Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Brian Owens

Bring­ing back Min­is­ters Is­land, N.B.

New Brunswick’s Min­is­ters Is­land is be­ing re­stored to its for­mer glory

TWICE A DAY, as the Bay of Fundy’s mas­sive tides with­draw, a kilo­me­tre­long cause­way opens up across the ocean floor, giv­ing fleet­ing ac­cess to Min­is­ters Is­land near Saint Andrews in south­ern New Brunswick. The is­land is a na­tional his­toric site best known as the for­mer sum­mer home of Sir Wil­liam Van Horne, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way in the late 19th cen­tury, and the chance to visit his sprawl­ing, man­sion-like “cot­tage” called Coven­hoven is what drew more than 26,000 peo­ple to the is­land last year. But there is more to the story of Min­is­ters Is­land than just Van Horne. The 280-hectare is­land is part of the tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory of the Pas­samaquoddy peo­ple, who used it as an im­por­tant sum­mer fish­ing camp for thou­sands of years be­fore the ar­rival of Euro­peans. Loy­al­ist set­tlers ar­rived in the late 18th cen­tury and the is­land took its cur­rent name from Rev­erend Sa­muel Andrews, the rec­tor of Saint Andrews, who built a small house there in 1790, which still stands to­day. Van Horne bought most of t he is­land f rom Andrews’ de­scen­dants start­ing in the 1890s and turned it into a sum­mer re­treat and agri­cul­tural lab­o­ra­tory. Even­tu­ally, the Van Horne fam­ily lost in­ter­est in the is­land, and the prov­ince fi­nally took con­trol of it in the 1970s. This long and rich his­tory is part of what makes the is­land such an invit­ing des­ti­na­tion, says Brian Usher, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Van Horne Es­tate on Min­is­ters Is­land, which ad­min­is­ters the land on be­half of the prov­ince. “The story of the is­land is al­ways chang­ing,” he says. Usher’s group has spent the past sev­eral years slowly re­pair­ing and restor­ing Coven­hoven and re­cov­er­ing Van Horne’s fur­ni­ture and ar­ti­facts, many of which were sold off in the 1970s (luck­ily, a gi­gan­tic 3½-me­tre-long bil­liards ta­ble proved too awk­ward for its buyer to re­move, and so re­mains on dis­play). A $2-mil­lion renovation of the huge cedar-shin­gled barn (orig­i­nally de­signed by the famed Cana­dian ar­chi­tect Ed­ward Maxwell), where Van Horne bred his prize-win­ning Cly­des­dale horses and Dutch Belted cat­tle, is nearly com­plete and open to the pub­lic. Now, the plan is to ex­pand the ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able to vis­i­tors. The barn hosts mu­si­cal per­for­mances most Fri­day evenings through­out the sum­mer, and a craft beer fes­ti­val is in the works for Septem­ber. A her­itage farm ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, fea­tur­ing demon­stra­tions by car­pen­ters and stone­ma­sons, as well as hands-on ex­pe­ri­ences of ev­ery­thing from bee­keep­ing to farm-to-ta­ble cook­ing, are be­ing de­vel­oped. Usher also wants to find ways to tell more of the Pas­samaquoddy story of the is­land. All that planned ac­tiv­ity is not the only rea­son for a visit, how­ever. For those who just want to im­merse them­selves in the tran­quil­ity of its qui­eter ar­eas, the is­land is also criss-crossed with 26 kilo­me­tres of peace­ful hik­ing and cy­cling trails, which are open year-round. Just make sure you check the tide sched­ule be­fore you go to avoid an un­ex­pect­edly long stay.

Coven­hoven ( left), a sprawl­ing 50-room cot­tage, and the bath­house ( top) are part of the Van Horne Es­tate on Min­is­ters Is­land.

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