John is the industrial powerhouse of
New Brunswick, a
in eastern Canada.
It hosts the greatest concentration of
industry on the Atlantic coast north of New York
The power that drives the engine is called
Irving. During our visit, we noticed
the name Irving plastered on gas
stations and billboards wherever we went. For
example, the paper mill pictured below belongs to
the Irving family. It sits right on the St
John River where we had our exciting rapids boat ride.
Wealthy industrialist K.C. Irving and his
family built an industrial conglomerate in the city
during the 20th century with interests in oil,
forestry, shipbuilding, media and transportation.
Today Irving companies
remain dominant employers in the region with the
most important businesses being eastern North
America's first deepwater oil terminal, a pulp mill,
a newsprint mill and a tissue paper plant.
Marla and I didn't pay a whole
lot of attention to St John. This city wasn't quite
as cute as its neighbor Halifax that we had visited
the day before. I had an interesting adventure
in that tent you see pictured at the right.
This tent was an area set up to welcome visitors
getting off the cruise ship.
Inside the tent, there was a greeting committee of a
half dozen friendly, lovely white-haired ladies in
red coats. They couldn't wait to answer every
question we could think of. One lady came over
to me and greeted me personally. Her smile was
genuine and she exuded warmth. We struck up a
nice conversation about town. Eventually the
conversation wandered over to where I was from.
I assumed she knew what country I was from so I
answered "Texas". A frown instantly crossed
her face as if she had been slapped.
"Isn't that the state your president comes from?"
The lady knew the answer. She immediately
called two of her friends over. The three
ladies proceeded to chew me out from head to toe
about how mad they were about the war in Iraq,
Homeland Security nonsense that made their lives
miserable up here in New Brunswick, and his cavalier
attitude towards their country.
I was pretty stunned at the strength of their rant.
I had no idea how unpopular America and our
president was here in Canada! I was even more
stunned at how uninhibited these ladies were about
giving me a piece of their mind. They
obviously were not even slightly afraid of losing
their job for voicing their opinions.
Interestingly, every person I met in this city was
equally outgoing. I didn't get any more
political lectures, but I did find each person I met
to be very engaging. I have to say I felt
right at home in this place. Including my tour
guide and the crazy man who drove our boat, I met
some real characters in St John, New Brunswick.
St John and Halifax are rivals in the region
fighting over control of the shipping industry.
Currently Halifax holds the upper hand.
During the First World War, St
John became a trans-shipment point for the
British Empire's war effort. The
Second World War saw the port decline in importance
due to the U-boat threat which saw Halifax's
protected harbour offer improved convoy marshaling.
Halifax has the better port, but St John is closer
to inland manufacturing which can use the St John
River to reach the sea.
The highlight of the day was our boat ride in the
Bay of Fundy. Due to an odd tidal phenomenon
in the area, there is a huge rise and fall of the
tides in the Bay of Fundy. At the point where
the St. John River meets the Bay of Fundy, there are
powerful water swirls. See the picture on the
right for an idea.
First however, I will let you
see some pictures given to me by Jess and Pat Carnes
(thank you very much!)
The Bay of Fundy
The Bay of Fundy is known
for having the greatest difference in water level between its high
and low tides in the world. As a result,
enormous amounts of water leave and return every twelve hours,
creating a powerful current.
Factor into this the St John River. This large river empties
its waters into the Bay of Fundy. At the intersection, you
have lots of water going in different directions which explains the
water swirls and eddies.
Twice daily the powerful tides of the Bay of Fundy rise faster than
the river can empty. When this
happens, the tide attempts to push the river back upstream, then the
tide ebbs and the river appears to reverse itself and flow over the
rocks, creating the appearance of reversing rapids.
In the top of the picture, look for the difference in color where
the two waters are meeting.
These two pictures give
you a pretty good idea what they mean about the difference in water
levels. On the left, you see the effects of low tide. On
the right, you see the effects of high tide.
