Edmundston and New Brunswick

April 30, 2007
Filed under Travel

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The Trans-Canada Highway runs alongside the Saint John River when it’s in New Brunswick. The highway begins at Glace Bay at the eastern tip of Nova Scotia, and takes an L-shaped trek through New Brunswick before exiting into Quebec.

Here it’s called Highway 2. When the Trans-Canada enters Quebec, unlike our Interstate Highways, it picks up a different number. And in Nova Scotia, it’s numbered something else again. It takes a minimum of intellect to adjust to this. Still, it’s a reminder: Things are done differently here, which is one reason why I like visiting Canada.

Tracking the river, Highway 2 swings north when it reaches the western edge of New Brunswick, near where the traffic off Interstate 95 flows in from the upper reaches of Maine. It continues north for about 200 miles. Just before entering Quebec, it skirts Edmundston, a city of 10,800 that’s big in the production of pulp.

Of the eight cities in New Brunswick, Edmundston is the most Francophone — 91 percent of its people speak French, and of that amount, 13 percent speak only French. Most everyone speaks English, of course, with 62 percent being bilingual. As you might expect, it has the highest percentage of bilingualism of any city in the province.

Edmundston is where I am headed. If language is the criterion, it will be the most foreign of any place I have been in North America.

New Brunswick is Canada’s only province that is officially bilingual; meaning everything governmental must be in French and English. Heading up Highway 2, I see signs in both languages. I plan to exit/sortie at Hartland, where my official map/carte routiere indicates there is an information center/information aux visiteurs. Hartland has the world’s longest covered bridge. Set on seven cement pilings, it was built in 1901 and covered in 1921. A lady at the information center — a life-long resident — told me that covered bridges were invented in New Brunswick, but many cities assert that claim. This covered bridge is one of five in the county, and the catalyst of this invention had to be snow, which starts covering up the ground here in November, and does not go away until March or April.

Aside from the obvious — assuring that the bridge is passable in the winter, even if the roads are not — covering it reduces maintenance: Clearing snow from it is never a concern, and there are no repairs due to rot or snowplow damage. Covered, a wooden bridge may last indefinitely. An uncovered bridge around here only lasts about 10 or 12 years.

It seems less traumatic for the farm animals being walked across the bridge if the bridge in enclosed, considering that just a few feet below is a rushing river. “That’s why they look like barns. It puts the animals at ease,” the lady explained.

“Years ago, these bridges were called ‘kissing bridges,’ because young men and women did so when their horses just happened to stop while inside.” She paused, apparently considering what she just said. “I remember thinking as a school girl that the horses probably didn’t even have to stop in this one — 1,282 feet is pretty long bridge.

“The St. John River has been significant in our history. It’s how the first settlers got here. As early as 1813, troops moved on the river from the Maritimes to Upper Canada, especially in the winter, when it’s frozen solid.”

Currency is also an interesting part of Canadian history. In 1841, Canada declared that its dollar was equal to the gold U.S. dollar. That’s not so anymore. Although U.S. greenbacks are still happily accepted most everywhere in Canada, using them today often sends a clerk in search of a calculator, as the exchange rate often changes.

The Canadian dollar is not a bill; it’s a coin. With the likeness of Queen Elizabeth on one side and a loon on the other, it’s nicknamed the “Loonie.” And then there’s the “Toonie.” It’s a coin worth about two dollars, engraved with a bear and the Queen, respectively. The rest of the money is paper, with each denominated bill having a distinctive color.

The economic growth in New Brunswick comes from the business of cutting, growing and processing trees, as the providence is 75 percent forest. The trees cover much of the southern half of the providence, which is where you can also find the majority of the population, living close to their economic resources.

In no place is this more obvious than in Edmundston, where the tall stack at the Fraser Papers’ pulp mill defines and punctuates the center of the city. From that mill a giant, green tube twists its way along the river, through town, and into the busy Fraser paper mill, located across the border in Madawaska, Maine.

Maine has been a major player on the world’s stage of papermakers for 270 years. It’s the second-largest paper producer in the United States. This paper may be made in the United States; however, much of what it’s made from comes from Canada.

The pipe, perched on stanchions, has U-turns built into it to allowing it to adjust for expansion and contraction. Contrary to popular belief, this pipe carries steam to the Madawaska plant and not pulp. The pulp — 98 percent liquid and 2 percent fiber — travels in three cast-iron pipes that run in trenches under the two cities and under the river, a distance of a mile and a half. Although physically located in different countries, the two plants operate as one.

At the plant in Edmundston, the logs arrive on trucks, are stripped of the their bark, run through a giant wood chipper, are dumped into a vat of boiling water and simmered until it all reaches the consistency of oatmeal. In other words, it’s cooked to a pulp. Then it’s piped across the river into Maine, dried, pressed and rolled out into what these words are printed on.

Bill’s e-mail address: roadscribe@aol.com

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