Tin Can Beach: an update

Princess of Acadia

Princess of Acadia coming in to port – from Tin Can Beach

In the three years since I last posted here, a lot of metaphorical water has gone under the bridge. I am still passionately involved in photographing Saint John and environs, but I just haven’t been writing about it. Life and all that…

me & my shadow at the water's edge

me & my shadow at the water’s edge

However, I wanted to post an update because there has been a lot of interest over the past six months in maintaining access to and perhaps developing Tin Can Beach, the inspiration for this blog. I won’t go into the news details — all that is available via Google — but where I come into it is that my photos and writing about Tin Can Beach have attracted some attention, and I am hoping the public interest in this Saint John gem continues. A couple of weeks ago, a reporter named Kyle Mullin emailed me with some questions, and asked me to articulate some of what I feel about Tin Can Beach. Here is our conversation:
KM 1. What prompted you to make a website about Tin Can beach? Why does it inspire you?

First of all, my blog is about Saint John not Tin Can Beach. I named my blog Tin Can Beach because I felt that this hidden gem encapsulated much of what is wonderful — and frustrating — about Saint John. And because I love Saint John. And because I lived “away” (in Ontario) for nearly 20 years, and I missed the sea. So I was thrilled to discover Tin Can Beach when I returned and was living uptown. 

It may not be historically accurate, but I think of Tin Can Beach as the place where Saint John began. In no other place in our city can we see the natural seascape at the same time as the evidence of our seafaring history. (You could argue for Long Wharf or Fort LaTour, but neither have any seascape to speak of.) Tin Can Beach and Saint John are both:

  • rooted in a long and proud history, and marked by their relationship with the strong Fundy tides
  • untidy, in the way of all industrial sites & cities: a place where graffiti and seaweed, poverty and plenty live side by side, preferring the real over the merely picuresque.
  • friendly – all the people I have met at Tin Can Beach are friendly – whether it’s the Mr Coffee man having lunch in the parking lot, or the kid with a bike who just likes to hang out. (It would be interesting to know how many people visit or use the beach on a regular basis – I counted 5 + me in my hour spent there this morning.)
  • hidden gems – both Tin Can Beach and Saint John are under appreciated, and suffer from reputations no longer deserved. (Need I elaborate?)


KM 2. Can you tell me about Tin Can beach’s potential, what it could be, and what needs to happen in order for that potential to be realised?
First of all, ensure that there continues to be public access. Even if there’s no money for garbage cans or picnic tables, even if there are no fences to keep people from exploring and possibly hurting themselves, keep it open. 
It would be nice to have a paved parking lot with a picnic area, some room for art and interaction, at least a sign and perhaps an information panel about the intertidal zone. In terms of more ambitious projects, I would welcome some kind of development that encourages access — a chip truck or cafe, a condominium or concert centre — the main point is that this is public space. 
I have heard from people how they (or their parents) used to come to the beach regularly for a picnic and swim — even with the rocks and seaweed and tides and Fundy temperatures! Historically it has been public space, currently it is public space, so please let’s ensure that it remains public space in the future.

KM 3. When you think about the potential benefits of Tin Can beach, do you also think there is there a void or lack of those benefits in Saint John at the moment? Tell me about what’s lacking, and how Tin Can beach can fulfil those needs.

Tin Can Beach is a diverse environment – a wild space – in the South End Peninsula. This is the only access to the sea in the inner city (as opposed to the inner harbour area; I love Harbour Passage but there are no beaches, tide pools etc). The west side has Bayshore, the east side has Red Head and Mispec. For people in the South End – possibly the only place in Saint John where you can live happily without a car – Tin Can Beach is a respite, a playground, a place to explore and learn and wonder. And at low tide, there is actually a beach!

