Grand Manan Island Travelogue

09.03.19 The height of chess popularity on the island of Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada was probably during the fall of 1984. That's when Jim Leslie, owner of the island's Marathon Inn, hosted the Grand Manan Fall Classic--a six-person double round robin tournament won by Grandmasters Yasser Seirawan and Anatoly Lein. Since then, interest in chess has waned to the point where there is currently no on-island chess club. With a visit to Grand Manan, and a donation of chess equipment and instruction, we aim to change that.

Swallowtail Lighthouse sits atop a cliff overlooking North Head on Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick, Canada.

Grand Manan is a beautiful Canadian island that sits just a dozen miles off the coast of Lubec, Maine. The "Queen of the Fundy Isles" is home to a population of just over 2,000 residents--the vast majority of whom live on the eastern side of the island. The west coast of the island is mostly uninhabited because of the relative inaccessibility of its 300-foot cliffs.

Visitors can travel to Grand Manan via a Costal Transport Limited ferry from Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick. The crossing takes about 90 minutes. The first landmark visitors see on approach is the iconic Swallowtail Lighthouse located at North Head on the extreme northeastern tip of the island. Swallowtail is just one of Grand Manan's many historically significant lighthouses.

The scenic cliffs, beaches, and hiking trails as well as in-town restaurants, cafes and creature comforts make Grand Manan a must-see destination. Moreover, the friendly, welcoming natives, always willing to take the time to chat and share a laugh, really make the trip worthwhile.

On a recent visit to Grand Manan, we crisscrossed the island in search of all this beautiful corner of the world had to offer. We hope you enjoy what we found as much as we did.

The Bay of Fundy is well known for having some of the highest tides in the world. At the ferry terminal in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, the high tides rise to a peak of over 20 feet.

Like clockwork, every day of the year except Christmas Day and New Year's Day, the Grand Manan ferry makes its way from Blacks Harbour to North Head.

Blacks Harbour, like North Head, has a working waterfont with many fishing and lobstering boats.

We enjoyed a very pleasant 90-minute crossing with fair winds and following seas.

Swallowtail lighthouse from the sea is the first landmark one encounters on the approach to the island.

One of our first stops was a closer look at Swallowtail. In response to the tragic shipwreck of the Lord Asburton in 1857 which left 21 sailors dead, Swallowtail Light was constructed in 1859 but did not go into service until July 7, 1860 after the arrival of the lantern from England.

The lighthouse is literally lashed to the island with a network of steel cables.

The Swallowtail Keepers Society maintain a museum and observation deck inside the lighthouse.

The 45 foot tower which sits 103 feet above sea level has an unusual design of eight sides at the bottom and seven at the top allowing the opening of the lantern door.

Here's a closeup look at one of Swallowtail's decommissioned lanterns.

This decommissioned bell was forged in West Troy New York in 1904.

Just down the road from the ferry terminal and Swallowtail Lighthouse is Pettes Cove Arts, a local gift and jewelry shop where you can find homemade island treasures.

Always important to the intrepid traveler is the location of the best coffee! The Old Well House Café in North Head fits the bill nicely with great Java, homemade soups, sandwiches, and pastries.

Great coffee, food, and music in a great atmosphere.

Sitting on an old school couch, sipping coffee, and listening to Neil Young's Harvest.

While gazing out at the harbor.

Adjacent to the Old Well House Café is Post Office Pizza.

That's just the place to get in a few outdoor games while enjoying lunch...

...and ocean views.

My opponent sacked a piece to get my King into the open and followed up with an accurate series of moves that lead to mate.

Post Office Pizza is just a short walk from the Marathon Inn the site of the 1984 international Grand Manan Fall Classic. Here's a game from the tournament in which multiple-time Canadian Champion IM Lawrence Day and GM Yasser Seirawan play to a draw.

On the extreme northern tip of the island on a tree-covered cliff you will find Long Eddy Point Lighthouse--known to locals as The Whistle.

A lone fishing boat works in the shadow of Long Eddy Point with Maine (left) and the New Brunswick mainland (right) in the background.

Making our way south from North Head we discovered Castalia Marsh a beautiful bird sanctuary and Castalia Marsh Retreat an incredibly beautiful place to stay with funky accommodations right on the marsh.

A panorama of Castalia Marsh

Just west of Castalia on Hill Road is Roland's Sea Vegetables.

Where wild-grown dulse, kombu, nori, and a variety of other sea vegetables are harvested, dried and sold. The taste of freshly harvested sea vegetables is hard to describe--suffice it to say it's a mineral-packed salty chaw that makes you one with the ocean.

Continuing west on Dark Harbour Road--the island's only east-west road...

...we came upon the isolated hamlet of Dark Harbour.

Dark Harbour is the only location on the west coast of the island that is accessible by car.

These dories are used to head out to the open ocean at high tide and harvest dulse.

Wild heather holding on at the high water mark in Dark Harbour.

A panorama of Dark Harbor, Grand Manan.

For a mid-island respite, we recommend Newton's Café.

Newton's Café and Mercantile serves up some delectable dishes.

Along with fine coffee and the best chai tea on the island.

A curious and interesting sight off the coast in many locations around the island are fishing weirs which are obstructions placed in tidal waters to trap fish. Here is a traditional design.

And a more efficient, modern design.

The Grand Manan Community School (GMCS) was still on summer break when we visited and we had no luck getting in touch with the administration to donate chess equipment and offer instructional support.

Fortunately, we ran into Vivian Fleet a retired educator who runs Thrifty's a community minded consignment shop on Route 776.

Vivian and I exchanged contact information and she agreed to take possession of the donated chess equipment and get it to the principal of GMCS. We look forward to returning to the island to help shepherd a new chess club at the school.

Continuing south to Seal Cove Beach we delighted in beachcombing and dipping our feet in the 64F degree water.

Grand Manan has a very interesting geological makeup. The western 2/3rds of the island shows basalt from the thick lava flows of the late Triassic age around 200 million years ago. All over the island, specimens can be found infused with minerals that have filled the cracks and bubbles of rocks left by gasses cooling out of boiling lava.

Further south still to Deep Harbour we happened on some hiking trails that took us to the cliffs at Southwest Head.

Beautiful views abound from every corner.

We paused to quietly take in the stunning beauty of nature.

Coming to a clearing on Southwest Head we noticed an unlikely picnic table off in the distance.

That was just the spot for a quick blitz game on the smartphone surrounded by the majesty of the North Atlantic Canadian Maritimes.

Beyond all things is the sea. --Seneca

At the southern tip of the island is Southwest Head Lighthouse.

Watching the sunset from the top of Southwest Head cliffs was one of the high lightss of the entire trip.

Looking north at the lighthouse station from the edge of the cliffs.

The beauty was breathtaking.

A panorama of Southwest Head, Grand Manan.

After three days on Grand Manan, we boarded the Grand Manan Island Adventure to head back to the mainland.

A few games of chess on the ferry helped ease the transition back to off-island life.


You have truly found the place to get away from it all.
Also a great spot for
witness protection and relocation plan participants to hide out !?

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