Saint John River (Bay of Fundy)

Last updated
Saint John River
  • Fleuve Saint-Jean
  • Wolastoq
FrederictonNB SaintJohnRiver.jpg
Saint John River in Fredericton, NB
St John River Map.png
The course of the Saint John River
EtymologyFeast Day of John the Baptist
Bountiful and good / the beautiful river
State Maine
Physical characteristics
Source Saint John Ponds
  location Somerset County, Maine, United States
  elevation360 m (1,180 ft)
2nd sourceLittle Saint John Lake
  location Saint-Zacharie, Quebec, Canada
3rd source Lac Frontière
  location Montmagny Regional County Municipality, Quebec, Canada
Source confluence 
  location Aroostook County, Maine, United States
  coordinates 46°33′47″N69°53′06″W / 46.5630°N 69.8850°W / 46.5630; -69.8850
Mouth Bay of Fundy
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
45°16′N66°4′W / 45.267°N 66.067°W / 45.267; -66.067 Coordinates: 45°16′N66°4′W / 45.267°N 66.067°W / 45.267; -66.067
Length673 km (418 mi) [1]
Basin size54,986 km2 (21,230 sq mi)
  average990 m3/s (35,000 cu ft/s)
Basin features
  left Tobique River, Jemseg River, Belleisle Bay, Kennebecasis River
  right Allagash River, Aroostook River, Nerepis River
Official nameWolastoq National Historic Site of Canada
DesignatedJuly 19, 2011
Reference no. 18954

The Saint John River (French : Fleuve Saint-Jean; Maliseet-Passamaquoddy: Wolastoq ) is a 673 kilometres (418 mi) long river that flows from Northern Maine into Canada, and runs south along the western side of New Brunswick, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean in the Bay of Fundy. Eastern Canada's longest river, [2] its drainage basin is one of the largest on the east coast [3] at about 55,000 square kilometres (21,000 sq mi).


A part of the border between New Brunswick and Maine follows 130 km (80 miles) of the river. A tributary forms 55 km (35 miles) of the border between Quebec and Maine.

New Brunswick settlements through which it passes include, moving downstream, Edmundston, Fredericton, Oromocto, and Saint John.

It is regulated by hydro-power dams at Mactaquac, Beechwood, and Grand Falls, New Brunswick.


Samuel de Champlain visited the mouth of the river on the feast day of John the Baptist in 1604 and renamed it the Rivière Saint-Jean or Saint John River in English. [4] [5] Many waterways in the system retain their original pre-European names. [6] The Maliseet call it the Wolastoq, meaning bountiful and good and seek to restore this name. [7]

Geography and ecology

Upper basin

The headwaters are in the New England/Acadian forests of Maine and Quebec, [8] including the Southwest, Northwest, and Baker branches, and the Allagash River flowing into New Brunswick at Edmundston where it is joined by the Madawaska River.

Middle basin

The middle section runs from the confluence of the Aroostook and Tobique rivers, flowing southeast to Mactaquac Dam. Other tributaries in this section include the Meduxnekeag River. This area is the only place in Atlantic Canada where Appalachian Hardwood Forest is found. [9] Plants rare for the province include wild ginger, black raspberry, wild coffee, maidenhair fern, showy orchis and others. [10] This forest type, also known as the Saint John River Valley Hardwood Forest, once spread of much of the area and has been reduced to less than one percent of the land area because of human activities. [11] This is an area of rolling hills and soils that are the most fertile and heavily farmed in New Brunswick. Soils are fine, loamy, and well-drained glacial tills overlaying limestone and sandstone. [11]

The climate here is drier and warmer than surrounding regions.

Lower basin

The lower basin, 140 kilometres (90 miles) to Saint John Harbour on the Bay of Fundy, consisting of lakes, islands, wetlands and a tidal estuary. Tributaries in this section include the Nashwaak and Nerepis rivers and Belleisle Bay.

