a long list of hit films.           

Amelia Earhart, prettier than the others mentioned, landed nearby on her 1932 solo trans-Atlantic flight that catapulted her to fame and some fortune.           

And for your information the movie, Children Of A Lesser God, was filmed in St. John in 1985.

And Speaking Of Big 

The tide in the Bay of Fundy is the largest in the whole wide world. It’s faster than a speeding bullet, higher than a 4-story building, and able to squeeze 100 billion tons of seawater in and out of the bay two times every day come rain or shine. In fact, it’s estimated that every 12 1/2 hours the water that rushes through Fundy is approximately equal to the 24-hour flow of all the other rivers in the entire world combined. Can you imagine? It’s this event that causes the “Reversing Falls” whereby the river actually flows back upstream. Isn’t Mother Nature amazing!           

All this is great news to the 15 species of toothed and baleen whales that migrate here every summer to dine on a tasty array of everything on their particular diets.           

But science aside, know that the local Micmac people believe a massive whale angered an important god named Glooscap and smacked his tale so hard it caused the seawater to slosh in and out, back and forth even to this day. A scientist will tell you it’s more about the underwater terrain and local geography but that’s not nearly as dramatic. 

Out And About 

Put on your tennies because this is an up-and-down town with hills to tackle. A few sights worth the journey include the City Market (the oldest continuous market in the nation); Prince William Street (like a step into the history books); King’s Square, Queen Square, and Market Square (each with its own highlights); plus the Trinity Royal Preservation Area (an architecturally-important 20-block area). Your visit to all the above will be its own reward. 

Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, Canada

Karyn Planett

In The Soup 

There are places in the world that, due to their geographic location, always seem to find themselves in the middle of things—not always of their own doing. Saint-Pierre & Miquelon, two islands forming an overseas territory of France, are just such a place. They could have been a sleepy tropical paradise like French Polynesia, or a jet-setter’s playground like St. Barts. But no, they had to find themselves at the crossroads between the Old World and the New, between the fishing fleets of Canada and the United States, between the Vichy and the Free French, and between Prohibition and Canadian Whisky. 

As a result, this otherwise unspectacular little archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has a rich history rivaling any in Metropolitan France—nearly 2,400 miles to the east.

Pea Soup 

Another intersection in the neighborhood is created by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the cold of the Labrador Current. As anyone living near the sea can appreciate, the result is a nearly daily fog of the pea soup variety. So why are we here you may ask? Because when you add fog to a handful of low lying, completely barren and infertile, climatically severe, windswept islands, peopled by a grizzled bunch of seafarers, you have the stuff of romance, legend, mystery… and more than 600 shipwrecks. In fact the waters between the two main islands are known as “the Mouth of Hell”.           

Citizens of Saint-Pierre & Miquelon trace their lineage to some of the more rugged areas of France and North America—fisherfolk from the Basque region to Brittany, and from Maine to the Acadian Peninsula have populated the islands. Economic times have not always been kind to them but they have found ways to survive and sometimes prosper in spite of the obstacles. 

Fish Soup 

War was one such obstacle contributing to the boom/bust cycle. Between 1713 and 1816 the French and British were involved, directly or indirectly, in a number of wars—the War of the Spanish Succession, the Seven Years War, the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolutionary Wars, and the Hundred Days War. Each time the islands were occupied and reoccupied and the population moved off to make way for the other nation’s settlers.           

World Wars I and II, threw another obstacle into the mix—U-Boats. It took a brave captain to venture out into the fishing grounds knowing he might catch a torpedo instead of a codfish.           

In World War II, the administrators of Saint Pierre and Miquelon sided with the Nazi-supporting Vichy government, which for a time was recognized as the official representative of the French nation. But the Free French government in exile took exception to allowing the Nazis a foothold in North America to run U-Boat operations from, and on Christmas Day in 1941 a force under the command of Admiral Émile Muselier occupied the islands. 

Also in World War II a number of young islanders were recruited to man a French Naval Corvette, which accompanied Allied convoys headed for Europe. In 1942, she was torpedoed and sunk with the loss of 65 of her 69-man crew, a significant blow to the local population.           

Between the World Wars there were the Whiskey Wars spawned by the advent of Prohibition in the U.S. in 1920. The islanders had already become accomplished smugglers in order to see them through other tough times, but in the late 20s and early 30s they made smuggling an art form. It is claimed that a hat belonging to Al Capone hangs in a local bar. Whiskey from Canada (nearly two million gallons at the peak), rum from the Caribbean, wine and cognac from the continent all made their way to the laxly regulated islands to be transshipped to the U.S. by an innocent-looking fishing fleet.           

Most recently, Saint-Pierre & Miquelon have been embroiled in the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) Wars. As the fishing grounds have played out, the U.S. and Canada have placed stricter regulations on commercial operations in the surrounding waters. And in 1992 Canada banned all cod fishing in the area. That same year, a special arbitration panel awarded a 4,700 square mile EEZ to the islands. It is hoped that potential oil reserves in the zone may help replace lost revenue from fishing. 

What A Visitor Should Know 

Where there are Basques or Basque descendents, there is usually a Basque Festival. These festivals often feature stone heaving (Scots are good at this, too), lumberjack skills (think Monty Python), and pelota, a form of jai alai. You may be lucky enough to find some local athletes practicing these skills.

These resilient citizens have decided that tourism may help make up for the loss of revenue from fishing, so a few enterprising folk have decided to do a restoration project on Isle-aux-Marins, or Sailors Island, a scallop throw from Saint-Pierre.           

The Saint-Pierre & Miquelon men’s hockey team played an exhibition game against the French national team in 2008. They lost 8-6 and have not played an international match since.           

The State Museum in Saint-Pierre houses the only guillotine ever used in North America—to dispatch the unfortunate Joseph Neel on August 24, 1889. The event is rarely celebrated.           

You can discuss all the above with locals who’ll be happy welcome you to their island home.