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The Algonquin and St. Andrews-by-the-Sea
Tim Ostrem cuts an imposing figure in the New Brunswick town of St. Andrews-by-the-Sea. Standing well over 6 feet tall and possessing a deep, authoritative voice, he’s not a difficult man to pick out in a crowd. As the General Manager of the Algonquin Resort and Spa here in St. Andrews, he is easygoing, proud of this community, and seems to be on a first-name basis with most of the town.
In fact, it’s tough to discern the relationship at play here: is the Algonquin part of St. Andrews, or is St. Andrews part of the Algonquin?
As it turns out, it’s a little of both. And to truly understand the special nature of the Algonquin, you have to understand the beautiful town of St. Andrews-by-the-Sea.
I arrived here this morning after taking a three-hour crossing aboard Bay Ferries’ Princess of Acadia, sailing from Digby, Nova Scotia to Saint John, New Brunswick. Because I can – and do – tend to blather on about ships, I’m going to devote an entire article to this unique vessel and the crossing on Monday. There’s lots to tell, too: I was fortunate to be able to spend the entire voyage admiring the view from the ship’s Navigation Bridge.
St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, or St. Andrews, is about a 60-minute drive from Saint John. You’ll think you’re getting lost in no-man’s-land when you drive out here, but keep coming: you’re heading the right way. But this is no sleepy little town located at the end of the road; instead, St. Andrews has an enormous population of families and young people, lured to the town by its enormous artistic community and Government and University-supported research facilities.
After getting checked-in at the gorgeous little Treadwell Inn, which features just six rooms located in the heart of St. Andrews, it was time for some whale-watching with St. Andrews Ocean Adventures.
Fitted with a full-blown Helly Hansen floatation suit, we embarked the Hurricane, an extremely nimble orange Zodiac raft. We also saw people getting aboard larger whale-watching ships, sans Helly Hansen suits. But honestly, what’s the point to that? If I’m going to go whale-watching, I want to feel the spray on my face and the salt in the air.
And I certainly got that.
The whales were out in full-force, with four or five continually circling our Zodiac and two of the other whale-watching vessels in the bay. A few even breached right next to us, emerging so close to the Zodiac that the auto-focus on my camera wasn’t able to keep up with them. And you don’t realize until they’re right up on you how enormous – and how fast – these beautiful creatures are.
Half the fun for me were the enormous swells that rocked the Zodiac to and fro. We even rode one memorable one down, only to have the next one come cascading over the top of the Zodiac. The Helly Hansen suit kept me nice and warm, though that one wave did send seawater cascading down my open collar!
Back at the dock, I traded my Helly Hansen survival suit for a different garment: a kilt. Off Kilter Biking Tours is run by Kurt Gumushel, whose father Fuat first moved to St. Andrews in the 1960’s and set up shop as a tailor. He eventually turned to making kilts (in a nod to St. Andrew’s Scottish heritage), which made it a natural fit for his son Kurt to incorporate the kilt into his cycling tours.
As we were a bit crunched for time, Kurt kindly took me around to all of the different places people can visit on his cycling tours, which can range from easy tourist rides around town to full-blown, all-day mountain biking adventures.
So how popular is Off-Kilter biking? Very! Even when I was taking the luggage out of my car at the Treadwell Inn, a group of kilt-clad bikers from Kurt’s tours cycled past me. It’s a heck of a lot of fun, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better guide than Kurt – he knows nearly every trail and road in the town and its surroundings, and most importantly, he’s passionate about what he does. I look forward to going back someday for a full-day kilted ride.
Kurt deposited me at The Clubhouse, the Algonquin’s brand-new dining venue located on their striking 18-hole golf course. However, I’d have a tough time pulling myself onto the greens – and not just because my game is terrible.
When I first met Tim Ostrem in Halifax last week, he joked that the best was being saved for last on my itinerary. And while I haven’t had a bad meal on this entire trip, he certainly must have been thinking about the food at The Clubhouse. If this dinner menu doesn’t make your mouth water, I am not sure what will.