The final tributary, the Kennebecasis River, is a fjord [12] with a sill, or rise in depth near the mouth of a fjord caused by a terminal moraine. From the Grand Bay (New Brunswick), the waterway becomes narrower and deeper forming a gorge where at the Reversing Falls incoming tide forces the flow of water to reverse against the prevailing current. A wedge of salt water, below a surface covering of fresh water, extends upriver to the 10 metre (30') shallows at Oak Point beyond which it cannot advance. [13]

Formation and hydrology

The drainage basin is 55,000 square kilometres (21,000 sq mi), of which 20,000 square kilometres (7,700 sq mi) is Maine. The average discharge is 1,100 m3/s (39,000 cu ft/s). [1] Water flow is lowest in the autumn, and considerably higher than average during the spring freshet at 6,800 m3/s (240,000 cu ft/s). [13] In early spring, upper sections of the river can experience ice jams causing flooding. In the lower sections in the broader floodplain, flooding may occur during late spring from the volume of water which must make its way through the narrow gorge at the Reversing Falls.

Legally, all of the river downstream of a point between Fredericton and Mactaquac Provincial Park is considered tidal. [14]

The river is mostly calm, except for waterfalls at Grand Falls and at the Beechwood Dam. [1]


With the water flow in the spring being six times the average rate, the valley has always been prone to flooding in the spring. Surface runoff from heavy rainfall is the main cause of flooding, and can be exacerbated by ice jams, high tides, and rapid snowmelt. [15] Floods have been documented for more than 300 years. [16] Flooding has occurred in Edmundston, Grand Falls, Perth-Andover, Hartland, Woodstock, and most severely around Fredericton and Saint John.

Major flooding has occurred in 1923, with water 8 metres (26') above normal winter low. In 1936 high temperatures quickened snowmelt, and heavy rain raised the water level to 8.9 metres (30'), about 7.6 metres (25') above summer level. Similar circumstances led to the same level of high water in the 1973 flood. Similar major flooding occurred again in 2018 and 2019. Since 2019, flooding has not been as severe.

The severity and frequency of flooding is expected to increase, [17] with climate change. [18] It is predicted that New Brunswick's average temperature will increase by 5 C (9°F) by the year 2100, and that precipitation will increase. [19]

Human history

At the end of the last glacial period, following the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet about 13,000 years ago, the area was stripped bare of vegetation and soil. By about 10,000 years ago, Paleo-Indians probably occupied what is now New Brunswick. [20]

Although the basin has been subject to human influence for thousands of years, the Native American impact was minimal partly because of their small numbers, and partly because they practised low intensity agriculture. [21] Major disturbances did not begin until the early 1800s [11] with the arrival of large numbers of Europeans.

When the Europeans arrived into Wolastokuk, the homeland of the Maliseet Nation and Saint John River basin, they found the locals hunting, gathering, and farming near the banks of the river. [22] European colonists may have used fields and town sites prepared by the natives. [23] Archaeological evidence is that the Maliseet had economic and cultural ties with large portions of North America [23] from their country's homebase within the Wabanaki Confederacy of Dawnland. The Maliseet dealt with freshets by having their village above the floodplain, for example Meductic, [11] while cultivating at a lower elevation where the fields were fertilized by the floodwaters. [24] The Maliseet were highly mobile and the Saint John River was a primary means of transportation. [11]

While the Maliseet saw themselves as part of the ecosystem, the Europeans' Christian world view held humans are raised above nature by their creator, and must not merely exist as the beasts of the field, but explore and develop nature. [21]

During the 1600 and 1700s, French colonists populated the lower river valley as part of Acadia, with Fort Nashwaak in present-day Fredericton, Fort Boishebert at the confluence of the Saint John and Nerepsis rivers. In the French seigneurial system lands were arranged in long, narrow strips, called seigneuries, along the banks of the river. However this was not practical given the seasonal flooding, and the Acadians moved to higher ground. [24]

Decades of warfare between the British colonies in what is now New England and Acadia, led to the expulsion of the Acadians in 1784. Following the American Revolutionary War, United Empire Loyalists settled the area. Returning Acadians settled the upper valley.

