The Saint John River
Contributor: Christopher Mason
|PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/ROBERT RUSHTON
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
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 www.stjohnriversociety.com to
get more details and pick up some trip ideas.
Read an excerpt of the March/April '07 Explorer from Canadian Geographic magazine.