KM 4. Can you also tell me about your thoughts on the following article about Tin Can Beach: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/saint-john-s-tin-can-beach-to-be-cut-off-to-public-1.2447638
Re the article you linked, I read it in the context of this follow-up piece: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/saint-john-attempts-to-clear-route-to-tin-can-beach-1.2448858 – which indicates in a non-specific way that 
I attended the launch of the UNBSJ student study (http://blogs.unb.ca/newsroom/2013/11/04/students-see-potential-in-tin-can-beach/), and I know that ACAP is looking at an initiative to create an ecological buffer along the public access to Tin Can Beach (http://www.acapsj.org/initiatives/2014/3/12/tin-can-beach). According to a recent news story (http://www.country94.ca/news/tin-can-beach-getting-some-love) ACAP will begin to plant trees there in July “provided proper permissions are granted”… but of course you will have already researched this.
What I see, and would like to see, is the following: 

  • according to Mayor Mel Norton, the land rights of Tin Can Beach belong to the Port of Saint John, CN Rail, and Potash Corp of Saskatchewan, not to the city of Saint John
  • CN Rail has removed the old tracks (you’ll see these in one of the photos I have posted in my Tin Can Beach gallery: https://tincanbeach.wordpress.com/why-tin-can-beach/#jp-carousel-1315) and built a road; rail ties are piled at the side but as yet the work to lay the ties and rails hasn’t yet taken place
  • from personal observations and conversations I have had with area residents, Tin Can Beach is frequently visited and appreciated by area residents.
  • judging from news reports, the announcement of the beach being blocked off by a rail line met with public outcry and surge in interest in Tin Can Beach
  • there is an opportunity here for community organizations like ACAP to take the lead and rally citizens to show support and create a campaign to either retain the traditional right of way to the beach from the foot of Sydney Street, or ask the city to enable/develop alternative access through the former sugar refinery lands.
  • political support and citizen interest will raise awareness and give the city enough leverage to start discussions with the Port, CN Rail, and Potash Corp, develop a plan, commit a budget, etc
  • in the meantime, I hope that local residents continue to visit and use the beach and talk about it with their neighbours and city councillors
  • and I also hope that CN Rail & Potash Corp put the rail line on the back burner for now; or at least consider how they could make a public access/rail crossing as a gesture of neighbourliness and to demonstrate that they are community minded.
  • and then… see my previous thoughts on how we could use the space!


I do hope that this interest in Tin Can Beach results in the space being used, being cleaned up, and remaining accessible to the public. So I welcome your conversation – on this space, on your space – on the importance of public space.

BTW, the article appeared in Here magazine, with some inaccuracies. Oh well.

sandy stretch 1

sandy stretch of Tin Can Beach at low tide


of sunsets and kittens

Taylor's Island

There is a joke among photographers that the general public’s taste in images can be summed up in two words: sunsets & kittens. The appeal of the colourful and cute seems to be constant and worldwide.

I took this photo last week at a park on the west side of Saint John. It was mid-afternoon, although the sun was already sinking rapidly. The tide was high and for once there was only a light breeze blowing off the Bay of Fundy. We walked out to a path along the edge of the cove, drawn by the loud booming of the waves crashing against the bouldery beach and echoing against the rocky cliffs. I shot this image into the light, which meant losing most of the foreground detail to the strong contrast. The low sun, partially screened by clouds on the horizon, cast an almost metallic light across the scene. I decided to enhance these golden tones, and yesterday I posted it on Flickr.

And today, I’ve discovered that the image has become a sunset — it has already been added to one gallery of sunset photos — and it has attained a level of popularity well over that of my favourite photos.

I think I’ll go look for some kittens.

Photo taken on January 6, 2011

closed for the season

Someone drowned at this beach. It happened just over a month ago, when there are no lifeguards on duty — the beach had officialy closed for the season the weekend before — but it was a warm sunny day and the beach was crowded. The Fisher Lakes are deceptively deep, and you can get in over your head if you go far from the beach. He was only under for 5 minutes before other swimmers pulled him out, but it was too late.

As I’m remembering this incident — this tragedy that happened so quickly — I’m watching the live feed of the Chilean miners emerging one-by-one after having been underground for 69 days. It is a miracle that they survived and have lived to see this day of freedom.