Large numbers of people began settling the area in the early 1800s, mostly Scottish and Irish, and by the end of the 1850s much of the central Saint John valley had been cleared of old-growth forest for farming. Francophone Quebecers moved into the northern areas. In the interwar period, many of these farms were abandoned due to urbanization, and allowed to reforest. [11]

Before the advent of railways, the river was an important trade route, including timber rafting.

In 1925 a hydroelectric dam was built at Grand Falls, followed in 1955 by the Beechwood Dam and the Mactaquac Dam in 1965. Large reservoirs were created behind the dams. Construction of the latter two dams has caused a severe decline in migrating Atlantic salmon, and resource authorities have developed fish ladders and other measures to try to revive the migration.

In 2011, the entire watershed was designated the Wolastoq National Historic Site, and is as the traditional territory of the Wolastoqiyik First Nation. [25]

The forested areas of the Maine North Woods where the river rises is mostly uninhabited. The Northwest Aroostook, Maine unorganized territory has an area of 2,668 square miles (6,910 km2) and a population of 10, or one person for every 267 square miles (690 km2).

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fredericton</span> Capital city of New Brunswick, Canada

Fredericton is the capital city of the Canadian province of New Brunswick. The city is situated in the west-central portion of the province along the Saint John River, which flows west to east as it bisects the city. The river is the dominant natural feature of the area. One of the main urban centres in New Brunswick, the city had a population of 63,116 and a metropolitan population of 108,610 in the 2021 Canadian Census. It is the third-largest city in the province after Moncton and Saint John.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">St. Stephen, New Brunswick</span> Town in New Brunswick, Canada

St. Stephen is a Canadian town in Charlotte County, New Brunswick, situated on the east bank of the St. Croix River around the intersection of New Brunswick Route 170 and the southern terminus of New Brunswick Route 3. The St. Croix River marks a section of the Canada–United States border, forming a natural border between Calais, Maine and St. Stephen. U.S. Route 1 parallels the St. Croix river for a few miles, and is accessed from St. Stephen by three cross-border bridges.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gagetown, New Brunswick</span> Village in New Brunswick, Canada

Gagetown is a village in Queens County, New Brunswick, Canada. It is situated on the west bank of the Saint John River and is the county's shire town.

The Wəlastəkwewiyik, or Maliseet, are an Algonquian-speaking First Nation of the Wabanaki Confederacy. They are the indigenous people of the Wolastoq valley and its tributaries. Their territory extends across the current borders of New Brunswick and Quebec in Canada, and parts of Maine in the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grand Falls, New Brunswick</span> Town in New Brunswick, Canada

Grand Falls is a town located in Victoria County, New Brunswick, Canada. Grand Falls is situated on the Saint John River. The town derives its name from a waterfall created by a series of rock ledges over which the river drops 23 metres (75 ft). Its population was 5,326 at the 2016 census.

Route 2 is a major provincial highway in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, carrying the main route of the Trans-Canada Highway in the province. The highway connects with Autoroute 85 at the border with Quebec and Highway 104 at the border with Nova Scotia, as well as with traffic from Interstate 95 in the U.S. state of Maine via the short Route 95 connector. A core route in the National Highway System, Route 2 is a four-lane freeway in its entirety, and directly serves the cities of Edmundston, Fredericton, and Moncton.

The New Brunswick Railway Company Limited (NBR) is currently a Canadian non-operating railway and land holding company headquartered in Saint John, New Brunswick that is part of "Irving Transportation Services", a division within the J.D. Irving Limited (JDI) industrial conglomerate. It is not to be confused with another JDI company, New Brunswick Southern Railway (NBSR), established in 1995, which is an operational railway and considered a sister company of the NBR.

