You are young, wealthy, and on your honeymoon during la belle epoque era in the south of France. You and your new spouse find yourself drooling over the spectacular villas of the rich and famous, surrounded by gardens and pools and tennis courts, with stunning ocean views. The two of you begin to hatch a plan to build a similar mansion back home in St. Martin’s, New Brunswick. What better way to show off the success you’ve enjoyed in wooden shipbuilding?
Such a home deserves a see and be seen location, so you choose a property high on a hill with an ocean view, get rid of a house by the roadway that would block that view, hire builders, and watch your 10000 square feet dream home take shape.
Oh, the parties you’ll have! The people you’ll invite! The reputation you’ll establish among other wealthy shipbuilders and their equally well-to-do friends from all over the world!
What you don’t know yet is that two years after your castle’s completion in 1877, your shipbuilding company will go bankrupt in an economic depression. Your villa will be converted into apartments, and eventually into a country inn, where travellers like me can stay and experience a little of your dream, even though none of us are rich or famous or particularly well- connected.
The story of the Vaughan Villa is just one of many I heard in our stay at St. Martin’s, a tiny village on New Brunswick’s Fundy Coast, with big pride in its heritage as a ship building community. We had one of the best guided tours ever at their little museum, led by a volunteer with a passion for history and storytelling.
In its heyday in the mid-nineteenth century, St. Martin’s shipyards pumped out 500 wooden sailing ships, making it one of the wealthiest communities in the Maritimes. One of the details I enjoyed most was our tour guide’s inclusion of the women’s too-often-ignored historical roles. Another member of the Vaughan family, a woman named Rachel, organized the building of a new ship when her husband was forced by weather to overwinter in Newfoundland. Some women accompanied their sea captain husbands on overseas voyages, entertaining onboard with their best linen and china when they reached port. Some had babies at sea, with their husbands in attendance as midwives. The tour kindled a new interest in me about the role of women in the age of sail.
Today, St. Martin’s shipbuilding days have passed into history. Its population has shrunk from 3400 to 250 people, with a small fishing fleet, a few restaurants and gift shops, a general store, and other amenities for tourists and locals. But it’s got a cool set of sea caves, which appear at low tide, and fill up at high tide. And one night, as the fog rolled in, we heard the urgent cry of a fog horn echoing around the bay, reminding us that the sea still impacts lives and livelihoods.
St. Martin’s is also a great jumping off point for exploring the Fundy Trail Parkway, which has a 30 km road and 10 km of hiking and biking trails from which you can enjoy Fundy Bay viewpoints, beaches, and historical locations. There is no overnight camping or other accommodations and it’s a gated park, so make sure you’re on your way back to St. Martin’s well before the park’s 8 pm closure.
2 thoughts on “And all I need is a tall ship”
Wow – what a stunning Inn and such an interesting history. What a great adventure you are on!
New Brunswick has surprised me with its historical richness. It’s been like a poor cousin to PEI and Nova Scotia in terms of tourists, but it’s got a lot to offer!