But some do not survive. That is the tragedy: that what might be possible does not happen, that someone drowns so close to shore, that 25 people died in a West Virginia coal mine, that so many accidents cost so many lives.

I would like to hear that safety comes before profits. I would like news reports to say a tragic death could not be prevented, that the safety record is 100%, that the season of fatal injuries has come to a close.

Taken on November 1, 2009

sea watch

Despite the wind warning, rain warning and tropical storm warning, all we got yesterday was a stormy day. Hurricane Earl turned east and landed closer to Halifax. Still, locals flocked to Saints Rest, the nearby “big surf” beach to watch the storm surge. And emergency officials followed them, asked them to leave, and closed the access. We were headed that wayto take pictures, expecting a show of impressive waves, and were disappointed at having to turn around. We went to another local park, in a more sheltered area, to find modest breakers rolling up the rocky beach, and a few spectators in bright raincoats. A local who was out walking her dog shook her head. “What is everybody doing here?” she asked. “There is nothing to see. It just looks like any other day.” Yes, I suppose that’s true, but like everyone else, I wanted the excitement of being out in (the edge of) a hurricane… without, of course, the excitement of a near-death experience!

Taken on September 4, 2010

market slip

This rocky bit of shoreline has seen a lot of history. By tradition, this is where United Empire Loyalists landed following the American Civil War. An estimated 15,000 Loyalists arrived in what is now New Brunswick between 1783 and 1785, the majority landing here to found Saint John. They weren’t the first to settle here; this spot is just around the corner from a traditional Wulstukwuik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq trading spot and the site of Fort LaTour, and a number of Acadians had settled in this region as well. Those who had lived here before were displaced, having no “title” to the land.

As the young city became a properous port, this became Market Slip, where ships lined both sides of the pier selling fresh fish and other goods. Photos from the 19th century show a sea of masts and carts clustered around the area, and a line of warehouses that were later included in the development of the Market Square shopping centre in the 1980s (just to the left of this photo).

Now there is a boardwalk and hotel along the old pier, a mall with a line of cafes and restaurants, a summer stage, and a popular beach volleyball venue just above the high tide mark. The fishing boats from a local Mi’kmaq community dock just around the corner on Long Wharf, dwarfed by the huge cruise ships that bring hordes of tourists in the summer and fall. It’s a far sight different than what the Loyalists may have envisioned, but it still thrives.

Taken on June 26, 2009

when time stands still

Why are we fascinated by desert islands? I know it’s a popular writers’ theme, allowing for a wide variety of plot twists and outcomes, from good (“Treasure Island”) and bad (“Lord of the Flies”) to silly (“Gilligan’s Island”) and bizarre (“Lost”). But I’m sure the desert island appeal goes deeper than the role of adventure playground. Desert islands also turn up in personality profile questionnaires, such as “what would you like to have with you on a desert island?” Perhaps this hints closer to the truth.

How many of us have stood on a beach, mesmerized by the ceaseless motion of the waves, and felt that time is standing still? Imagine being on a tropical beach with no abrupt change of seasons to remind you of the passing of time. And if you suspend time and live only from day to day, enjoying each moment as it happens — and of course have your basic physical needs provided — then you would have no worries, no stress. It’s an attractive fantasy, as old as the Garden of Eden. But I think the old TV show “Fantasy Island” had it right: you can dream for a while, to be refreshed and learn something important about yourself, but then it’s time to wake up, to leave the island and make the most of your life.

Taken on April 29, 2010

the house on the bluff

Living here, perched on the edge of the bluff, you can watch the sea coming and going all day. You can watch the container ships, the tankers, the fishing boats and cruise ships following the tide in and out of the harbour. You can watch the harbour seals and porpoises, the gulls and eagles trolling the shallow shores. You can watch everything that moves all the way to Nova Scotia on fine days, but on foggy days you might not even see the beach. And every kind of weather, be it rain or sun, snow or storm, will beat against your windows. And as the tide rises and falls and marks the rhythm of the days and seasons, you will be always be there, watching.

Taken on April 29, 2010