St. John River
The Good and the Bountiful
Original Maliseet name: Wolastoq, meaning 'good and bountiful river'
Current official name: Saint John, given by early European navigators
Source: Northern Maine, USA
Mouth: Bay of Fundy
Direction of flow: southeast
Length : 673 kilometres
Main Characteristic: the thread in a quiltwork of cultures
The Saint John River drains an area larger than Switzerland.
Just over 50 per cent of the watershed lies in New Brunswick,
while more than 30 per cent is in Maine. Another 13 per cent
travels through the province of Quebec. For most of its length,
the river is a border between provinces and states. The Saint
John River is the Maine, Quebec, and New Brunswick region's
From beginning to end, the Saint John is rich in history.
To the Maliseet Natives, the original inhabitants of the Saint
John region, the river was the Wolastoq, the good and bountiful
river. The Maliseet kept pace with the changing economy brought
by European colonization, war and industrialization. For a
time, the Maliseet found an important market for woven baskets
wanted by potato farmers to collect their harvest. Today, they
are a strong community that still identifies with their river.
Many waterways in the Saint John system have retained their
aboriginal names, among them: Chemquasabamticook, Temiscouata,
and Nashwaaksis. The Saint John received its present name on
June 24, 1604, the feast day of St. John the Baptist, when
the expedition of Samuel de Champlain dropped anchor at the
Today's residents of the Saint John valley descend from Maliseet
Natives, Acadian colonists, Loyalist refugees from the American
War of Independence and waves of immigration from Great Britain.
From deep in the woods of northern Maine to the Bay of Fundy
on the New Brunswick coast, the Saint John River travels 673
kilometres. One of the longest rivers on the eastern seaboard
of the North America, it is also one of the most beautiful,
undergoing several distinct character changes on its journey
to the sea.
At first, it is a wilderness river, coursing through great
tracts of forest broken only by the lakes, tributaries and
deep woods of Maine. For 55 kilometres, one of its branches
forms Maine's international boundary with Quebec.
At the New Brunswick panhandle, the Saint John is tame. Farms
and towns carved out of the natural forest landscape connect
the river's banks, and the river becomes a boundary between
New Brunswick and Maine.
Just above Grand Falls, New Brunswick, the river becomes all-Canadian,
diving into the rolling hills of one of the country's largest
potato-growing districts. Human impact is dramatic on this
part of the river, with three hydroelectric dams holding back
Near Fredericton, the river enters its estuary, where it presents
yet another face. Some 130 km long, the estuarial part of the
Saint John is wide and placid, drifting among low-lying islands,
marshes, pastures, and broad waterscapes. In quiet villages,
time still whispers of riverboats that once called at local
wharves. Finally, the river reaches the ocean at Canada's oldest
incorporated city, Saint John, New Brunswick.
With thanks to David Folster, Saint
John River Society
St. John River (Adobe PDF document)
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