Sea cliffs and fossils

The powerful tides of the Bay of Fundy have shaped its coastline and exposed fossils from distant periods of our earth’s history. Fossils in Saint John stem back to the first life on the planet. Joggins is a UNESCO world heritage site commemorating geological discoveries that helped form the foundation of our understanding of the Earth’s evolution.

Low tide at the Hopewell Rocks at Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick

Low tide at the Hopewell Rocks at Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick

The tidal action has carved dramatic cliffs, sea stacks, and caves in the sandstone in many parts of the Fundy coast. Elsewhere around the Bay, spectacular headlands of volcanic rock rise up hundreds of feet from sea level, boldly resisting Fundy’s relentless tides.

Partidge Island, Nova Scotia

Partidge Island, Nova Scotia

These awesome coastal landforms and geology are showcased in the Sea Cliffs and Fossils Ecozone.

Where to discover Fundy Sea Cliffs and Fossils

Location Landscape Activities

Grand Manan Island, N.B.

Sea cliffs, volcanic

Hiking trails headlands

St. Martins, N.B.

Sea caves

Beach access

Fundy Trail, St. Martins, N.B.

Coastal cliffs, rock escarpments

Hiking and biking trails, coastal auto-route, beach access

Fundy National Park of Canada, Alma, N.B.

Coastal cliffs, headlands

Hiking trails, auto-route sections, beach access, kayaking

Hopewell Rocks, Hopewell Cape, N.B.

Sandstone cliffs, carved formations

Walking trails, beach access, kayaking

Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, N.S.

Volcanic rock headlands, rock formations

Hiking trails, beach access

Cape d’Or, N.S.

Volcanic cliffs

Hiking trails, beach access

Five Islands Provincial Park, N.S.

Sculpted sandstone & sea cliffs, volcanic rock islands

Hiking trails, beach access

Cape Blomidon Provincial Park, N.S.

Volcanic rock headlands, sea cliffs

Hiking trails, beach access

Balancing Rock, Tiverton, Digby Neck, N.S.

Volcanic rock columns

Hiking trail

Saint John, New Brunswick, The Fundy City

Early Marine Life — 450 to 600 million years ago

Trilobite fossil, New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, NB
Trilobite fossil, New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, N.B.

trilobiteThe City of Saint John, N.B., features 600- to 450-million-year-old rocks from the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, which pre-date the collision of the continents that led to the formation of Pangea. Fossils of early marine creatures called trilobites, which are distant relatives of crabs and other joint-legged creatures that preceded the emergence of land animals, have been found in Saint John. The New Brunswick Museum in Saint John showcases fossils from this significant chapter in the earth’s history and offers comprehensive interpretative displays of the region’s geology.

Hopewell Cape, N.B.

Carboniferous Conglomerate — 350 million years ago

Hopewell Rocks, Hopewell Cape, NB
Hopewell Rocks, Hopewell Cape, N.B.

Uniquely shaped reddish cliffs of 350-million-year-old rock conglomerate and sandstone comprise the famous flower pot rock formations at the Hopewell Rocks. This conglomerate was formed as rocks and pebbles, washed down from a regional mountain range, were compressed and cemented together over millions of years. During a later period of tectonic activity, these layers of conglomerate, sandstone, and shale were lifted up and tilted to a 30–45° angle. Vertical cracks or fissures divided the rock into large blocks, which Fundy’s tides have since eroded into sea caves and huge carved-rock formations. Low tide visitors walking on the ocean floor at Hopewell Rocks can see the evidence of this tilting in the layers of rock in the rock face; the vertical cracks which are the genesis of new rock formations; and the telltale high-tide marks along the cliffs.

Hillsborough, N.B., & Stewiacke, N.S.

Ancient Mammals — last two million years

Hillsborough Mastodon bones, New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, NB
Hillsborough Mastodon bones, New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, N.B.

The dinosaurs that had ruled the earth for over a hundred million years disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago. Their decline created an opportunity for a new group of animals to become the dominant land-based creatures: mammals. Skeletons of extinct Ice Age mastodons have been discovered at Hillsborough, N.B., and Stewiacke, N.S. While mastodons and mammoths no longer exist, they are wooly cousins of present-day elephants.

  • The fossilized bones of Hillsborough’s mastodon are on display at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.
  • Mastodon Ridge, near Stewiacke, N.S., features a life-size reproduction of the mastodons from this region.

Joggins, N.S.

Ancient Rainforests & The First Reptiles — 300 million years ago

Fossilized tree stump, Joggins, NS
Fossilized tree stump, Joggins, N.S.

In 1852, Sir Charles Lyell (one of the fathers of modern geology) and Sir William Dawson discovered fossils of the earliest known reptiles in Joggins, N.S. Unlike amphibians, reptiles lay hard-shelled eggs that can survive on land; reptiles had further adapted to the terrestrial environment’s unique conditions. Joggins’ fossil cliffs are the world’s most outstanding example of the late Carboniferous Coal Age, a period of ancient rainforests. Along with the oldest reptiles, extinct giant trees, ferns, massive crawling millipedes, insects, and amphibians are fossilized in these cliffs, which are accessible to the public, depending on the tide.

Parrsboro, N.S.

Dawn of the Dinosaurs — 200 million years ago

Dinosaur skeleton, Fundy Geologcial Museum, Parrsboro, NS
Dinosaur skeleton, Fundy Geologcial Museum, Parrsboro, N.S.

Jurassic CrocodilianThe Jurassic period heralded the beginning of the dinosaur age, a period that would continue for 140 million years. Some of the earliest dinosaur fossils ever found were discovered near Parrsboro, N.S. These finds are internationally significant because they contain fossils from both the end of the Triassic period and the beginning of the Jurassic period (before and after the extinctions). Fossils of amphibians and crocodile-like reptiles from before the extinction and dinosaurs that emerged after the extinction are both found in different layers of rock in this region. The Fundy Geological Museum’s extensive exhibits, working laboratory, and interpretive beach walks offer several ways to explore this chapter of Fundy’s natural history.

Map of the Sea cliffs and fossils ecozone

Map of the sea cliffs and fossils ecozone
Download the Sea cliffs and fossils ecozone map (3 MB PDF)