Last Monday, which was the Victoria Day holiday in Canada, we made our traditional visit to St. Andrews-by-the-Sea and, as the tide was out, we decided to visit Ministers Island. It has been a dozen years since we last visited.
This photo was taken in August of 2015 which shows the tide just going out revealing the roadway (a natural sandbar) and several vehicles crossing over to the island. There are two 6-hour 'windows' every 24 hours which one can cross to the island but you aren't allowed to go over at night. We hit it right on Monday with the tide out between 9 and 3. One has to leave the island a half hour before the tide covers the road again or else you're stuck for 6 hours.
You can see the broad expanse of the road across to the island when the tide is fully out.
There has been a 'road' to this island for centuries and the native Passamaquoddy First Nation peoples used it to access the island. Apparently, this island was a peninsula centuries ago with the 'road' always open. It's only been the last few hundred years that the ocean waters have raised enough to cover the road during high tide. Climate change is doing remarkable things.
Ministers Island was named for Reverend Samuel Andrews who, in 1700, built a house on the island which he purchased for 250 pounds sterling. The island remained in the Andrews family until 1891 when a large parcel of land was sold to Sir William Van Horne.
This is the stone cottage that Rev. Andrews lived in. It is currently being restored and a new shingle roof is being added. There is still much to do inside and out.
The property that Van Horne purchased is at the tip of the island facing Passamaquoddy Bay which flows into the Bay of Fundy. Who was William Van Horne?
William Van Horne was born in Illinois in 1843 and died in Montreal, Canada in 1915. He came to Canada to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway - the first transcontinental railway - and became president of CPR in 1888. Van Horne married Lucy Hurd in 1867 and they had 3 children, two of whom survived to adulthood. They lived in a large estate in Montreal, Quebec and in 1891 he began building his summer home, Covenhoven, on Ministers Island, adjacent to the CPR's resort town of St. Andrews. The history behind the building of this 'off-grid' summer home, barns, and the large greenhouse and gardens is very interesting.
We chose to drive along the narrow dirt road to visit the summer house first. This photo shows the windmill and the smaller structure which is the 'gas house'. The carriage house (with stable and living quarters upstairs) is in the background.
Remember I said the island was 'off-grid'? Well this is how they managed.
This is a view of the front of the house. One approaches from the back and through the 'carport' on the left, across the front 'veranda' and into the front doors. There are 50 rooms in this house and many bathrooms.
I must say here, that the only amenities on the island are public bathrooms on the main level of the house and a small gift shop with beverages for sale (along with giftware). We stopped at Tim Horton's in St. Andrews and bought muffins to tide us over the noon hour and we had our own water with us. There are picnic tables scattered on the grounds which is nice on a sunny warm (very windy) day like we had. There are also hiking trails on the island. Oh....there are a lot of stairs in the house and barn, and one needs comfortable footwear appropriate for walking the grounds, beach and lanes. It can also be quite cool and windy, or foggy so be prepared. Also, there is no smoking allowed at all on the island!
This is the view from the front veranda toward the water and the bath house.
This is the view of the covered veranda. I saw photos online from early the last century with vines growing up the pillars and beautiful wicker furnishings. It must have been glorious in it's heyday.
This is a side view of the home so you can see how expansive it is. The Van Hornes brought staff from Montreal by train every summer to look after the house and grounds.
When you enter the front doors you come into the living room or parlour. The large fireplace is built from sandstone quarried on the beach of the island. The elaborately carved pillars (in the dining room as well) are gold leaf mahogany from Italy. Mr. Van Horne was an accomplished self-taught artist and many of his works are on display through the house including this one over the mantle.
The large photo on the left wall is of 'the last spike' in the CPR in British Columbia. Mr. Van Horne is in this photo.
It is said that Van Horne only slept about 4 hours a night (as there was too much to do in life and sleep was a waste of time). His modest bedroom is just off the main living room at the front of the house where he could get up when he pleased and not disturb family or guests on the second floor. His art studio was next door so he could paint in the nighttime.
This is the billiard room.
The children's room.
Daughter Addie's room.
The kitchen with the huge iron cookstove.
The beautiful dining room.
The bath house sits on the cliffside next to the sandstone beach.
Looking up at the huge vaulted ceiling of the bathhouse.
And this is the swimming hole. A natural spot in the sandstone where the tide would fill it with water. It has not been kept cleaned out in decades so is filled with sand from the waves.
This is the beautiful view we had from our picnic table where we snacked on a Tim's muffin.
We next went to the gardner's cottage and remains of the greenhouse.
The greenhouse was attached to the gardener's cottage at one end and was heated by a coal furnace that piped heat through the pipes shown in this photo. It was southerly facing and the stone wall was north so the rest of the walls would have been glassed in. It must have been spectacular to see when it was active.
This view is from the far end toward the gardener's cottage. There are plans to restore the cottage and greenhouses.
We walked back to the car and drove the dirt lane to the huge barn. This barn was built 120 years ago and was in bad shape until a recent restoration project brought it back to look like it's original state. Post tropical storm Arthur in 2014 severely damaged it and it was discovered that decay and rot would soon bring the barn down. It has cost almost 2 million dollars to restore this barn. When it was built it cost a mere $20,000 ($644,000 today). For more information click on this link.
25 metres high x 46 long x 17 wide
This is the view up one of the silos. They chose to build staircases in them for visitors to use to get to each level.
The weather vane is a nod to Van Horne's prized Dutch Belted cattle in the barn along with his Clydesdale horses, sheep, pigs and chickens.
The creamery has been restored. The building behind it is the Ministers house.
The barn is quite a showpiece now.
Our drive back to the mainland across the bar road. The tide was returning already and the road would be almost covered an hour later. Amazing!
Compare this photo with the very first one and you can see a bit of difference near the point of land left of centre where the water is higher.
I hope you enjoyed this trip to Ministers Island. If you haven't been there, you should try to go. Check the Bay of Fundy tide chart for lowest tide in daytime when you make your plans. Ministers Island has a Facebook page as well with photos and information and there are lots of sites online to visit for more history and information.
Thank you for visiting and reading to the end.