Halifax-based contributors *John and Sandra Nowlan scoped out what to do in Fredericton, New Brunswick. They’ve almost become city “insiders” after frequent visits to the New Brunswick capital where their daughter and three granddaughters live.
“Great things can happen in little places,” said Frank Scott.
We were chatting with Scott, the co-owner of the Lunar Rogue, a downtown pub with walls covered by 600 bottles of Scotch whisky. The Rogue (as locals call it) is one of only a handful of pubs around the planet to be among the “Great Whisky Bars of the World” as chosen by Whisky Magazine.
By his “little places” comment, Frank Scott was referring not only to his Loyalist/Colonial-style watering hole but to the small city in which it’s located. Fredericton, New Brunswick. With a population of about 60,000, the city boasts a symphony orchestra, four universities, a world-class art gallery, a modern Playhouse, a Convention Center, outstanding restaurants, indoor and outdoor markets for every taste, and a year-round series of unique festivals.
A spirited whisky festival
Among those major annual events is Frank Scott’s own creation, the New Brunswick Spirits Festival, held each November. Since its inception in 1995, the Festival, the oldest of its kind in Canada, has expanded to a five-day event featuring 350 different brands, 80% of which are blends and single malts from Scotland. Due to COVID, it had to be canceled last year but the 2022 November event is a ‘go’. Frank Scott even makes annual trips to the best whisky regions of Scotland to enhance his knowledge and discover new products.
Other notable events year-round
Other major Fredericton festivals include the winter getaways, FROSTival and Shivering Songs (East Coast songwriters, musicians, and storytellers), RibFest in June, the New Brunswick Highland Games Festival each July, the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in the fall, and the Fredericton Craft Beer Festival in March.
In addition, a mid-February to mid-March tradition is Dine Around Freddy, where 25 restaurants in the city offer locals and visitors carefully selected three-course dinners for just $35 Canadian ($28 USD).
Where to stay in Fredericton
There are a variety of accommodations in and near downtown Fredericton. During our long weekend (Thursday to Monday) in New Brunswick’s capital, we spent two nights at Fredericton’s riverfront hotel, Crowne Plaza Fredericton – Lord Beaverbrook, open since 1948 and recently upgraded.
The hotel was named for Max Aitken, a Canadian-British newspaper tycoon (and the first Baron Beaverbrook). Its location is ideal, adjacent to the Saint John River, next door to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, and across the street from the Convention Centre and Playhouse. Its new restaurant, Maxwell’s Steak & Seafood, features specialties like wild boar, Northumberland lamb, lobster, and oysters on the half shell. The beef short rib was especially tasty.
From the hotel, it’s an easy stroll to everything downtown including several unique craft shops like Gallery 78, a 19th century Queen Anne Revival mansion that’s the oldest private gallery in New Brunswick, and a shop called The Artisan District with some of the most distinctive locally produced pottery, blown glass, woodworking and jewelry we’ve ever seen.
Our other accommodation was The Red House Bed and Breakfast, This 1859 Victorian home, located a short walk from downtown, has been lovingly turned into guest accommodations by John and Monica Antworth. Our room was the original master bedroom, furnished, like the whole house, with antiques from the original owner.
The room’s adjacent nursery has been converted into a white marble bathroom with a large shower and stand-alone tub. We were offered several choices of bath salts and soap. The bedroom had cable TV, excellent lighting with a heat pump for comfort. Our hosts provided a welcome treat of sparkling wine, cheese, and snacks. The morning breakfast – fruit, Eggs Benedict, and coffee – was outstanding.
An eclectic dining scene
Fredericton now has a sophisticated dining scene that includes excellent independent coffee shops. The Tipsy Muse, a popular meeting place for the city’s many poets, artists, and actors is located close to the Playhouse and offers live music along with great coffee and Montreal bagels.
The Purrfect Cup, a cat café across the river with excellent locally roasted brews and cute kittens, has a separate room to enjoy coffee and snacks while playing with adoptable felines. The café partners with local animal shelters. Since it opened a few years ago, it has placed 425 cats in loving homes.