I was able to sample a little bit of everything on the menu, including the Lobster Mac and Cheese, which I typically shy away from, as I like more seafood than cheese in mine. This one hits that bill perfectly – you can taste the lobster predominantly, and the cheese only compliments it.
The other thing I’ve been craving every moment since I had it was the amazing Lobster Sliders, which are paired with smoked pork belly for a taste that’s out-of-this-world.
This brings me to dessert. Try the Whoopie Pie – an enormous chocolate sandwich-style creation served with a Bailey’s milkshake, or the Granite Town Farms Blueberry Cheesecake. I’m not a huge dessert fan, but these were stunningly good.
In all honesty, if you had to ask me what the best food I had this year is, it is unquestionably the meal I ate at The Clubhouse. Which makes me very eager to see what the meals are like at Braxton’s, the Algonquin’s Signature on-site dining venue.
Which brings me to the Algonquin itself. On their own website, the hotel says, “Deciding to make history, not surprisingly, takes time.” It’s a very accurate assertion for a hotel that isn’t just undergoing a refit – it’s undergoing a complete transformation.
I toured the property extensively. Top to bottom. Bottom to top. From wing, to wing, to wing. And at every stage, my jaw was left hanging open. Behind the construction tape and the parking lot filled with semi-trailers lies a work of art in progress.
What impressed me most, though, is that the Algonquin isn’t simply trying to live off their rich past history like many historic hotels do. Instead, they’re respecting the past, but creating new traditions at the same time. Picture enjoying port wine and entertainment at night outdoors, by the new firepits overlooking the hotel. Or stepping out onto your own private balcony overlooking that same music – balconies that were never there before, and had to be added onto the structure at great expense.
Imagine basking in the outdoor pool during the summer months, or retreating into the brand-new heated pool and waterslide complex during the winter months. Or indulging in a warm drink within Braxton’s Bar, which seamlessly blends with the resort’s lobby, Veranda and courtyard patio spaces.
For a 233-room hotel, the sheer amount of space in this property is mind-blowing. Every square inch of it is covered in magnificent glass windows – most of which were restored to their original splendour, right down to the original panes, whenever possible. When complete, the revitalized Algonquin will also boast 19,300 square feet of meeting space and an on-site A/V team – not to mention a helipad.
If you stayed at the Algonquin before, forget everything you know or have seen about the property. The walls have been stripped down to their frames. The entire building has been winterized to allow for year-round operation. New details have been added, from new uniforms and custom-cufflinks made in town to Braxton’s signature coffee – also made in town. The entire experience will be brand-new, yet decidedly local.
I’ve also decided this: I’m going to offer a few photos here. Not much – just a few. Because I don’t want to ruin the surprise for the people of St. Andrews later this year, when they can see what an exquisite masterpiece is situated just up the hill from them. After all, you wouldn’t show an early version of the Mona Lisa.
We’ve come to the point in the article where I am going to stick my neck out and make a rather bold prediction: I don’t think that the re-launch of the new Algonquin will be good for just St. Andrews, or just New Brunswick, or just the Atlantic Provinces. I think it will be good for Canada as a whole; every bit as prestigious and innovative as the original Canadian Pacific Hotels were when they were originally conceived by William Van Horne. It will be the first Autograph Collection hotel in Canada, and I’d hate to be the second Autograph Collection hotel in Canada.
They’re going to have a very tough act to follow.
The Algonquin isn’t just slapping a new coat of paint on and calling it a day. They’re honouring and respecting the storied heritage of this great hotel. More importantly, however, they’re creating new traditions and experiences that will be experienced and cherished by an entire generation of new travellers; travellers who will remember the Algonquin Resort and St. Andrews by the Sea long after you and I are gone.
Is the Algonquin part of St. Andrews, or the other way around? Neither. When the Algonquin re-opens, they will be as they always have been.
Our Live Trip Report through Canada’s Maritimes has sadly come to a close, but stay tuned for a recap Monday – and the start of our next Live Voyage Report on Saturday, September 21! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
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