Eighteen years ago I headed down to Dublin, New Hampshire for the first time to visit my new colleagues at Yankee Publishing. I made a brief pit-stop at the tourist information centre in St. Stephen, New Brunswick and on the bookshelf there I happened to spy a book about Campobello Island by one Steve Muskie, a book that was notable not for its subject but for its author: Steve was the man at Yankee who’d recruited me, and it was Steve that I was on my way to visit for the first time. Thanks to the book, and its author photo, I now knew what Steve looked like.
Despite my interest being in Steve and not Campobello, in the years since I always had it in the back of my mind that I’d like to visit the island: I’m a sucker for enclaves and so that fact that road access to the island, which is Canadian, requires driving from the U.S. appealed to me. I was also intrigued by the notion that the Roosevelt Campobello International Park was a bi-national project. And I like islands.
And so when it came time to chart our course back from Bethel, Maine to Prince Edward Island, I realized I had my chance, finally: we could drive onto Campobello from Maine, take a ferry to Deer Island, New Brunswick, then another ferry from Deer Island to the New Brunswick mainland, and then reconnect with the highway to PEI.
Which is exactly what we did.
I booked us a last-minute room at the Friars Bay Motel and off we headed on Saturday morning, across the middle of Maine toward the easternmost part of the country.
The drive, along Rte. 219, up the I-95 a little, the along Rte. 1 along the Maine coast, was occasionally very scenic, occasionally very crowded (especially around the turn-off to Bar Harbor, where all New Englanders apparently decided to spend the long weekend), and almost completely lacking in quality coffee.
We arrive on Campobello around 4:00 p.m. after an easy border-crossing with no line-up at all. We checked in at the Friars Bay Motel only to find that a confusion, related to multiple people named “Peter” booking at the last minute, had resulted in a double-booking for our room in the motel. The staff, however, didn’t drop a beat: they had arranged for us to stay in an oceanside house in Welshpool, just up the road, for the same price. Who were we to complain.
The house was a little musty, but it had three bedrooms, a complete kitchen, a huge living room and dining room, a nice sun porch, a deck, a yard for Ethan to romp around in, and a view to end all views:
We settled in, and then decamped to the Fireside Restaurant, inside the park, for a pleasant supper; on the way back we saw the sun set over America from the beach at Friars Bay:
On Sunday morning we got up early, had a quick breakfast from supplies gathered the night before from the coop grocery store up the road, and then headed to the park for a tour.
My Roosevelt knowledge to this point was weak: I knew about the New Deal, and the war, and about Eleanor as a pioneering feminist, but little else. The visitors centre in the park, along with a tour of Roosevelt Cottage, did an excellent job of bringing us up to speed: the cottage is well-preserved and provides a fascinating look at how the rich summered on the shore, and the staff providing the guided tour were helpful and answered all of our questions.
The highlight of our visit was the Tea with Eleanor program, a free lecture-with-cookies-and-tea, held in the stunning Hubbard Cottage. It lasted about an hour, and consisted of a bottomless cup of King Cole tea, ginger and lemon cookies, and an exploration of the life of Eleanor Roosevelt. The guides told a good story, the tea was strong, and the surroundings perfect.
After tea, we headed back to Welshpool where we caught the 1:00 p.m. ferry to Deer Island ($28 for car and passengers, runs until mid-September, takes about 30 minutes). The ferry is an ingenious combination of barge and tugboat, connected by a device that allows the tug to swing around and change directions. The route affords views of Lubec (in the distance), Eastport and the islands of the area.
Deer Island is nothing to write home about in terms of facilities, but the coastal scenery along the winding 30 minute drive is stunning.
We caught the 2:00 p.m. ferry from Deer Island to the mainland (free, takes 20 minutes), which offers similarly interesting views (although depending on your position on the ferry these can be well-obscured).
These two ferries are two-thirds of the so-called “Quoddy Loop”: we could have doubled back into the USA via the Deer Island to Eastport, Maine ferry (operated by the same company) to “close the loop,” and, indeed, Eastport looks like an intriguing place to visit, in part because of the Tides Institute, so perhaps on our next trip that’s exactly what we’ll do.
Once we hit the mainland we made a beeline from home, stopping briefly in Saint John for coffee (everything was closed except for Second Cup, which turns out to offer an excellent flat white, so we were not disappointed), and in Moncton for supper at Calactus (which is not a great vegetarian restaurant, but it is a vegetarian restaurant in Moncton, which is enough to make it remarkable).
We rolled our rented Fiat 500L into Charlottetown around 9:30 p.m., quickly unloaded, I ran it back to the airport, took a taxi back home, and was in bed by 11:00 p.m.
And so, 18 years after Campobello first came on my radar, I finally got to experience it. It was well worth it, and I’m certain we’ll be back.