New Brunswick is all about space. Huge wide open swathes of untouched forest, lakes and coastline. The Canadian stretch of the Bay of Fundy stretches from the Tantramar Marshes in the north to St Stephens in the south; protected from the harsh Atlantic elements by the block of land that is Nova Scotia.
There are also dozens of islets tucked into this area – I find myself picking out my island, plentiful as are they along the eastern coastline; there must be one down there with my name on it.
I’ve come to visit Minister’s Island which is a short drive across a narrow causeway from St Andrews and only accessible at low tide.
The island has been inhabited for more than two thousand years; the Passamaquoddy people settled it initially. In 1790, the eponymous minister, Reverend Samuel Andrews, built one of the earliest remaining houses on the island, which is a sweet little bungalow, and first popularised the destination. Railway mogul of the late nineteenth century, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, soon came along and trumped the minister with his summer holiday home, a ‘cottage’ of considerably bigger size than the minister’s quaint abode.
The island provides a Swallows and Amazons sized adventure of five hundred acres – just two miles long and one mile wide – and overlooks the Bay of Passamaquoddy (meaning bay of plenty fish). Sir William developed the island and as well as his vast, fifty-bedroomed house built a bathhouse which served as his personal hideaway, a tidal pool, a windmill and a model farm.
Sir William was not much of a sleeper, reputedly getting by on a mere four hours a night. His room on the ground floor gave easy access to the extensive gardens filled with butternut trees, where he loved to walk and paint.
Sir William was also keen on farming; he adored his Clydesdale horses and had a collection of twenty by 1903. His farm on the island had plenty of livestock, including Ayrshire cattle, Shropshire sheep, Tamworth pigs and Guinea fowl. It is easy to see how he achieved such industrial success; the man raised the windows in his barn to prevent his workers from being distracted by the view!
Minister’s Island is now in the process of being brought back to life; extensive refurbishment projects are going on. Visitors can see ancient fossils from the island, samples of Sir William’s artwork, First Nation arrow points that date back up to two and half thousand years and hear tell of the numerous ghost stories that surround the island.
Time truly stands still on this tiny island.