J. D. Irving

J.D. Irving, Limited is a privately owned conglomerate company headquartered in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. It is involved in many industries including forestry, forestry products, agriculture, food processing, transportation, and shipbuilding. The company forms, with Irving Oil, Ocean Capital Investments and Brunswick News, the bulk of the Irving Group of Companies, which groups the interests of the Irving family.

Mactaquac Dam Dam in York County, New Brunswick

The Mactaquac Dam is an embankment dam used to generate hydroelectricity in Mactaquac, New Brunswick. It dams the waters of the Saint John River and is operated by NB Power with a capacity to generate 670 megawatts of electricity from 6 turbines; this represents 20 percent of New Brunswick's power demand.

NB Power

New Brunswick Power Corporation, operating as NB Power, is the primary electric utility in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. NB Power is a vertically-integrated Crown Corporation wholly owned by the Government of New Brunswick and is responsible for the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. NB Power serves all the residential and industrial power consumers in New Brunswick, with the exception of those in Saint John, Edmundston and Perth-Andover who are served by Saint John Energy, Energy Edmundston, and the Perth-Andover Electric Light Commission, respectively.

Pokiok, New Brunswick

Pokiok is a rural community in York County, New Brunswick, Canada.

The history of Fredericton stretches from prehistory to the modern day. Fredericton, New Brunswick was first inhabited by the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet peoples. European settlement of the area began with the construction of Fort Nashwaak by the French in 1692. In 1783, the United Empire Loyalists settled Ste. Anne's Point, and in the next year, renamed the settlement Frederick's Town. The name was later shorted to Fredericton in April 1785.

History of New Brunswick Aspect of history

The history of New Brunswick covers the period from the arrival of the Paleo-Indians thousands of years ago to the present day. Prior to European colonization, the lands encompassing present-day New Brunswick were inhabited for millennia by the several First Nations groups, most notably the Maliseet, Mi'kmaq, and the Passamaquoddy.

Queensbury Parish, New Brunswick Parish in New Brunswick, Canada

Queensbury is a civil parish in York County, New Brunswick, Canada.

The 1973 Saint John River flood in late April 1973 was the most significant flood ever recorded on the Saint John River. The flood inundated many parts of the city of Fredericton, New Brunswick and its surrounding farmlands killing at least one person and causing nearly 12 million dollars in damages.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bear Island (New Brunswick)</span> Name Place in New Brunswick, Canada

Bear Island is a Name Place in Queensbury Parish, New Brunswick, Canada, located on the north shore of the Saint John River.

Meductic Indian Village / Fort Meductic Ancient Maliseet settlement

Meductic Indian Village / Fort Meductic was a Maliseet settlement until the mid-eighteenth century. It was located near the confluence of the Eel River and Saint John River in New Brunswick, four miles upriver from present-day Meductic, New Brunswick. The fortified village of Meductic was the principal settlement of the Maliseet First Nation from before the 17th century until the middle of the 18th, and it was an important fur trading centre..

Oromocto is a Canadian town in Sunbury County, New Brunswick.

Madawaska Maliseet First Nation or St. Basile 10 band is one of six Wolastoqiyik or Maliseet Nations on the Saint John River in Canada. The Madawaska Maliseet First Nation (MMFN) territory is in Northern New Brunswick. The MMFN reserve is located 1.6 km east of Edmundston in the north-western region of New Brunswick. The band membership has 350 people. About 114 members of the MMFN live on the St. Basile no. 10 reserve. They are part of the Saint John River Valley Tribal Council. Family names include Bernard, Cimon, Francis, and Wallace.


Wolastoq is a river flowing within the Dawnland region approximately 418 miles (673 km) from headwaters in the Notre Dame Mountains near the Maine-Quebec border through New Brunswick to the northwest shore of the Bay of Fundy. The river and its tributary drainage basin form the territorial countries of the Wolastoqiyik and Passamaquoddy First Nations prior to European colonization, and it remains a cultural centre of the Wabanaki Confederacy to this day. As the longest river between Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence the Saint John offered one of the best transportation corridors for First Nations refugees to retreat from the English colonization of North America's Atlantic coast. The Wolastoqiyik and their Acadian allies retreated upstream after English victories in the French and Indian War to establish the Republic of Madawaska on the remote upper river. Inhabitants of the upper river rejected both Canada and United States sovereignty until the present Canada–United States border was established by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842. The lower river has been developed for agriculture and industry, while the United States portion of the river upstream of Madawaska remains the sparsely populated North Maine Woods. The historic isolation of Madawaska has helped preserve the Acadian French dialect.