That boat appears to be twelve feet higher in the picture on the
Nowhere is this effect more dramatic than in St John.
you have the tremendous rise and fall of the tides of the Bay
of Fundy, which are the highest in the world.
At the city of St John, here the crazy rise and fall of the tide
meets a powerful river. The St John River is trying to empty
its waters into the Bay only to have the waters of the Bay force it
back up the river.
creates a phenomenon known locally as
the Reversing Falls.
The citizens of St John
have found a curious way to embrace their unusual tidal phenomenon -
they send tourists out in boats and dare them to return alive!
One day early on our trip, Marla asked me what I wanted to do in St
John. Since she had the list of excursions, I asked her what
caught her eye. Marla said they take speed boats out into the
rapids for a joy ride. I raised an eyebrow.
"Are you making this up?"
"No, this is on the level. But there's one thing. There are warnings
galore! If you are old, if you are in poor health, if
you are vulnerable to dizziness, if you have a weak neck or sore
back, if you are on medication, if you are susceptible to cold
water, if you are pregnant... the guide says don't do this trip."
I thought about it. They spent more energy 'discouraging' than
they did 'encouraging'. I had never heard of an excursion with
this many warnings before. I am not going to lie - I felt
intimidated! But then I got a grip on my misgivings.
Other than 'old', I didn't have to worry about anything else.
"Well, I'll do it if you want."
When the big day arrived, I was still worried. I had no idea
how to prepare. They said to bring a change of clothes.
Was this going to be fun or was it going to be a huge ordeal?
On the surface, it certainly didn't sound like fun. Risking my
life and getting soaking wet in cold Canadian waters wasn't my idea
of a good time.
I pointed out to Marla the guidebook said there was an excellent
observation post within walking distance of the ship. Marla
reminded me we had already paid beaucoup bucks for this adventure. I
frowned at that. I forgot I was paying for the chance to be
miserable. I had a bad feeling about this.
Nor did my mood lighten when we got on the bus. They
immediately whipped out legal disclaimers to be signed. Even
if I ended up paralyzed from this event, it would be my own tough
luck. Not only did they make me sign a separate form, they
made me sign a group form as well with the tour guide watching my
every stroke. Why were they taking this so seriously?
Was it really that dangerous? My paranoia level was ratcheted
up to one notch below the highest level. I could not stop
worrying and wondering.
The bus took a winding tour around St John on its way to the
Reversing Falls. St John isn't that big. I could have sworn we
went down the same road more than once. To kill some time, the
bus even stopped in town to let everyone get off and help improve
the local economy.
Everywhere I looked, the name Irving appeared.
And not just on gas stations either. Irving Nature Park,
Irving General Hospital. This guy was everywhere!
Besides, the name of this place was bugging me. I went to
St Johns School for nine years. It was killing me
that this city was missing an "S" in its name. Why didn't they
just rename the place "Irvington" and get it over
Another thing I couldn't figure out is why we needed a bus when it
said you could walk there. I never quite understood whether you
needed a rid or not. Dan and Judy Bates made it to the
Observation Deck for the Reversing Falls. In fact, they were kind
enough to take the pictures that are listed below. Someday I
will have to ask them if they walked or took a cab.
Well, here we are. As we got out of the bus, a dozen hapless
victims wearing huge yellow water gear were lined up waiting for the
next available boat. Some crazy guy was running around
screaming about what a stupid mistake these people were making.
This wasn't what I wanted to hear. I looked at him closely.
He looked like he worked there!
Sure enough, Dan was handing out the yellow water gear and barking
instructions and warnings. Every chance he got, he would
remind these people how much danger they were in, how frightening
this experience was, how lucky they would be to come back alive!
Of course you think I exaggerate. After all, I am notorious
for spinning a tale or two. Guess what? I am not
exaggerating. This guy was terrorizing people! And it
was working. I looked at the faces of the people waiting and
they were scared out of their wits. I couldn't help but think,
"What have I gotten myself into this time?"
