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Exploring the Merchant
Heritage of Saint John, New Brunswick
PRINCE WILLIAM STREET
on June 20,1877, a flash fire broke out in Fairweather's Hay Store in Portland,
at the west end of Union Street. Outside, a brisk nor'wester howled, and as the
flames broke through the outside walls of the store, a burning brand was
carried by the wind, igniting the nearby MacLaughlan Boiler Works. The fire
spread rapidly, engulfing one wooden building, then another, and another, until
most of the South End was whipped into a roaring inferno. For nine long hours
the fire raged. When it was over, two - thirds of Saint John, including most of
the commercial district, was a smoldering mass of charred rubble.
buildings destroyed and 13,000 people homeless, Saint John immediately turned
its efforts to building anew - as quickly as possible. The next decade saw much
of the South End rebuilt, mostly of brick. Many of these buildings remain
intact today, and because they do, Saint John can truthfully claim to have some
of the finest surviving examples of 19th century commercial facades in all of
Canada. In fact, Prince William Street is the first streetscape in the country
to be designated by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada as being
of national historic and architectural significance.
the character of the buildings in this central core of the city, Saint John has
created the twenty-block Trinity Royal Preservation Area. PRINCE WILLIAM'S WALK
tours some of the charming streets within this area. You'll explore Prince
William and Germain Streets, traditionally - and still - Saint John's main
commercial avenues. So elaborate are some of the buildings and their detailing
that it is easy to imagine the fierce competition among property owners,
contractors and craftsmen to out-do one another in the grandness of their
proud, new structures! You can browse through shops on Princess Street, visit
two of the city's beautiful, historic churches, and stroll past the elegant
brick townhouses on Germain.
imposing splendor of Corinthean columns, the whimsy of Queen Anne Revival,
elaborate Italianate facades, and curious gargoyles grimacing from atop their
cornice perches - you'll discover them all along PRINCE WILLIAM'S WALK, as you
explore the intriguing faces of historic Saint John.
THE SAINT JOHN
24,1604 - St. John the Baptist Day - French Explorer Samuel de Champlain landed
at the mouth of a mighty river. In honour of the day, he proclaimed that the
river and the harbour at its mouth be named "St. John." Almost thirty years
later, Charles de Ia Tour, self-appointed Governor of Acadia, built as his
headquarters a fortified trading post at the river mouth. In 1645, the fort was
captured by La Tour's rival for Governor, Charles d'Aulnay, after a valiant
defence by Lady La Tour, while her husband was in Boston seeking aid from the
English. In the years that followed several other French forts were built in
the area, among them Fort Villebon which, under British rule, was to become
the Treaty of Utrecht ceded French Acadia, including the St. John River Valley,
to England. The French settlers were gradually displaced by New England
colonists and traders. The Massachusetts firm of Simonds, Hazen and White
established a trading post at Saint John in 1762, and the first permanent
settlement in the area was born.
the American Revolution broke out and bands of American rebels and privateers
raided the eastern seacoast, destroying Fort Frederick and threatening to
topple the Simonds, Hazen and White enterprise.
erection of Fort Howe in 1777, the river mouth was safeguarded from further
attacks and the struggling settlement resumed its growth.
At the end
of the Revolution, in 1783, 14,000 American supporters of the British arrived
in Saint John en route to settle land grants up the St. John River allotted
them by the Crown. Some of these "Loyalists" established two settlements on
either side of the river mouth, "Parrtown" on the east and "Carleton" on the
west. In 1785, the two settlements were incorporated by Royal Charter into the
City of Saint John - Canada's first city.
which followed brought economic growth and social development. Saint John
developed a prosperous timber trade and a wood shipbuilding industry which by
the mid-1800s ranked as third largest in the world.
Saint John had attracted an influx of immigrants, principally from Ireland. In
the 1840s, over 30,000 Irish who had fled the potato famine arrived. Many
suffered from small-pox and typhoid fever, and had to be quarantined on
Partridge Island, where over 600 were buried.
saw the city's shipbuilding industry decline, as steel, steam-powered vessels
replaced wooden sailing ships. Canada's Confederation, in 1867, dealt another
blow to Saint John and to the Maritimes. In order to encourage Maritime trade
with central Canada, the Government of the new Dominion imposed high tariffs on
foreign goods forcing Maritime businessmen to import costly materials from
Ontario and Quebec.
1877, a disastrous fire destroyed the City's central business district and much
of the residential South End. The task of rebuilding the City was an enormous
one for Saint John's citizens - but rebuild it they did, this time out of brick
and stone in an even grander fashion than before!
times were underway. Beginning in 1880 the railway expansion provided direct
links with the rest of Canada stimulating the flow of goods and commerce.
Consequently, the port began to flourish and manufacturing boomed. Even the
shipbuilding industry was revived with the establishment of the Saint John Dry
Dock and Shipbuilding Company in 1923. Gradually, Saint John regained its
prominence as an important manufacturing and shipbuilding centre.
story doesn't stop here; our city is still growing and changing. And looking
back on our colorful past, we can only anticipate what exciting developments
lie ahead, as the story of our historic port city continues to
If you would like to learn
more about Saint John's past, be sure to check out
Trinity Royal.com a
designated Historic District, is full of history and lies in the heart of
uptown Saint John.
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