When I was a kid, my grandmother used to loan my mom copies of a glossy magazine called Ideals. I loved its sentimental poetry and folksy photos of things I’d never seen growing up in Edmonton – white country churches, forest pathways of fiery red maple leaves, and covered bridges.
I didn’t realize then that it would be decades before I actually saw my first real covered bridge. In Canada, there are only 140 of them left, mostly in Quebec and New Brunswick. If you wanted to, you could make visiting New Brunswick’s 58 covered bridges a focal point of your trip there, with the help of a map produced by that province’s department of transportation and infrastructure.
We didn’t go quite that far. We saw a few bridges incidentally as we drove around southern New Brunswick, mostly short ones across narrow stretches of water, like this one in St. Martin’s on the Fundy Coast.
But the one we made a point of seeing is the longest covered bridge in the world, in Hartland, a couple of hours outside of Fredericton. Local citizens built it in 1901, fed up with waiting for the government to respond to their request to help them and their goods get across the St. John River quickly and safely (some things never change, right?)
It remained uncovered for the first 20 years of its life, and although it was rapidly deteriorating, some community opposed to enclosing it. Why? They were concerned for the morals of their young people. In the day and age when horse and buggy was still a popular mode of transportation in rural New Brunswick, parents feared for their daughters’ safety when they were alone with young men in the darkness and privacy of the bridge. It was even said that some men were training their horses to stop halfway across the bridge so that the couple could steal a few kisses away from their parents’ prying eyes.
There are several traditions you can observe when you drive across the bridge (yes, it’s still fully functional). Make a wish and then either keep your eyes closed or hold your breath to the other side to make your wish come true (not recommended for drivers.) Or you can totally trash your morals and share a kiss or two halfway across.
Once you get to the other side, there’s one more thing you need to indulge in. Drive out of Hartland 10 minutes to the Covered Bridge Potato Chip factory. For $5, you can take a window tour of their kettle chip production line, from the time the potato slices come tumbling down into the hot oil vats until they go through the quality control sorter and continue up a conveyor belt to be bagged. Everyone gets a free bag of still warm chips at the end, and can choose to season them with flavors ranging from white truffle to mac ‘n’ cheese to bubble gum. We saw families buying shopping bags full of chips at the gift shop, a souvenir for the folks at home – if they made it that far.