Home / Accueil

A Tidal Pulse: Life along the Bay of Fundy

We live in a very special country. Canada's vast territory, with all its natural splendours, offers limitless opportunities to explore and be amazed. The Bay of Fundy, one of the most unique hydrographical phenomena of our country, draws tourists from around the world, just like Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Italy's Vesuvius, the Amazon in South America and Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

Map, Google EarthA vast bay in Atlantic Canada bounded by New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the Bay of Fundy's coastline is 1,200 km and the Bay itself is 270 km long. Twice a day, the tidal pulse of the Atlantic Ocean funnels a large quantity of water into the bay causing the world's largest tides - the highest, sometimes measuring over 16 meters (about 5 storeys), are recorded at Minas Basin, Nova Scotia at the head of the bay. The tide cycle occurs twice as day, about every twelve hours, meaning you will have to wait just over 6 hours to observe the difference between high and low tides. The amount of water flowing in and out of Fundy during a tide cycle is mind-boggling: about 100 billion tonnes - that's enough to fill another wonder of nature, the Grand Canyon!

The energy generated by the ebb and flow action of the tides is harnessed by a small tidal energy generating station on the Annapolis River. There is even more potential for environmentally-sustainable tidal power generation in the future. The turbine operates on the principle that the force of water surging into the bay is strong enough to generate electrical power. The same action is repeated as the tides reverse creating a continuous energy-producing cycle. Joggins Fossil Cliffs / Falaises fossilifères de Joggins, www.jogginsfossilcliffs.net

Along Fundy's shoreline, nature and culture have coexisted for thousands of years with the tides shaping the coast and people's lives. The geological history of the area is revealed at Joggins Fossil Cliffs, Nova Scotia, a UNESCO World Heritage site containing outstanding fossil records of the Carboniferous (Coal) Age of about 300 million years ago. The exposed rock uncovers vegetation and animal life from this period of Earth's history, including the earliest reptiles to emerge from the sea onto land, and which eventually evolved into dinosaurs and birds.

The Bay of Fundy's natural wonder also shaped the lives of First Nations groups who fished from the Bay and lived along the coastline. Early European settlements were established in the region by 1605 when French colonists under Samuel de Champlain founded Port-Royal, later known as Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

The Bay did not escape colonial conflicts. The territory changed hands between France and Great Britain, including the momentous expulsion of the Acadians in 1755.  Bay of Fundy communities endured many wars, naval battles and coastal raids during such global events as the Seven Years War (1756-63), American War of Independence (1775-83) and the War of 1812 (1812-1815).

Grand Pré, Nova Scotia Museum of Natural HisotryThe Acadians - early settlers from France - quickly adapted to life along the bay and developed technology to take advantage of the tidal salt marshes. The action of the tides deposit rich layers of silt onto the marshes providing fertile soil and consequently one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. The interaction of land and sea is still visible at the Acadian settlement Grand Pré, Nova Scotia. Here along the marshlands bordering the tidal flats of Fundy, dykes were constructed to drain the muddy marshes for agricultural purposes. These dykes featured clapper valves which allowed a one-way water flow; fresh water which irrigated the fields flowed freely into the bay while rising seawater was prevented from entering. From the 1630s to 1755, an estimated 13,000 acres (52 km²) of salt marches were dyked by the Acadians. Head Harbour Light Station / station de phare de Head Harbour, www.campobelloislandtourism.com

Shipping and shipbuilding have long been significant maritime industries in the region.  Success of this economy has always relied on safe passages around the bay, up tributaries and along Fundy's treacherous shoreline. The bay's hazardous waters have claimed numerous vessels like HMS Plumper which sank in 1812 after striking cliffs along the New Brunswick coast. One of the oldest navigational aids in Canada is found at Wilsons Beach, New Brunswick.  Accessible by foot during low tide, Head Harbour Light Station was the province's second lighthouse when it was built in 1829.  Several improvements to the site were made over the years and its arrangement now represents a typical navigation station incorporating elements such as a keeper's residence, fog alarm and boathouse.

Former Lobster Factory of Conley / Ancienne conserverie de homards de Conley, S. Downes, FlickrTogether with shipping, the Bay of Fundy also supports important commercial fisheries. For generations, the tides have actually been used to catch fish.  Special heart-shaped traps of polls and nets, called weirs, funnel and confine fish at high tide, stranding them when the waters recede. Fundy yields a rich bounty of fish, its world-renown scallops and the bay's most important catch, lobster. From 1921 to 1948, Edwin Conley, a middleman in the lobster industry, operated Conley's Lobster Factory (known today as Cottage Craft) in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. He bought and shipped lobster to such far away ports as Boston, Massachusetts. In the early days of shipping live lobster, many of these creatures perished as a result of the long trip so Conley patented a novel shipping container which separated the lobster from the melting ice. From this innovation, the entire industry was transformed.

It is unthinkable to speak of the Bay of Fundy without mentioning the incredible recreational appeal provided by the tides. Tourists from around the world flock to the bay for a chance to spot different species of whales or go rafting on a tidal bore or experience walking on the ocean floor at low tide. National and provincial parks are located along the coast offering breathtaking opportunities to experience the Bay by land or sea. The functional design of one of the first recreational facilities constructed at Fundy National Park actually makes use of the natural tidal cycle. In fact, the Saltwater Pool and Bathhouse, built adjacent to the Saltwater Pool, Parks Canada / Piscine d'eau salée, Parcs CanadaBay of Fundy in 1950, uses the tides to supply fresh seawater straight from the bay - now that's refreshing!

The Bay of Fundy is an important ecological and cultural resource for the planet. It supports biodiversity, agriculture, shipping and fishing, and a healthy tourism industry. The tidal pulse is a way of life which shapes Fundy and its inhabitants. Unrivalled in the world, the tides will continue to provide a source of energy for all life it touches.


Bay of Fundy official site