Letter from New Brunswick
BC Business Magazine
I am wilting in the blistering sun on a bather-packed beach in northeastern New Brunswick, trying to remain cool for the cute, ray-worshipping bikini girl checking me out from her gold-coloured towel. The 28-degree temperature and my jeans-and-dress-shirt outfit aren’t helping the cause, but any remaining appeal is shattered when my companions arrive for a chat.
Press trips often attract a few unconventional journos, but on this swift east coast junket I’m joined by a smorgasbord of eclectic international hacks from Japan, Mexico and Australia. And then there are the Germans. Within minutes of our predictably brief beach visit, Martin and Stephan have stripped down to their saggy underwear for an impromptu dip and are standing either side of me, looking as pasty as a pair of milk bottles.
Alarmed that I look just like this in the flesh (which I do), beach girl promptly severs her gaze as the underpants brothers grab their waistbands and gallop for the waves. Staring at my lost love one last time, I trudge back to the air-conditioned mini-van, followed by my dripping cohorts, one of whom strips off and arranges his sopping undies on the hood to dry. Deep down – very deep down – I must be jealous of their complete lack of embarrassment.
Without the breathtaking cliffs and rolling bucolic vistas of its Newfoundland and PEI siblings, New Brunswick is nevertheless fueled by the same quirky joie de vivre. Much of this character is attributable to the earthy French Acadian culture that twists through the province like blue streaks in a ripe cheese. In fact, it’s the food that keeps everyone together here, whether it’s heaps of insulating winter fare or platters of twitching nosh plucked straight from the Atlantic.
As someone whose childhood experience of seafood extended as far as ropey fish sticks, I’ve never been a big fan of aquatic dining. But on this trip, avoiding seafood is about as easy as avoiding breathing: you can do it for a while but it’s not recommended. Soon, I’m happily tucking into steaming prawn omelets, delectable scallop lunches and mid-afternoon snacks of fresh crab. And just as I begin to sprout gills, it’s time to hit the lobster.
Food involving effort is rarely worth it – give me soup and a funnel any day – but as we clamber aboard a boat for a crustacean cracking lesson, I’m prepared to be converted. While our gregarious captain deftly illustrates how to dig out bubbly orange “caviar” and green glow-in-the-dark liver, my own clumsy efforts quickly have me covered head-to-toe in fishy juice. When I overhear that lobster is an aphrodisiac, though, I consider returning to the beach with my new cologne to test the theory.
But like all press trips, there’s no turning back and we have to keep moving to the tune of the relentless itinerary. Soon, we’re winding further south towards Moncton for what I hope is some big city action. Arriving groggy at night and dropping our bags at the hotel, we stroll brick-paved Main Street looking like a convention of visiting realtors and attracting pointed snorts from some of the half-baked patio drinkers we pass along the way.
Colonizing some outdoor tables at the Pump House pub, we huddle together, bonded by a faintly unwelcoming downtown that has all the appeal of a paint-peeled strip mall. After a couple of beers, I even feel warmth for the crazy underpants boys. All that goes out the window a few minutes later, of course, when I catch the eye of a girl at the next table. Those German lads had better not be planning a striptease sing-a-long anytime soon.
Can’t miss: Village Historique Acadien
Discover centuries of Acadian heritage at this rustic outdoor museum in Caraquet, where grubby-faced peasants and hoity schoolteachers bring the past to life. Sadly, the saloon is dry but the restaurant’s poutine râpée – pork chunks wrapped in pureed potato – is like an edible baseball that expands to fill any size stomach. Admission $15. villagehistoriqueacadien.com
Cool eats: Hotel Paulin
The bistro at this Caraquet B&B is worth a stop even if you’re not staying. Tuck into seafood linguine bristling with giant shrimp, lobster tails and juicy scallops, followed by Grand Marnier sugar pie. Three courses $40. hotelpaulin.com
Best bed: Delta Beauséjour
Moncton’s best downtown sleepover has had a chic revamp in recent years, delivering amenity-packed business hotel rooms and a loungey lobby-level dining area. Rates from $175. deltahotels.com
One thing we need:
Peasant seafood. You don’t have to hit a high-end restaurant here to enjoy amazing lobster, crab and scallop dishes.
One thing we don’t need:
Artery-clogging winter nosh. Potato-based grub that lags your body for hibernation can also transform you into a living dumpling.
Expect spectacular fall foliage in October but keep your umbrella to hand as temperatures hover up to 15 degrees Celsius.