I'm standing alone on a small square of cement, in front of a group of young men, all of whom are poised at crisp attention and perspiring heavily. The perspiration is understandable because, despite the 90-degree heat, they're dressed in white helmets and heavy red coats with high black collars. All are carrying bayonets - except for one youngster of about thirteen, who's dressed in Scottish kilts and puffing mightily on some bagpipes. About 100 people are staring at us.
I've been selected from among the onlookers to "inspect the guards," a ceremonial throwback to the 1800s when Fredericton was a Loyalist town, a refuge for colonists who remained true to the crown after renegade folks from the south declared themselves an independent United States of America. It became first a British garrison and later the birthplace of the Canadian militia.
Fredericton is now the capital of New Brunswick, which has it's own set of divided loyalties. Folks who live in the middle and west of this, the largest of Canada's provinces, mostly speak English. People to the north and east largely speak French. New Brunswick is the only one of Canada's ten provinces that is officially bi-lingual.
But today my husband and I are deep in the English sector. The head cadet steps forward. I crack a joke, hoping to make him smile. Not a chance. With a barked command, he leads me up and down the rows of cadets. I look at their boots - polished. Their pants - pressed. Their jackets - neatly belted. "Satisfactory," I say with a nod, before returning to my observation post. He leads his troops through a high-stepping series of formations. Then they strut properly off the green to the delight of the many tourists.
Fredericton is awash with things for tourists to do. The Historic Garrison District - a 2 1/2 block area filled with museums and old government buildings - is surrounded by trendy restaurants and upscale craft shops. Fredericton, which is home to the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, and the two surrounding counties have more craftspeople per capita than any place in Canada.
An aggressive and imaginative tourist commission provides a variety of free and low-cost events, from the twice-daily changing of the guards to a program that lets kids pretend to be soldiers, complete with helmets and jackets. During the summer, free concerts and movies take place on the old military parade ground, and 40 miles of well-maintained walking trails lead people to enjoy the banks of the Saint John River that bisects the town. A few blocks away, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery has an outstanding collection featuring works by Turner, Gainesborough, Dali, and Sargent.
But for us the biggest attraction is King's Landing, a recreated Loyalist village, 20 minutes west of town. We get out of the car and are instantly transported to the nineteenth century. No power lines. No motor vehicles. A woman in a long dress and bonnet greets us. "Good day," she says with a slight bow.
We wander the village, talking to a woman who is quilting, a lad who is tending his horse, a man who is working at the sawmill. They're all outfitted in period dress, and they're all willing to explain what their life would have been like a hundred years ago. (Unlike a true "living village," Kings Landing has interpreters who explain the past, not actors who pretend to inhabit it.)
While the village is fictional, the houses were old homes from the nearby area, and the interpreters tell, as much as possible, about the real people who lived in them.
But the British weren't the only people who had staked claim to what is now eastern Canada. By the mid-1600s the French had established communities in the agriculturally-rich region they called Acadia, which is now Nova Scotia.
In 1755, after years of increasingly hostile skirmishes between the two European powers, Charles Lawrence, the British Governor of Nova Scotia, ordered the Acadians to pledge allegiance to the British crown. The Acadians refused, and Lawrence ordered them deported.
Thousands lost their lives as they were herded onto small boats and forced out to sea. (Some made it down to Louisiana, where the name Acadian evolved into "Cajun.") Those who evaded deportation managed to subsist in the colonies or other parts of Canada until it was safe to return to the rural areas of New Brunswick. There they eked out a living in a British-controlled territory.
As we proceed up the coast towards Caraquet, where there's a reproduction of a nineteenth-century Acadian village, the Acadian flag - blue, white and red like the French flag but with a yellow star on the field of blue - is everywhere, in front of buildings, in the yards of private homes, on ropes strung in front of gas stations. By the time we reach Tracadie-Sheila, the stop signs are reversed. Whereas in Fredericton, the English word STOP is above the French ARRET, in this part of New Brunswick the ARRET precedes the STOP.
Our few words of French are sadly inadequate at the Village Historique Acadien. "Acadians start the day with the sun and end with the sun," says Anna Savoie in impeccable English. Like all the interpreters in the 30-plus buildings, she's dressed in period dress and performing traditional chores. She talks rapidly as she finishes preparing a stew of vegetables, beef and the ubiquitous potatoes. "People come through here too fast - rush, rush. You will only learn if you ask us questions, if you talk to us."
We try, but it's hard. The interpreters all speak at least some English, but the visitors - at least on the day we are there - overwhelmingly speak French. Thus, the conversation eddies and flows around us, and we get most of our learning through our eyes.
The village isn't quite as prosperous as that at Kings Landing, and the community is more rural. But perhaps the building that tells the most about Acadian society during that time is the Blackball House, which belonged to the British authority. While the rest of the houses are built of wood, it is made of stone.
St. John and St. Andrews
The next morning we leave Acadian New Brunswick and once again enter Loyalist territory. We pass through St. John, settled in 1528 and the oldest town in North America, to visit St. Andrews by-the-Sea. The main part of town has been designated a National Historic District, and we wander along streets with staunchly British names - from King Street to Victoria Terrace, Princess Royal to Prince of Wales - passing the Loyalist Burying Ground and looking at old homes lovingly restored.
The Loyalists may have escaped to St. Andrews because of its proximity to the new colonies, but they most likely stayed because of its beauty. Situated along Passamaquoddy Bay, the town has always been one of Canada's most popular summer resorts.
We're pulled in a hundred directions. Do we explore the many galleries? Learn to kayak? Play golf or try scuba diving? We finally opt for a visit to Kingsbrae Garden. It's a people-friendly spot, bursting with color but with surprises tucked among the plants - fanciful sculptures, a children's garden, an edible area of herbs that people are welcome to nibble, a section of raised beds that are designed to give people who are blind an opportunity to feel the textures and smell the aromas of a variety of plants.
But it's at Rossmount Inn that our "deep like" for St. Andrews becomes "true love." On our last night in the province we have a truly remarkable meal - one made with fresh, local ingredients delicately blended and beautifully served.
Chef/owner Chris Aerni creates new menus each day depending on what's available; many of his vegetables and herbs come from the garden behind the inn. I spend ten minutes deciding whether I want salmon with sunchoke puree, green beans and golden raisin-pine nut vinaigrette or extra virgin olive oil poached halibut with summer squash ratatouille. I choose the salmon; it is beyond good. I want to come back for the halibut but, Aerni reminds me, it will only be on the menu if he can find it fresh - and it's likely to be accompanied by something different according to season and availability.
The only solution, I decide, is to come back often, very often. And soon.
Of Special Note:
This summer Frederickton will inaugurate Canada's largest vacation learning program in craft and culture. More than 100 workshops, ranging from ceramics and silversmithing to music and creative writing, will be taught by award-winning instructors. After class visitors can attend free concerts in Officers' Square or enjoy walking along the St. John River.
For more information:
New Brunswick Tourism: www.TourismNewBrunswick.ca
Fredericton Tourism: www.tourismfredericton.ca
Fredericton leaning vacations: www.edVentures.ca
St. Andrews by-the-Sea: www.townofstandrews.ca
Rossmount Inn: www.rossmountinn.com
In addition to travel writing, Irv and Andrea have founded LEGACY PROSE™, a company that helps people pass on their stories and values to their children and grandchildren. www.legacyprose.com