Slowing the Pace in Rural Canada : New Brunswick's Gagetown offers small-town charm in a historic setting.

He was standing outside Colpitts General Store in Gagetown, his arms folded, his white hair gleaming beneath a billed cap that advertised farm gear.

"Where are you heading?" he asked pleasantly as I stepped from the tour bus.

"This is it," I replied. "Historic Gagetown."

His thin shoulders began to shake. His chuckle would not stop. He removed his glasses to wipe his eyes.

"I don't believe it," he said. "I thought you were going somewhere."

So much for boosterism in the country towns of New Brunswick, that winsome Maritime province of Canada that borders on the state of Maine.

The man on the street asked where I was from. When I said California, he reminisced about a visit to Los Angeles in the 1960s and the good times he had at Hollywood Park.

"I like the horses," he admitted. "Say, we're gettin' ready for the county fair next weekend. Bet that's not in your brochure."

But after only a couple of hours in tiny, historic Gagetown, I had met all eight finalists for Queen of the Fair. Wearing modest party dresses, they were having tea at the Steamers Stop Inn, a graceful hostelry on the banks of Gagetown Creek, which flows into the St. John River.

"Of course, they're a little nervous," a chaperon whispered as a teacup jiggled in a saucer. "Tonight is the talent contest."

The Steamers Stop is a gentle step back in time, with oak and mahogany furniture, flouncy bedding and sepia photographs. A cradle, a spinning wheel and a broad porch facing the water add to the homey mood. In summertime, canoes and sailboats tie up nearby. Vacationers arrive by van and bicycle.

The seven bedrooms are named for mighty paddle-steamers--such as the Majestic, the D.J. Purdy and the David Weston--that used to ply the 450-mile-long river in the days before a dam went in upstream.

The inn ($40 single, $48 twin, $65 for a room with bath; 506-488-2903) is open for overnight guests daily from June through August, weekends May till December.

Across the street is the oldest building in town: the Tilley House, built in 1786 and now the Queen's County Museum. It is open in the warmer months, starting in mid-May. The Court House and the Anglican church date to the 1800s and, like all of historic Gagetown, are a block or two from Colpitts Store.

Gagetown is only 54 miles up the Old River Road (Route 102 North) from the bustling city of St. John, which sprawls by the Bay of Fundy with its record-setting tides. But it is not a route to be rushed.

The road winds through the St. John River Valley, past apple orchards, strawberry fields and tidy white farmhouses with black gabled roofs. It skirts blue cedar woods and sandy beaches, and is the main street of Pleasant Villa, whose one-room schoolhouse is now ensconced with other yesteryear buildings on Market Square in St. John.

Much of New Brunswick is refreshingly slow of pace, a land of streams and ferryboats, of covered bridges and red and white lighthouses, of bountiful bed and breakfasts and pristine villages--such as Rothesay, where the Netherwood-Rothesay Collegiate School was the setting for the film, "Children of a Lesser God."

Crafts now thrive in the province, better known for its fishing industry and the home-brewed Moosehead beer. At the edge of Gagetown, I dashed through a gentle rain to visit the Loomcrofters, who weave bright wools inside a weathered cottage that was part of a British trading post built in 1761.

Two looms hummed and clacked as a weaver named Enid Inch explained the process. The official New Brunswick tartan--primarily red and green--was invented here, she said, unrolling a bolt. The Royal Canadian Air Force tartan--a mix of blues--also is a Loomcrofters design.

Over seafood chowder at the Steamers Stop Inn, I learned that Gagetown is named for British Col. Thomas Gage, victor at the Battle of Bunker Hill, who was granted the land and allegedly planned to subdivide it. But he went no farther.

"Gage himself never lived in Gagetown," said the man outside Colpitts Store.

"He didn't even visit."

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