The gateway to the Fundy Trail is the picturesque village of St. Martins. Just a half-hour drive from Saint John airport, St. Martins is an absolute must for the New Brunswick tourist’s itinerary. It is a beautiful little village that is spread out along a single street running along the coast of the Bay of Fundy.
The main street of St. Martins is flanked by several Victorian houses some of which are quite grand. These houses were built by 19th century residents who were skilled craftsmen. They honed their trade in working with wood by building ships in the great age of sail. At one time the long beach at St. Martins was chock-a-block with schooners, brigs and brigantines under construction. Over 500 hundred vessels were built here over the span of a century. Not only did the domestic architecture benefit from the very lucrative shipbuilding activity but also the owners, merchants and mariners involved in the shipping industry brought back to the village the latest ideas in homebuilding and interior decoration from sophisticated cities they visited abroad.
The history of St. Martins and stories of the incredible lives of many of its inhabitants in the era of sail are presented in exhibits at the Quaco Museum located in the centre of town. Here you will be told that at one time St. Martins was said to be “the richest village in the British Empire.” Without the evidence of the fine homes it is hard to believe this, because the long beach shows very little evidence of the thriving commerce of bygone years.
Visitors are always amazed at the pristine beach in St. Martins as it stretches away from the village in one direction toward Quaco Head marked by a lighthouse. The name Quaco is curious to say the least. There are several theories as to its origin. The most likely is that it was adapted from the First Nation Mi’kmaq or Migmaw word ‘Goolwagagek’ meaning place of the hooded seal. The beach at St. Martins that is easily accessible from the end of Beach Street, of course, is a perfect place to watch the huge tides of Fundy that when ebbing reveal miles of sand. Swimming in the sea here is possible for those immune to its frigid temperature.
Driving further on through the village you will discover the active harbour where lobstermen and scallopers bring in their catch. This is a typical Bay of Fundy harbour. At low tide it is completely dry so the fishing boats rest on the sand. Here you can get an idea of the immensity of the highest tides in the world.
Just past the harbour are two covered bridges. While covered bridges are common in New Brunswick it is only here that you can see two of them together. A short drive on from the covered bridges will bring you to another beach. This one, called Mac’s Beach is popular with tourists because at low tide you can walk over the sands when to some caves that have been carved by the sea from the red sandstone cliffs. There are places to have a picnic here and a couple of restaurants where you can sample the local seafood.
Drive up to the heights further on and you will get marvellous views of the sea and in a few minutes will arrive at the entrance to the Fundy Trail Parkway. It is a fabulous drive along the rugged Fundy Coast and not to be missed.
An overnight stay in St. Martins will allow you plenty of time to explore all the natural attractions and get a taste of what the beautiful Victorian homes were like to live in. The largest of the inns in town St. Martin’s Country Inn is in an imposing home built by Captain William Vaughan in 1857. The Tidal Watch Inn is in a similar home just by the beach.