Discover Bay of Fundy, Canada

FundyTrailParkway-Pangburn-Beach

Lorna Parkes discovers Canada’s mighty Bay of Fundy, where marine ecosystems and a unique environment give life to a surprising local-centric food scene 

There’s an entire rockpool in my lap – and it’s edible. Clams, periwinkles, blue mussels and a giant lobster claw swim in a steaming broth of wine, splashed with jewel-like edible owers. Welcome to a very special Maritime shore broil.

In a thicket in the woods, bristling out over the Bay of Fundy, I’m among a privileged circle of food and nature enthusiasts who’ve descended from all over Canada for Dining On The Ocean Floor, an exclusive event run by local restaurant Flying Apron, enabled by the ebb and flow of the world’s highest tides.

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The bay is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, voted in 2014 as one of North America’s seven natural wonders. It funnels 160 billion tonnes of water between the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick from the North Atlantic Ocean – more water than all the freshwater rivers in the world combined. As the bay gets narrower, there’s nowhere for all that water to go but up.

Here in Burntcoat Head Park, a slick of green algae on the layer cake of coastal rocks marks high tides of up to 15 metres – the height of a five-storey building. At low tide, the water is sucked out so ferociously and far that it’s possible to walk (and set up one long white-linen table) on the ocean oor. This dinner is at the mercy of the tides, and can only take place four times a year. It is one of the crowning glories of an unsung food scene that revolves around the bay.

Hopewell Rock-NB

When the tide recedes, the whipped- mousse seabed left behind is a rockpooler’s dream – studded with periwinkles and seaweed, harbouring richly-populated tidal pools. ‘This is my playground – we can find anything out here,’ enthuses environmental science and biology student Emily as she leads us on a tour of the ocean oor. The Bay of Fundy supports a tremendous amount of marine life, and lobster is so abundant, it was once considered a staple for the poor.

Scotia’s breadbasket, passing over owing farm shops and clapboard settler churches. Barnacled lobster traps are piled high in the dinky shing wharf, and I find myself in an impatient queue of families, retirees and the odd gumbooted sherman staring at a line of trough-like tanks of lobsters.

‘Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, lobsters would wash up on the beach during storms and be gathered by farmers who’d put them in the soil and plough them under for fertiliser,’ I’m told by my weathered server Lowell on a tour of the pound. Even today, the price of lobster in Canada’s Maritime provinces is staggeringly low – just $6 or $7 per pound from the shermen.

Engineering wine
Back in the Annapolis Valley, I go in search of Tidal Bay, the Bay of Fundy’s namesake wine, engineered to pair with seafood. ‘Nova Scotia doesn’t really have anything other than wine and seafood – so we need this wine,’ jokes Megan as we taste crisp, apple-y Tidal Bay at Lucke Vineyards, where towering cellar door windows survey vines sloping down towards a broad sweep of looking-glass bay.

Although Nova Scotia’s modern wine industry is in its relative infancy, the province was one of the first North American areas to cultivate grapes thanks to the 17th-century arrival of the French Acadian settlers. Today, my wine tasting with local Wolfville company Grape Escapes follows the Good Cheer Trail – a network of 35 wineries, breweries and distilleries harnessing the legacy of one of North America’s earliest gastronomic societies, the Order of Good Cheer, set up in 1606 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain to raise the spirits of early settlers.

The Fundy Trail

Across the Bay of Fundy, the Nova Scotia passenger ferry docks in the New Brunswick port city of St. John. On Uncorked Tours’ tasting route, I visit the 1876 City Market. The rafters above my head resemble the hull of an upturned ship – homage to the city’s shipbuilding heritage.

But it’s not just the ocean that yields bounty. Foraging is big on both shores of the Bay of Fundy. An hour east of St. John, in a edgling reserve called the Fundy Trail Parkway, wild berries, mushrooms and edible ferns have turned 2,559 hectares of coniferous coastal forests into a wild larder.

Guide Nancy Lockerbie, who drew the first Fundy Trail map almost 50 years ago, shows me a native fern. Commonly referred to as a fiddlehead fern, the ostrich fern has become a foraging chef ’s favourite. Deeper into the trees, Nancy points out other edibles: sarsaparilla, ‘the original root beer’; bright-red but bland bunch berries; and a whisper of coveted mushrooms. ‘We have two patches of chanterelles,’ she reveals. ‘But if I show you, I’m going to have to kill you!’

Murmurs of the sea
In St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, creative chefs are turning a quaint seaside town into a culinary destination. At Rossmount Inn, daily menus are built around kitchen garden, local organic, and foraged produce. After dinner, we meet chef Chris Aerni – still in kitchen whites, slightly dishevelled from service, and with a glint in his eye: tonight the tides are right for squid-jigging, and his excitement is palpable. The ‘jigging’, he explains, refers to the motion used to skewer squid.

St. Martins

A tour with Turtle Shore Adventures reveals scenes of maritime spirit and loyalist heritage. To the sharp shrill of gulls, we take in murals featuring pastel-brushed tall ships as a human-sized lobster beckons tourists for shing charters. The manicured demeanour of white clapboard houses with racing-green shutters belies their age; some were ferreted piece by piece across the bay on barges from Castine in Maine by United Empire Loyalists in 1783 – sticking two fingers up at the American independence victory.

Harvesting creativity
At the 27-acre Kingsbrae Gardens, the bracing, salt-tinged air gives way to a delicate oral breeze. Overlooking St. Andrews bay, it was planted in the late 1990s to save oneof the town’s most beloved family estates from slow demise. Savour in the Garden restaurant is tucked inside the estate’s turreted 1903 guesthouse, amid an anything- goes sculpture trail. Local chef Alex Haun opened his first restaurant aged just 22. ‘Both my parents were born in Europe, so growing food was a big part of growing up,’ the Maritimesculinary young gun tells me.

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Self-sufficiency in the kitchen was a natural progression. Reaping the rewards of his gardens, Alex organises popular multi- course tasting dinners and runs a coveted apprenticeship programme. ‘It’s not just cooking, it’s learning about and harvesting sustainable food. We climb apple trees in the Fall, and forage wild asparagus on the beaches,’ he explains.

I eat that asparagus atop a butter-so lobster claw splashed with silky Hollandaise. The taste of the ocean transports me back to the rock pools at Burntcoat Head Park – the Bay of Fundy on a plate once again.

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