I grew up in Charlotte County. Well, more truthfully, I was raised in Saint John county though a mere stones throw (and boy could we throw stones) away from the county line. Anyhow, I had never been to Grand Manan Island until last weekend. I had no idea what I was missing.
For the past few years Grand Manan has always placed second when deciding what local adventure we would take. Finally, after being the brides maid for many years, the island emerged as the bride.
I have always held an affinity for ferry rides. This one, from Blacks Harbour aboard the Grand Manan Adventure, takes approximately one hour and a half. This is long enough to invigorate and create a sense of adventure while short enough that you can pay attention.
Stuart Mclean, from the Vinyl Cafe radio program, once remarked that the beauty of riding the ferry is that it leaves you in limbo. A space in which you haven’t quite arrived, but you are also no longer at the beginning either. You are neither here, nor there. You are In transit, or perhaps in some sort of vacation purgatory, albeit a good one. If the Grand Manan Adventure is purgatory I will gladly accept it. Riding the ferry, watching for whales, bracing for rain, and watching the fog obliterate a blistering summer day. The island appears out of nowhere and you’ve arrived.
“Someone asked me, if I were stranded on a desert island what book would I bring… ‘How to Build a Boat.'”
— Steven Wright
The island is a gem. A nature lovers paradise. Whale watching. Check. Immaculate, albeit rugged, trails providing cliff-side views of stunning bay vistas. Check. The warmest hosts and friendliest people, anywhere. Check. Dulse for $11.00 a pound. Check.
Now, I’m not going to claim to be an expert on dulse though suffice to say I spent a fair amount of time as a youngster picking, drying, eating, and even selling dulse. It is a delectable seafood treat (sea vegetable) though it seems not everyone appreciates its finer qualities. While I have had my share of dulse experience, I was overwhelmed at Roland’s Sea Vegetable sales to find 6 varieties of the stuff. I had no idea.
For a first hand look at the entire harvesting process take a quick drive out to Dark Harbour to see the the pickers heading out in their boats as low tide approaches. On a sunny day visit Roland’s Sea Vegetables to see the drying process. It is remarkable. A thousand square feet of the vegetable baking in the hot sun before being rolled like giant Tootsie Rolls and carried away.
The Grand Manan guide states that Sebastian Cabot likely saw the island in 1501, though if the fog was anything like we experienced, I highly doubt that he did. The fog can be remarkably thick and creates an eerie sense of adventure. We visited the Swallowtail Lighthouse at about 9PM as the sun disappeared and the pea-soup-like fog rolled in. It is brilliant to visit at this time. With waves crashing below, and unable to see more than a mere couple of feet in front of your face, it is like recreating a scene from a Hardy Boys novel. Some adventure but no real danger.
Measuring just just 28.4 kilometres long by 12.4 kilometres wide the island is easily navigable by car though many choose to explore on bicycle. From end to end each vista is a postcard. Given its smallish size, and when
confronted with 3 days and an empty schedule, I figured on having no problem seeing, and doing, the entire island though it didn’t work out that way.
There are a surprising variety of things to occupy your time and it is no wonder that one visitor claims; “I have been coming to Grand Manan for nearly 40 years and I’ve yet to see, or do all I would like to do in one summer so I keep returning. Year after year.” (Grand Manan Guide, 2015).
If you do have time and if you are looking for an even more remote island, there is a free ferry which takes you Whitehead Island. Whitehead is perfect for biking and an ideal day trip from the bigger island. The road hugs the shoreline and cars are few and far between.
Grand Manan, New Brunswick, is a beautiful escape; cafes and candy shops, secluded beaches and picturesque trails, exquisite seafood and French pastries, craft stores and more. A New Brunswick gem and island escape. If its second on your list of places to visit too, you should consider moving it up. And yes, on the drive back home we stopped to throw rocks.