Peering through the helicopter window, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker marvelled at the sandstone cliffs of the Bay of Fundy coast, its swirling whirlpools, its rip currents, its rugged canyons. Nodding his approval to Mitchell Franklin, his friend and aerial tour guide, Diefenbaker laughed and pointed to a group of young people partying on a deserted beach.
“It was the beach at Martin Head, and the young people were having a good time,” Franklin recalled years later. “We thought we’d have some fun with them, so we landed the chopper. When Dief stepped out, everyone was shocked. ‘We’re in big trouble now,’ one of the boys hollered as they took off running, ‘they’ve sent the prime minister after us.’ ”
In the 1930s, when Mitchell Franklin arrived in New Brunswick from Montreal, the Bay of Fundy coast captured his imagination like a fast-moving tide. That’s when the man who would become one of the province’s most visionary entrepreneur’s first started dreaming of building a road from St. Martins to Alma along some of the finest ocean views on the planet. Until his death in 2006, the developer and philanthropist never let go of that dream.
This summer, with the opening of the final stretch of the Fundy Trail Parkway, Mitchell Franklin’s dream comes true. As his daughter Beverley Franklin points out, it’s not only her father’s dream; it’s the dream of the people of New Brunswick, a showcase that highlights our spirit of innovation and vision for the future. Through her work with the Fundy Trail Parkway, Beverley is thrilled to see her father’s dream realized.
“My father’s vision for the development of the Parkway is summed up in our mission, which is the protection, preservation and financial sustainability of this unique environmental, ecological, historical and accessible area recognized as a World Biosphere Reserve.”
“Mr. Franklin was an extremely enthusiastic individual,” recalls Allan Fiander, one of New Brunswick’s most respected engineers and one of the people behind the design and construction of the Parkway.
“He was convinced that this section of the coast, if it were developed properly, would motivate people to visit New Brunswick. But for him,” Fiander adds emphatically, “developing it properly meant respecting the ecological integrity of one of the world’s most environmentally sensitive marine landscapes, the very landscape that he loved.”
Twice every 24 hours, 100 billion tonnes of water plunges in and out of the Bay of Fundy. Twice a day, land and seascapes change dramatically. In the area where Franklin envisioned a road, the tides are so high they can submerge a three-storey building. Constructing anything beside a seascape that exists nowhere else on Earth is a daunting challenge.
Since maintaining the ecological integrity of this unique marine ecosystem takes precedence over all other aspects of development, Fiander says building the Parkway was not without its challenges.
“There were some critical factors we had to deal with, ranging from very steep hills on either side of the river to a graveyard that couldn’t be disturbed. To respect the salmon habitat, we had to keep things clean and cross the river without being in the river, in terms of doing any work. The bridge presented a lot of challenges, in that we had to have a fairly lengthy span to get across without affecting the river in any way.”
Construction of the Mitchell Franklin Bridge, which began in spring 2007 and was completed in late summer 2008, is a compelling example of the care that was taken during construction.
“Long before construction of the bridge began,” Fiander says, “biologists were sent in to identify all of the wetlands because the footprint of our project would destroy some of these areas. In the old days, it would have been “too bad,” but today, there are wetland compensation requirements, which mean that wetlands have to be replaced outside of the construction zone.
“Depending on the type of work that’s done, you have to compensate at either a two-to-one, three-to-one or four-to-one ratio,” Fiander continues. “Every hectare you destroy has to be replaced at a specific ratio. Basically, we had to replace, recreate and upgrade to compensate for what was lost, whether it was wetlands or fish habitat.”
“With regard to design and construction,” Fiander proudly explains “the building of the Fundy Trail Parkway has taken things a step forward. It sets new engineering and environmental standards.”
This summer, as they cruise along the completed Fundy Trail Parkway for the first time, visitors will be amazed by remarkable ocean vistas, scenery that Melville Bell Grosvenor, founder of National Geographic magazine, described as some of the most inspiring on Earth. One can only believe that, as they drive, the spirit of Mitchell Franklin will be smiling and nodding in approval.