There is a castle by the sea tucked away in the extreme southwestern corner of New Brunswick at the end of a long, winding road. It's the Algonquin Hotel, one of Canada's earliest seaside resorts, and it's been there for 111 years.
This grand old inn dominates the Passamaquoddy Bay holiday village that is marketed as St. Andrews-by-the-Sea. Before the days of antihistamines, people with allergies came here from great distances for the clean air. They were lured by the slogan, "No hay fever," a claim that is still being made. In 1871 the Saint John Globe described St. Andrews as the "Watering place of the Dominion."
On June 28, 1889, the newly built Algonquin Hotel staged its gala opening with an invitation list of 800. Early guests included Governor-General Lord Stanley of Preston and Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. Canadian Pacific rail service had been introduced that year. A Pullman car excursion from Boston brought a who's who of American guests as did special train service from points across Canada. Steamers from both Canada and the United States docked at St. Andrews.
The Algonquin Hotel was built of wood and boasted a long, open veranda with a spectacular view of the harbour. There were 85 bedrooms and an elevator (unheard of until then in any eastern summer hotel), as well as ladies and gentlemen's toilet rooms on each floor. There were optional baths of fresh or salt water, and room prices ranged from $3 to $5 a day.
Over the century-plus since its opening, the Algonquin has recovered from fires, economic slumps, and changes of management. It has emerged with 250 modern rooms and an international clientele. Today, you can enjoy breakfast on the terrace, lobsters on the beach, a pint of ale in the Chart Room Pub, ocean swimming at Katey's Cove or in the fresh-water pool, and one of the most beautiful gardens of any hotel in the country.
Arriving guests enter via the curved driveway, past lush beds of marigolds and zinnias, giant cosmos and dahlias the size of dinner plates, with borders of petunias and alyssum. Throughout the hotel are colourful bouquets of flowers selected from the large cutting garden beside the swimming pool. Cheerful young staff members dressed in the New Brunswick tartan provide greetings in the lobby.
Golf has been a key ingredient in the Algonquin experience for more than a century. A new 6,900-yard, par-72 course, designed by Canadian Thomas McBroom, will open in July. One of its holes was rerouted to protect a nest of ospreys not yet hatched. From the Old Ferry Dock hole, golfers will be able to view the island of St. Croix, where Samuel de Champlain founded the first European settlement in Canada.
In her spirited history of St. Andrews, No Hay Fever in a Railway, author Willa Walker combines historical information with stories about the great and the unusual people who summered there. For the sake of his health, she recalls, Montreal financier Sir James Dunn kept a greenhouse for growing parsley and drank a glass of seawater every day. Sir Thomas Tait, wearing a yachting cap, greeted visiting sailors at the St. Andrews wharf as commander of a yacht club that didn't exist. Billy Van Horne, grandson of railway executive Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, spent many hours during the Second War World on that same wharf looking for German submarines. None were sighted.
A new wing was added in 1993. About 80 per cent of today's guests come from outside the province. They are pampered with special soap and toiletries in the rooms and evening turndown service that features mints on the pillows, small bottles of mineral water, and stemmed glasses to accommodate a nightcap. It's still the same room, but somehow it feels warmer with those little attentions.
There are cookouts at Katey's Cove, sailing, swimming, whale-watching and racquet courts. The master chef serves up lobsters, mussels and fiddleheads. Children's program include scavenger hunts, camping out, pool games, crazy crafts and nature trips.
The Algonquin Indians, after whom the hotel was named, no longer have their encampment in the middle of St. Andrews. The rail service has long since been withdrawn. But the community continues to thrive as a popular year-around destination for visitors from all over North America. The pace is slow, the Bay of Fundy setting still spectacular, and the boasts continue: There is "no hay fever" and "no mosquitoes" at St. Andrews-by-the-Sea. The Algonquin is operated by Canadian Pacific Hotels (marketed as Fairmont Hotels and Resorts), which has 34 city centre and resort hotels in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Barbados and Bermuda. The address: The Algonquin, 184 Adolphus St., St. Andrews, N.B., E0G 2X0. Telephone: (506) 529-8823. Fax: (506) 529-7162. E-mail: sales @alg.cphotels.ca . Internet: www.cphotelsca . For reservations call CP Hotels at (800) 441-1414. Room rates range from $90 to $300 a room. Jack Brickenden is based in Agincourt, Ont.