Hugh MacDonald

KEVIN SNAIR has a story. He is, of course, paid to tell them but this one, fittingly, comes naturally. He points to a speck on a hill. “That is one of our resident peregrine falcons,” he says. “They don’t come down too often when we are busy but they are comfortable around us. They recognise our uniforms and I believe they somehow know we are here to protect them. They have picked up on that. They do not get too near the visitors but we do not bother them.”

Snair is a guide at Hopewell Rocks, a natural phenomenon that has peregrine falcons as an adornment rather than a main attraction. We are standing on a slick stretch of mud staring out into a stretch of water on the east coast of Canada. This is a spot that gathers 230,000 visitors annually. This is a place where 160 billion tonnes of water creates such a force down the comparatively narrow funnel of the Bay of Fundy that tides rise to 48ft, quickly and dramatically.

The visitors greet or interrogate Snair, dressed in peregrine friendly khaki, with a mixture of accents. On this bright, warm day, it is obvious that the world has come to Hopewell Rocks but clear too that New Brunswick, a Canadian province of extraordinary charm, has a stories to tell of nature, culture and art that entrance this visitor.

My transatlantic flight to Halifax, at a jaunty six hours, has been immediately followed by a drive of a couple of hours on a tarmac ribbon through seemingly interminable and bewitching forest. Hopewell Rocks has been my first stop.

The peregrine looks down on me and an ocean floor that has been the conduit for a supernatural master to shape the spectacular rock formations that make this part of the province so attractive to the tourist and to more exotic creatures. But New Brunswick offers more. From a Dali to a piece of child’s pottery, from a bald-headed eagle to a heavily hirsute pipe bandsman, from a walk on the ground floor of history to a sail towards an hour of awe.

GERRY RYMES has a story. He has, in truth, hundreds of them. He stands in front of every painting, every installation, every piece of sculpture in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton prepared to inform, entertain and, regularly, amuse. It is a treat to be accompanied by such a guide on a journey through a gallery that is being upgraded at a cost of $26m.

It sits in the centre of Fredericton, capital of New Brunswick, and the sort of city that demands ever so politely to be called charming. Accommodating a mere 50,000 souls, it also quietly boasts 13 major historic buildings and sights with the Beaverbrook being distinguished by works from Dali, Turner, Delacroix and Graham Sutherland. The last nods forcefully towards the founder of the gallery.

Lord Beaverbrook was, of course, not only a newspaper magnate but a confidant and colleague of Sir Winston Churchill, particularly during the Second World War when the Canadian served in the Cabinet. Sutherland’s portrait of Churchill was not admired by the great man’s family with the finished effort being destroyed. The sketches for this ill-fated work are on the walls of a gallery that constantly delights, even surprises.

With the Saint John River sweeping by as if inviting the attentions of a loitering Impressionist, it is a reminder that New Brunswick sets culture beside nature regularly and easily. The legacy from Beaverbrook is astonishing in its scope and quality but just down the road art and culture blend to provide a captivating landscape.

SHARON McGLADDERY has a story. She is an exile from Scotland who found a haven in New Brunswick. In the almost absurdly beautiful town of St Andrews by the Sea, she is the executive director of the Sunbury Shores and Arts Centre that seeks to promote and celebrate that link between nature and art. The waterfront building bristles and almost shakes with people ascending the wooden staircases to classes on painting and making collages while a basement hosts a craft session and the vibrant pottery of a host of children.

Barry Murray, a local historian, takes me along the streets on a swell of 100 tales. The town on the Passamaquoddy Bay was first settled by refugees from the American Revolution. It has survived because its natural beauty has enticed such as the McCains (of chips fame), the Trudeaus and the Roosevelts to have holiday homes in the town and for other less affluent souls to spend a day or even a holiday there.

There is a Celtic resonance from the cross offering a silent apology to the Irish immigrants who suffered so badly through untreated illness on arrival in the bay in the 19th century to a magnificent Scots kirk, the Greenock Church, dedicated in 1824 but now largely unused.

But the wonder of life stands on its doorstep. A short boat trip takes one deep into the bay. Porpoises accompany the boat and bald-headed eagles occasionally swoop down from trees on the bay’s islands. Puffins, guillemots and kittiwakes shriek and swirl but the main event arrives almost on cue as the boat cuts its engine.

The surface breaks, a massive form emerges partially and a spout erupts with a noise that can never be forgotten. This is a baleen whale at lunch. This is nature, this is a primitive form of culture and art. This is yet another story. And one never to be forgotten.

Hugh MacDonald travelled as a guest of New Brunswick Tourism. Information on Hopewell Rocks can be found at Information on Beaverbrook Art Gallery at and on Sunbury Shores at Accommodation at St Andrews was at the Algonquin Resort ( and in Fredricton at the Delta (http:/ Whale-watching aboard Island Quest (