  1. 1 2 3 "Saint John River". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 27 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  2. Esrock, Robin. "St. John River Valley". National Geographic. Archived from the original on 27 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  3. "St. John Watershed". Maine Rivers. Archived from the original on 19 October 2016. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  4. MacGregor, Roy. "Fishing for answers". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 28 November 2017. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  5. "Saint John River". Natural Resources Canada. Government of Canada. Archived from the original on 30 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  6. "St. John River: The Good and the Bountiful". Canadian Geographic. Archived from the original on 27 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  7. Poitras, Jacques (June 8, 2017). "Maliseet want name of St. John River changed back to 'Wolastoq', but no consensus on spelling". CBC News. Archived from the original on July 15, 2017. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  8. Olson; D. M; E. Dinerstein; et al. (2001). "Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Life on Earth". BioScience . 51 (11): 933–938. doi: 10.1641/0006-3568(2001)051[0933:TEOTWA]2.0.CO;2 . ISSN   0006-3568. Archived from the original on October 14, 2011.
  9. "Appalachian Hardwoods". Nature Trust of New Brunswick. Archived from the original on 29 December 2018. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  10. "Ecology". Meduxnekeag River Association. Archived from the original on 29 December 2018. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 MacDougall, Andrew; Loo, Judy (1998). "Natural history of the St. John River Valley hardwood forest of western New Brunswick and northeastern Maine" (PDF). Government of Canada. Atlantic Forestry Centre. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 November 2016. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  12. "Lower Saint John River". UNB Engineering. Archived from the original on 27 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  13. 1 2 Clarke, John; Winistock, John. "Kennebecasis -Grand Bay Sill: A view of the salt and fresh water exchange in the lower St. John River". University of New Brunswick. Archived from the original on 26 April 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  14. "Tidal Waters". Government of New Brunswick. Archived from the original on 29 December 2018. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  15. Government of New Brunswick, Canada (2015-09-11). "Flooding in New Brunswick". Archived from the original on 2019-01-01. Retrieved 2018-12-31.
  16. Apr 30, Julia Wright · CBC News · Posted; April 30, 2018 5:41 PM AT | Last Updated. "Worst floods in New Brunswick history: how 2018 compares | CBC News". CBC. Archived from the original on 2019-02-26. Retrieved 2018-12-31.
  17. "New Brunswick's Flood Risk Reduction Strategy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2019-01-01. Retrieved 2018-12-31.
  18. "Key climate-change vulnerabilities identified for three St. John River communities". Canadian News Wire. Archived from the original on 28 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  19. "Scientist says record floods show that New Brunswick must adapt to changing world |". 2018-05-07. Archived from the original on 2019-01-01. Retrieved 2018-12-31.
  20. Foot, Richard (2010). "Prehistory". Archived from the original on 28 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  21. 1 2 Dalton, Shawn (2015). "A social ecological history of the st john river watershed" . Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  22. "Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet)". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 28 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  23. 1 2 Hall, Jason (2015). "Maliseet Cultivation and Climatic Resilience on the Wəlastəkw/St. John River During the Little Ice Age". Acadiensis. Archived from the original on 28 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  24. 1 2 Hall, Jason. "The Environmental and Cultural History of the St. John River". NICHE. Archived from the original on 29 December 2018. Retrieved 28 December 2018.
  25. "Wolastoq National Historic Site of Canada". Parks Canada. Government of Canada. Archived from the original on 27 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Saint John River at Wikimedia Commons