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Canada: Saint John

Saint John is the largest city on the Bay of Fundy.  It’s actually a city of about 100,000 people, cosmopolitan in nature, and having the feel of a city instead of a small village.  It offers plenty of opportunities for night life, shopping, adventures, and sightseeing.

One could easily spend several days and nights exploring and enjoying Saint John.  Fully experiencing just one of its natural wonders, The Reversing Falls, consumes most of a day.  But I was on a schedule driven by my reservation to ride the tidal bore in Truro.  Besides, city life is city life, but natural wonders are unique.  therefore I was determined to at least view these “reversing” falls; I simply could not imagine how a waterfall could flow upwards!  This was a puzzle to be solved…
[Photographs at end]

Reversing Falls

Oftentimes one hears about a “natural wonder”, and after visiting it one says, “Is that it?  Is that all there is to it?” and we’re left with a sense of disappointment.  Frankly, that was my expectation but that’s not at all the case with the Reversing Falls.

Nevertheless, the name really is misleading:  It should be called the Reversing Rapids, not the Reversing Falls.  Based on what I saw, these are serious rapids – perhaps even class 4 and 5.

What makes the Reversing Falls so intriguing is that it can even exist at all!  It’s a marvel and display of God’s engineering prowess on a grand scale; visibly displayed in front of our eyes four times daily – and each time it’s different; no two shows are exactly the same.  (Those not technically inclined can skip over the next few paragraphs.)  This is what’s happening:

The Saint John River is a major waterway about 400 miles long; it’s big enough to support cargo ships and holds a lot of water.  Therefore the water level in the river is relatively constant and independent of tidal effects; certainly tidal effects are imperceptible as one heads upstream.

But the river flows into the Bay of Fundy, which experiences 30 – 50 ft tides (two highs and two lows each day).  So at low tide the water level in the Bay of Fundy is much lower than the water level in the river; at high tide the converse it true.  Therefore at low tide water flows from the river into the bay, and at high tide water flows from the bay into the river.  That wouldn’t be a big deal if the river were wide and deep; water would kind of just slosh back and forth, smoothly going up and down.

But God decided to place a constriction somewhat like a bi-directional funnel right near the mouth of the river so the water wants to flow in and out of the river really fast.  Furthermore, He designed this constriction to act kind of like an underwater dam just a bit below the mean between high and low tides.  So at low tide the river is pouring over this underwater dam into the Bay; at high tide the Bay is pouring its water over the underwater dam into the river.  Furthermore, He placed the dam just far enough upstream to reduce the water level differentials and tidal effects on both sides of the dam to perfectly create these rapids[1].  And lastly, He made the constriction just the right size to match flow rates, restrictions, and capacities on both sides so it will never fill up nor empty out.

The falls exist in perfectly balanced imbalance, a fascinating engineering feat only God could conceive, solve, and execute!  I sat mesmerized watching the water flow first in one direction, then stop, then the other direction.  Unfortunately it was pouring rain sporadically, making it difficult to take good photographs and videos.  Thus these pictures cannot do it justice; they do not capture the power and size of the falls; nor can they truly capture the delicate balance required to make it all work.  Nevertheless I hope you enjoy them.

Videos of Reversing Falls:

Regrettably the following videos are relatively poor quality due to the weather.  The wind was howling and the rain was pouring.  Nevertheless the videos will hopefully provide some sense of the awe inspiring power of these falls:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5sapsLeCMo (Outgoing tide, overlooking river narrows downstream from falls, with whirlpool)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEWigXGkkdA (Outgoing tide, falls flowing downriver)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RorDBfStWG4 (Incoming tide, falls flowing upriver)

The following video was taken by someone else at a different time from the restaurant overlooking the river narrows downstream from the falls:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wvbm7ICsgM

Carleton Martello Tower

While waiting for the tide to turn and see the Reversing Falls actually reverse, I decided to visit the Martello Tower in Saint John.  Martello Towers resemble life-size rooks (castles) in a chess set.  They are designed to protect the coastline from naval attack.

In 1794 two British warships attacked Mortella Point in Corsica.  The town was defended by a single round tower, three stories high, with walls about 8 feet thick.  Cannons mounted on top of the tower successfully repelled the ships.  Although the British ships were heavily armed with over 100 cannons, their cannonballs just bounced off the tower.  The British finally captured the tower – defended by only 33 men – after two days of heavy fighting using land-based forces.  (The only reason the British were successful in capturing the tower was because the defenders finally surrendered.)

The British were so impressed by the strength of the fortress they had just captured that they copied the design and built over 200 of them throughout the empire.  One was built in Saint John, NB during the War of 1812, but never saw action.  The purpose of this particular tower was to serve as a first line of defense against naval attack until reinforcements could be brought to help defend the city.

The advent of rifled cannons doomed Martello Towers to mere historical artifacts, but the tower in Saint John was modified during WWII to act as a reinforced observation platform against potential German invaders.  It has since been decommissioned and is a national historic site operated by Parks Canada.

More information:


[1] Looking at the seaweed on the rocks, I estimated that the water level changes immediately on the river side of the falls about 4 feet, while water level changes on the bay side of the falls about 8 -10 feet.


  1. May 2, 2019 at 6:41 am

    I’d like to find out more? I’d want to find out more details.

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