The city also has a growing number of ethnic eateries. The Dos Toros Taqueria & Tequila Bar had some of the best Mexican food we’ve ever enjoyed while the Street Greek North would do well in downtown Athens.
Other restaurants feature Ethiopian, Caribbean, German, Korean, Lebanese, and Indian cuisine. We were also delighted by the evolution of the very popular new restaurant at the riverside Delta Fredericton Hotel. Its STRM.36 (named to honor the steamboat that plied the Saint John River, making 36 stops) has BBQ ribs and brisket that rivaled the smoky treats we’ve enjoyed in Texas.
A craft beverage mecca
For a relatively quiet city, it’s remarkable that Fredericton supports more than two dozen craft alcohol producers – breweries, cideries, meaderies, wineries, and distilleries. In fact, to compete with Frank Scott’s whisky collection, the local Hilton Garden Inn started featuring gin. It now offers the largest selection in the Maritimes, 63 different varieties of the juniper berry-flavored beverage. We were there on a Saturday night for the very popular Gin and Live Jazz. A great weekend combination.
What to do in Fredericton: Compact but fun-filled
So much of compact Fredericton demonstrates why it punches well above its weight as a small city.
The national Globe and Mail newspaper has called Fredericton “one of the ten smartest Canadian cities in which to do business” as well as “one of the top 5 new technology boomtowns.” A key part of that business-friendly environment is Knowledge Park, a 35-acre research and technology campus located on the outskirts of the city near the big box shopping areas.
The Cyber Centre, a $37 million part of Knowledge Park, supports more than 600 cyber security jobs in the provincial capital. Technology giants like IBM and Siemens are already using the city as a launchpad for developing, testing, and marketing innovative ICT technologies. The best-educated workforce in New Brunswick is helping make this happen.
You won’t have to worry about what to do in Fredericton. There are plenty of attractions. Known as “The City of Stately Elms”, Fredericton is renowned for its generous green spaces including forests and parklands. A rare old-growth forest within the city limits is Odell Park, 333 acres that include 16 kilometres of trails with some trees more than 400 years old. The park includes the Odell Arboretum and New Brunswick Species Collection.
A highlight for us was a walk through the park where we learned about medicinal plants and drank fir tip tea provided by Cecelia Brooks and her son, Anthony, from Wabanaki Tree Spirit Tours, one of several thriving tourist-oriented companies in Fredericton.
The downtown area has a Science Museum called Science East, perfect for kids, at the site of a former Victorian-era prison that was built in 1842. It includes the only outdoor science playground in Atlantic Canada and has more than 150 compelling hands-on science exhibits.
The museum sits next door to the lively Boyce Farmers Market, named one of the ten best farmers’ markets in Canada. With over 200 stalls indoors and outdoors, the main building was constructed in 1951 but the site of the market pre-dates Fredericton’s founding in 1783.
The New Brunswick Legislative Library includes a rare copy of Audubon’s “Birds of America” (a similar copy sold for $8.8 million). The cultural masterpiece of Fredericton is the riverside Beaverbrook Art Gallery. Currently undergoing a $10 million renovation, it includes the oldest birch-bark canoe in the world and Salvador Dali’s huge and impressive painting, Santiago El Grande.
As if to emphasize Fredericton’s status as a small, livable city, the December issue of US News and World Report listed Fredericton as one of “The Ten Best Places to Retire in Canada”. The “little place” is being noticed.
*Sandra and John Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Disclosure: The Nowlans accommodations in Fredericton were hosted but any opinions expressed in this post are their own.
All photo credits: John and Sandra Nowlan (except for lead photo, Adobe Stock)
IF YOU GO
- The New Brunswick capital is an easy one-day drive from most of New England.
- Read the Nowlan’s article about Prince Edward Island: Canada’s Food Island, located about 3/5 hours from Fredericton via the Trans-Canada Highway.
For more information, see the Fredericton Visitor Information Centre.
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