Maybe they get off the main Trans-Canada Highway to cross “the world’s longest covered bridge” in Hartland. It certainly is an awesome experience but most who stop there little realize that as they admire the weathered wooden bridge and the magnificent St John River, they are also right in the midst of a quite fascinating rural cultural and heritage hub.
Hartland’s Main Street entry to the bridge is actually right on the storied Route 105 and the portion between Grand Falls south to Woodstock has recently been dubbed a “cultural corridor”. Not only does this riverside route provide some remarkable scenery but the valley is home to scores of artists, crafters, musicians and other performers as well as a sizable number of museums and galleries. There’s adventure to be found too (zip-lining, kayaking, hiking, etc) along with a remarkable collection of historic sites and heritage buildings. All this is complemented by a vibrant arts scene offering festivals galore — typically about 20 multi-day performance events every summer.
They greet you with a genuine smile or wave as you pass by. Inn-keepers are helpful and never rushed. A typical restaurant meal is reasonably-priced and often tastes like your grandmother might have cooked it just for you. Seasonal farm markets and community suppers are de rigueur. The terrain is perfect for cyclists, bikers or hikers and there's not too much traffic on the river roads.
The best guide to the cultural corridor of Highway 105 is the aptly titled DriveThe105.com with over 100 attraction and visitor services listings as well as links to TripAdvisor ratings. It was developed by a not-for-profit group of cultural stakeholders and is quite reliable. The impressive photo gallery will give you a real taste of what you will be seeing along the way. But one of the best features of the site is an amusing travelogue supposedly written by a grumpy 12-year-old adventurer who was heading to the coast with his family.
Heading north, the next largest town after Hartland is Florenceville-Bristol, the home of McCain Foods, a huge international enterprise founded on frozen french fries. (In fact, one-third of all fries consumed worldwide are from McCain so you’ve probably had some.) The beautifully-restored Bristol Shogomoc Railway Depot includes an upscale restaurant housed in a romantic dining car. Nearby, the Shiktehawk Walking Trail offers 2 kms of gentle, well-groomed streamside hiking once trekked by the Maliseet and Mi'kmac First Nations. While you're in town, the highly-respected McCain Art Gallery is not to be missed and Hunter Brothers’ Farm on the edge of town is worth a stop too for just-picked veggies, baked goods, preserves and ice cream. Kids will also enjoy the performing goats and if you happen to be airborne, their annual late-summer corn maze features complex tribute designs as varied as The Beatles and the Blue Jays.
Back to the 105 and continuing north, the highway will take you inland and across another river at Tobique Narrows where the Maliseet First Nation community takes good care of a fine beach with some of the best river swimming anywhere. If you are travelling in winter, you might be able to take in the renowned World Pond Hockey Championships not too far away in Plaster Rock, always in mid-February.
Here, there is history all around you. As you have travelled north, you will have noticed many more people speaking French. You may have seen Acadian flags as well. Based on France’s tri-couleur, it has a gold star added to the upper left corner. Francophone families who now live hereabouts were deported from Nova Scotia by the British beginning in 1755 and many were sent to Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Georgia. But by 1764, Acadians were permitted to return to Canada and some of them re-settled in this part of New Brunswick where they have created a strong yet welcoming culture.