St. Andrews-By-The-Sea is predominantly a tourist town. The Winters can be long and much less exciting than the boom of the Summer season. The seaside town stays fairly quiet well into Spring, until Paddlefest weekend when the town of a couple thousand is flooded with with an extra five hundred people, ready to partake in music, hiking, and paddling.
St. Andrews is essentially a town of imports, people who bring with them an abundance of art, culture and talent. From the first Loyalists who settled and built the town, to Sir William van Horne, an artist himself, who declared the town a summer resort area, bringing in Montreal’s visiting society, St Andrews has always attracted an artsy sort of people. Perhaps that’s why it’s said that the ‘hippie culture’ of New Brunswick originated here.
During Paddlefest weekend, this is easy to believe, with VW camper vans lining Water Street and one shop promoting a sale on patchouli. For over a century, the town has attracted many people for a short time: people are always travelling through, whether it’s summer vacationers, artists looking for inspiration on the shores of the Passamaquoddy, or more recently, seasonal Algonquin staffers and college students. It’s always been a town that people fall in love with by accident and have to come back to.
Having run in some form or another for the last twenty years, Paddlefest has begun to feel like one huge reunion as those same people return again and again. Paddlefest Eve brings almost as much excitement as Christmas for the town. On what would have been a typically quiet, sleepy Wednesday, local restaurants and shops prepare for a swell in business before the townspeople catch up on the sleep they know they’ll be missing over the next three or four nights. Thursday and Friday arrive with much excitement and cheers of ‘Happy Paddlefest!’ ring through the town as festival-goers start arriving from out of town, gathering at hotels, motels, the campground, and in the backyards of local friends.
Those who stick around the area throughout the year tend to make a lot of seasonal friends. Some friendships last a season or two as the ebb and flow of resort staffing brings people in and carries them away again. Paddlefest is the event that signifies the beginning of summer and the return of many familiar faces. Those walking along the lawns of Minister’s Island, through the Paddlefest Craft Market, or entering the dark tent at night, have no trouble finding someone they know.
For some of the local festival attendees, the weekend is a chance to do “touristy” things, such as visiting the alpacas and exploring the gardens at Kingsbrae. Thursday kicked off with local favourites The Kendra Gale Band and Earthbound Trio playing the sets, sandwiching New York’s Cecile Doo-Kingue and her band. Friday afternoon saw a parade of cars to venture across the ocean floor to Ministers Island to take in Ryan LeBlanc and Tomato/Tomato
Some of the venues hosting shows are favourites among the community and are visited often. In other cases, it gives people a chance to say, “I’ve lived here for ages and never knew this was here.” So many people choose to live in the area because they’ve fallen in love with it, whether they grew up here or had moved here. There’s always a sense of pride when showing off the town they love so much to friends and music lovers who can appreciate and love it as much as they do. The weekend is an excuse to slow down, breathe in the salty air, dance to a newly discovered band, and gather around the dooryards and steps of friends houses to catch up with a beer.
Paddlefest is a great reason for anyone who has fallen in love with the town to come back, even if it’s just for the weekend. While locals may complain about Water Street being too crowded with traffic, or the music being too loud, most smile and say “I can’t wait for next year.”
For more information visit www.paddlefestnb.ca