Towns, highways, hotels and other attractions


The recent local editorials about St. Andrews’ storied Algonquin Hotel got some of it right. The Algonquin is losing its management company, the Fairmont. And the hotel is tired.

What the editorials didn’t tell you is that the Fairmont chain is the final version of Canadian Pacific Hotels, which has been operating the Algonquin, on and off, since 1903. So, the town of St. Andrews is losing a long-term—and historic—partner. It’s the end of an era.

That era began with a group of American businessmen from Boston, who built the Algonquin in 1889. By 1903 they’d sold the hotel, lock-stock-and-barrel to CP. Eleven years later the hotel burned down, and was rebuilt and expanded into the Tudor-style hotel we see today. For more on its illustrious history, check out David Sullivan’s book on the hotel (

So why is the hotel’s history important? Well, it has more to do with the history of transportation and technology than the hotel. The Algonquin was only built because of the rail line to St. Andrews.

By the 1950s highways had replaced the railway as the main mode of passenger transportation, and by the 1970s the writing was on the wall. Passenger rail service was a thing of the past, and CP was getting out of the hotel ownership business, though they’d continue managing them. By 1984 the Province of New Brunswick had purchased the Algonquin, ostensibly because there wasn’t any other buyer available. No one but the Province could afford the white elephant on the hill.

It was a losing proposition. Even with a new addition added that year, the hotel was tired. And has stayed tired. Most of the rooms in the main part of the hotel are closed in the winter and have no air conditioning in the summer. To say that these rooms are small and outdated is an understatement, not to mention over-priced.

To blame the government for not keeping up the hotel is a bit disingenuous. There was no way to keep it up—while justifying it as a business. It simply didn’t earn enough to allow for reinvestment. CP knew that. Even so, the Province ponied up the cash to add a signature golf course to the facility, hoping that would draw more visitors. But that has proven to be a money-pit as well, and failed to attract enough visitors.

Meanwhile, the efforts of the residents of St. Andrews have done little over the past two decades to increase traffic to the town. So now all is riding on the future of the hotel, and finding an investor willing to shell out between $15 to $20 million on a money-losing old hotel with low occupancy.

So what is the future? Well, as Marshall McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message.” And the original (and long gone) medium for the hotel was the railway. The current media are highways and the Internet.

The new divided highway is going in as we speak, and it will smoothly carry people past the St. Andrews turnoff at 100+ kph, just as it bypasses St. Stephen with a sleek new border crossing. The only local beneficiary seems to be St. George, which has excellent visual optics from the new road and great on and off points—one with an actual gas station and service centre! With a bit of a development plan, St. George could actually do some tourism business.

But it’s the Internet that signals the real change. People now shop globally for tourism experiences. And the word “experiences” says it all. Today’s travellers want something to do, not just something to see. When they arrive at a destination, they come with expectations, and their own personal experience (both online and real world) to shape those expectations.

The prime experience in Charlotte County is the ocean. And whale watching is the easiest and best way to access that experience. Sea kayaking comes next. These are active experiences. But there is no main attraction—such as a national park—to draw hundreds of thousands of new visitors to the area. Instead, the Province invested its money into the Algonquin.

A “Passamaquoddy Bay National Marine Park” would be the kind of thing that would make sense for the entire region. It would give the old Algonquin a reason to live. It would add greatly needed dimension (and international marketing power) to the new Huntsman Discovery Centre. It would give new relevance to the towns of St. George, St. Andrews and St. Stephen as waterfront towns, and bring new and much needed attention to Deer Island Campobello and Grand Manan.

National parks of this type can draw in excess of 2 million people a year. And a national marine park is the kind of thing that lends itself to online marketing.

Why is the marine park a good online fit? Because the Internet is about information. (That’s why it’s the called the “information highway,” duh.) So connect the information dots. The world’s oceans are in crisis. And Passamaquoddy Bay is perhaps the most fertile body of water in the northern latitudes. The life in our bay is beyond world-class. Learning about ocean life is critical to our future. And I don’t mean our local future. I mean the future of all of us on the planet.

Now, if that isn’t a marketing opportunity, I don’t know what is.


  1. See Facebook comments. Most oft repeated in St. Andrews? "We don't want to be another Bar Harbo/u/r!" (Accompanied by a nasal whine.)

  2. Paste up from Facebook page...

    Art MacKay
    Gerald this is all old news, albeit it is good to repeat it for the newbies. All of the towns, except St. Stephen were badly hit when the Trans-Canada bypassed them back in the 50s and it took St. Andrews years to recover. St. George languished until they built the mill and aquaculture started to mature. Visibility ain't gonna do it. The "Adventure Centre" in St. George was a dud because no one could figure out how to get there.

    And the Marine Park ... now there is an experience you have to have lived through to appreciate.

    Art MacKay Anyway, I've now come to the place where I no longer think it's about creativity ... lots of that has gone around from many people like Dave Armstrong, Me, you, and others. What is missing is THE WILL to proceed and the CO-OPERATION OF YOUR GOVERNMENT AND NEIGHBOURS ... all key elements that are missing here for some reason I have never understood. Remember we "eat our young!"

    Gerald McEachern
    I know. I know. But I can't stop tackling the source problem: the culture. There's a vice grip on mediocrity (or worse) here that has to be witnessed to be appreciated. It's as if we appoint the stupidest people to run the show, and then wonder what went wrong. (Did I say "as if"?) Just look at the talent or lack thereof on the local town councils, and the decades of deadwood that won't move on... This is purposeful, culture-wide, anti-creativity in action. Or inaction. And agreed, you and David and a few others have brought some real creativity—and new business potential—to the table. But the COOPERATION is missing. Instead there are the petty mind control police bashing everything down to the slowest and lowest common denominator.

    Art MacKay I know! I know! LOL

    Gerald McEachern ‎:) oh...and having been through a stillborn marine park proposal on Lake Superior, I know what kind of hell that with you on that page, too.


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