The most common sign in New Brunswick is “Welcome / Bienvenue” which seems to not only be a slogan but a north star for most Canadians. In our week-long Beyond Borders Walk walking journey along the Coastal Link Trail in New Brunswick we were fortunate to have experienced, many times, what Canadian hospitality and friendliness is all about.
All public signs issued by the federal government, but only those issued by the Province of New Brunswick, must be in French and English. This area values its tourism and its importance as a melting pot for all making their way east and west or even north and south from the U.S.
A Welcome Promise
Our excursion into Canada was a direct result of a welcome pledge our group was given four years ago. At that time, Loredana Delucchi, a member of our U.S.-based FreeWalkers, walking group, crossed the border with Ken Kurland And Nancy Jonap to St. Stephen to present Mayor Allan MacEachern a Canadian penny, a New York City subway token and a knitted bear doll as a gesture of a special friendship and their accomplishment of walking along the East Coast Greenway from New York to Canada over a period of years. Borders were crossed and lives were changed by reaching out. That effort culminated in a promise by the mayor, in turn, to not only welcome them back again but to build a new pedestrian trail along the St. Croix River.
Going Beyond Borders … Again
Our plan was to walk the 125-mile (171-km) newly charted Coastal Link Trail from Saint John ending in St. Stephen. We started our journey walking across the U.S./Canadian border in St. Stephen where Cherie Stewart, Implementation Manager of the Coastal Link Trail waited to drive us for over an hour to Saint John where we would start our week of walking. We had just driven over 12 hours to the border. Without her help to get to the start, the entire walk would not have happened.
Tracking us throughout our journey was Susan Hill, Executive Director Charlotte County Tourism. From the start, Susan tracked our movement throughout New Brunswick. About a third into our trip, she met us in Pogologan and popped up occasionally all day long to check in on how we were doing. She was there to see us off, invite us to her home in Penfield and show us the harbor and fishing industry in St. George, where her husband and many of the population worked. Susan became our guide about the area and the fishing business that has become the most successful industry in the area. Now, it was time for tourism to add even more to the economy.
Welcomes are most obvious when staying at a B&B. One host couple in St. John was eager to share their story of the dream of immigrating to Canada to create a better life over a generous breakfast.
Another host, Dave, proudly talked of his days working in radio and his love of rock music easily displayed in walls of vinyl records. Dave and I both shared a passion for the music of Bruce Springsteen, a New Jersey icon, who often transcends geographic, generational and cultural boundaries. Dave was also kind enough to lend me his bicycle to ride around the town, saying “Don’t bother locking the bike!”, backed by lessons learned years living in this area.
Don was the welcoming, thoughtful and philosophical B&B host. This old Victorian home in the Chamcook area where we stayed was filled with curious pictures, furniture and curios that spoke of mystery and a different time that was still treasured. He represented an interesting dichotomy of the old and new. He respected the old but was an advocate of building new trails and opening up the area to tourism. He was even kind enough to drive us a few miles into St. Andrews for dinner and pick us up while giving us a brief history of the resort town and the places to see.
Just as noticeable were small gestures of friendship along the way: Kathy and Junior opened up the Musquash Rec center to provide water, a friendly ATV operator, Stephen, stopped to see if we needed help, the EMS tech that helped get Ken to the hospital after a muscle spasm, the restaurant owner Rachel from Comeau’s Seafood Restaurant who gave us free lunch, the Taylor’s who shared water, their art and their life story, the St. Andrews retiree, Hans who said although his job had taken him all around the world, there was nothing better than where he was now, or the golfer’s surprise at seeing me accidentally riding a bike onto the Algonquin course at Joe’s Point in the middle of his teeing up and just saying, “Isn’t it beautiful? But, you know beauty can be found anywhere, if you look hard enough.”
A St. Stephen Welcome
On Saturday, August 6 we met with Cherie and Mayor Allan and other trail officials for a casual walk on the new pedestrian path that the Mayor had led over the last four years. In addition, the mayor led us to a large mural that was in the process of being finished. To our surprise, the artist would paint into the mural both the image of FreeWalker Loredana and Mayor Alan walking together on the newly created riverfront trail.
The trip was about fulfilling a promise to return, renew friendships and walk the new trails of New Brunswick. We had become the first group to walk the full Coastal Link Trail, a trail that now connects the enormous Trans Canada Trail system with the East Coast Greenway in the U.S.providing access to thousands of miles (or kilometers) of walking, hiking, and biking trails.
We discovered that what we all cherish most is more access and less borders and obstacles that keep us apart.