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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

More on the St. John River:
St. John River:
The Good and the Bountiful

Cargo of Misery:
Disease and death stalk desperate newcomers

Company Town:
Boss Gibson's Marysville

Natural delicacy of the river valley

Fir Trade:
Forests are vital to New Brunswick's economy

Fries to Go:
Fast food for the world

Home Children:
Tragic chapter in our immigration history

Big Noise:
Foghorn is invented for Partridge Island

Return Flight:
Bald eagles recover old nesting sites

The Sand and the Fury:
The complex ecology of the Fundy tides

Starting Over:
Loyalists seek refuge from revolution

Vive la République !:
The unique cultural mélange of Madawaska

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 common bond.

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 river's mouth.

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 its flow.

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

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