travel / great places / explorer / ma07

The Saint John River
Contributor: Christopher Mason


River reverie

Known as Wolasqtoq, or "good and beautiful river" in the Maliseet language, the Saint John River adopted its current identity when Samuel de Champlain reached its mouth on June 24, 1604, the feast day of John the Baptist. Soon, it became the lifeblood of Acadian settlements and formed a key piece in the series of canoe routes, portages and rough roads that connected French territories in the east with settlements in the St. Lawrence Valley.

After the British captured Fort Anne and the surrounding area during the Seven Years War, the Lower Saint John River Valley became a vital part of life as the region evolved into the colony of Fredericton and saw increased English settlement from overseas as well as from loyalists who fled the newly independent United States.


Long in the paddle

Just like choosing the right hockey stick, the first priority in choosing the right paddle is finding one that is the correct length for you. The easiest way to judge the length is to stand a paddle on end in front of you. The handle should fall somewhere between your nose and chin. But there is more to it than length, and if you're heading out on a canoe trip or hoping to paddle regularly, you can save your arms a lot of work by getting a paddle that's also right for the conditions.

Flatwater paddles are the most common, and the best type of paddle for calm waters. They are most often made from hardwoods such as white ash and black cherry and are lighter and narrower than other types of paddles. On long trips, a lighter paddle can reduce the amount of energy of you expend each day.

Whitewater paddles, on the other hand, have wide blades with squared-off edges. The blades pull lots of water, so they take extra effort to move, but are effective in rough waters. Whitewater paddles often made with aluminum shafts and plastic or Kevlar blades, making them stronger and more durable than their hardwood counterparts.

The two most common canoe strokes are the straight cruising stroke for paddlers in the bow of the canoe and the J-stroke, for guiding the canoe from the stern. The J-stroke is so named because the stroke draws the outline of the letter "J" when done on the left side of the canoe. The canoe naturally angles to the opposite side of the stern paddler. The bottom of the ‘J' stroke counteracts that by setting the canoe on a straight course.

Many outfitting stores and recreation centres offer paddling courses and instructional books. Novice canoeists can ensure a safe and enjoyable trip by doing a bit of homework before dipping a paddle in the water.

Tricks of the trails

The Saint John River has been a vital transportation route for centuries, once home to paddle-wheelers linking railway lines throughout the Maritimes. But these days, with a decreased reliance on the river for shipping and border issues long settled, the river's role is as a peaceful refuge. In fact, the lower part of the river, from Fredericton to Saint John, has been called the "Rhine of North America" because it is so popular among recreational boaters.

With that in mind, the Saint John River Society has established 230 kilometres of river and land trails along in the Lower Saint John River Valley. The system includes many well-travelled favourite routes, helping newcomers explore the area and challenging veterans to set out on new adventures.

Trail markers, docks and information kiosks are in their early stages of development. Visit to get more details and pick up some trip ideas.

Read an excerpt of the March/April '07 Explorer from Canadian Geographic magazine.

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