I started to concentrate as if my life depended on it. This
guy's maniacal laughter had gotten under my skin. I watched
carefully as the boat pulled in. As the people got off the
boat, they were laughing their heads off. I relaxed a little.
This whole thing was an act! And a good one too - they
definitely had gotten me worried.
I walked up to someone who got off the boat and asked for
suggestions. The guy smiled at me. He said, "You will
get wet. No matter what you do, you will get wet.
Whatever you are wearing will get wet. And once it gets wet,
you will be miserable. I suggest you wear nothing under your
yellow water gear. One more thing - whenever the boat hits a
The thought of being naked appealed to me. At least I wouldn't have
any wet clothes to haul around. But I decided to at least wear
a bathing suit. Knowing now what I didn't know then, I would
skip the bathing suit. I will explain in a moment.
So I went in the changing area and donned my water protection.
I was the big jolly yellow giant. Yellow coat, yellow hood,
yellow pants, and yellow gloves. Deciding it was impossible to
look any more ridiculous, I threw my army poncho over my yellow
gear. This army poncho was practically a tent. If
anything could protect me from the water, this could. I looked
around carefully. No cameras! Thank goodness.
Slowly we trudged into the boat. Along for the ride were Robert and
Cher. Robert wore a smug smile of confidence. I was
immediately suspicious. Cher looked just as terrified as I
was. Marla looked like Robert - bring it on!
Our boat driver was another maniac. He called himself
"Pierre". Marla whispered that wasn't his real name, but I
couldn't have cared less. He was dressed in pirate gear.
He had on a red bandanna, a mustache, an earring, and a patch over
one eye. He acted like he was on a weekend pass from an insane
asylum. In a word, Pierre was "crazy". He cackled, he
laughed, he screamed, he threatened.
Immediately we discovered the whole point of the trip - get the
passengers wet. Let me amend that... get us SOAKING
Due to the swirling waters, all Pierre had to do was aim his boat
directly into a swell and instantly huge volumes of water would
cascade over the boat.
Following directions, I always ducked. That was valuable
advice. But somehow the water got in anyway. I couldn't
figure it out. How the heck did that water get in?
Suddenly my bathing suit was soaking wet. That water was so
cold! I quickly discovered once the water got in, it
drained right back out and the rest of my body felt fine. But
that bathing suit absorbed the water and kept it like a bag of ice
wrapped around my hips. I wanted to take my bathing suit off
Pierre was getting crazier by the moment. He knocked an
enormous spray of water ten feet about the boat. It hit us
like an avalanche. When we finally got our senses back, Pierre
was shaking his head back and forth. He had caught a fish
between his teeth (no, it wasn't real). He was really enjoying
himself. Later we learned that his real job is computer
programming. Go figure.
Robert appeared to be having the time of his life. Cher had
visibly cheered up, but not me. I was still gripping the bar
in front of me for dear life to brace against the constant jolts of
boat hitting water.
Marla was happy and miserable all at the same time. She had
jeans on underneath. Early in the ride, her hood had fallen
off just as a ton of water fell on her head. Marla was
drenched. She screamed bloody murder! For the rest of
the trip she was soaked to the bone. But she kept laughing.
Marla had the time of her life.
Late in the ride, Pierre kicked in for the grand finale. He
hit one wave after another. Huge plumes of water shot in the
air like a geyser and crashed down upon us. It felt like a ride
under the Niagara Falls. We were submerged time and again with
Pierre screaming like a kamikaze. You know what, the maniac finally
got through to me. I started screaming too! "C'mon you
stupid water! Hit me! I can take it! C'mon,
c'mon!" I went nuts. When the ride suddenly ended,
I was desperate for it to continue. "No, no, let's keep
When we got to shore, I discovered why Robert was smiling. He had
his kayak wet suit on underneath. He was high and dry for the whole
Portland, Maine and the White
Mountains of New Hampshire