Though not designated for its natural values, the St. John River – the largest watershed east of the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence – is home to outstanding bird habitat and the remaining one percent of the Appalachian Hardwood Forest.
Named “Wolastoq,” or “the good and bountiful” river by the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) people, the St. John River’s connection with this First Nation dates back 10,000 years. This historic waterway was also an important transportation route, first for European explorers and then as a highway for commercial goods and services throughout the history of New France and Upper and Lower Canada.
The river played an important role in settlement of the region by the French and later by the British. Called “the road to Canada” by one historian, the St. John River was the key communication route between Upper and Lower Canada and the Atlantic. The river also figured prominently in Canada’s military history, including the War of 1812.
The birthplace of the renowned Chestnut Canoe, the St. John River offers recreational opportunities for canoeists, fishers, bird watchers and boating enthusiasts and is popular with sailing, boating, and rowing clubs.
The high tides of the Bay of Fundy and the constricted mouth of the St. John River form the Reversing Falls, which change direction with the flow of the tide.
The St. John River Society is the main point of contact for information regarding the cultural and natural resources of the river.
The 400 km section of the St. John River that flows through New Brunswick was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 2013 for its outstanding cultural heritage values. The Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) have lived along this river, which they called the Wolastoq, or “the good and bountiful” river, for 10,000 years. The river was also a historic exploration and transportation route that provided European explorers with a gateway into Eastern and Upper Canada.
Strong Partnerships Enhance Tourism
It was the work being done to designate the St. John River to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 2005 that convinced four municipalities and two non-profit organizations to join forces to boost river tourism. Focusing on the region from St. John to Fredericton, the area surrounding the 130-km stretch of the river was branded and marketed as “the Lower River Passage,” a regional tourism approach far stronger than anything the communities could have achieved individually.
A Unique Visitor Experience
Three river centres and two riverside parks were built, an inventory of the unique assets of the region was undertaken, and a website was created, which now includes online versions of the eight touring brochures developed. The final result is a visitor experience that showcases the natural and cultural heritage of the region, supported by each of the partnering communities. As journalist Valerie Pringle noted during her 2008 visit to the area, “The St. John River is one of the most peaceful and historic places in all of Canada… you should come visit!”
“The Lower River Passage is an opportunity for you to explore this naturally beautiful region and learn how it contributes to the history of North America.” (www.discoverthepassage.com)
A Legacy that Continues to this day
In 2009, the Tourism Industry Association of New Brunswick awarded the Lower River Passage a Tourism Excellence & Innovation Award for this extraordinary partnership. Almost ten years late, the Lower River Passage continues to promote the area as one region with partners contributing annual funding for the website, print material and trade shows.
“Choose a route to travel through the Passage. Cross on the river’s unique free cable ferries. Collect the lighthouses along the river. Visit the artisans on our Arts and Crafts Studio Route. A journey through the Passage is an experience of all the region and its communities have to offer.” (Excerpted from “www.discoverthepassage.com)
The St. John River begins in the deep woods of Maine and flows 400 km through New Brunswick into the Bay of Fundy, where it feeds the world’s highest tides. The river was designated to the CHRS in 2013 in recognition of its cultural heritage, in particular its contribution to the founding of Canada.
The Canadian Heritage River plaques offer a brief glimpse into why a river has been designated to the System. They are often located nearby one of its historically significant locations, and highlight some of the most important natural, cultural and recreational values of the river.
St. John River Plaque Text
ST. JOHN RIVER - The historic St. John River flows 400 km through New Brunswick. Known as the Wolastoq, “the good and bountiful river”, by the First Nations peoples who have inhabited this territory for many millennia, this waterway has been a vital transportation and communication route and was instrumental in the development of Canada as a nation. The St. John River has played a prominent role in settlement patterns, military actions and the movement of people, goods and ideas over time. Designation of the St. John as a Canadian Heritage River is a testament to its natural and cultural significance and will ensure stewardship of the waterway for generations to come.