St. John the Evangelist Church, with its adjacent cemetery, is situated on the south side of Main Street on the north side of Fredericton. Bishop John Medley consecrated the “little stone church”, its construction based upon John Henry Hokeswell’s design plans, in 1856.
Construction of the St John The Evangelist Church started in 1853, making it one of the oldest churches in Fredericton. The corner stone was laid on July 18, 1853.
The church was enclosed in 1854 and completed in 1855 for a total cost of about 4000 pounds. When built, it was a Bishop Medley design with tiny sanctuary on the east end of the nave (where the congregation sits) which would accommodate 90 (narrow!) people.
The construction of St. John the Evangelist Church represents Bishop John Medley’s influence and his ecclesiastical vision for New Brunswick. Bishop Medley, who arrived from England in 1845, intended to spread Anglicanism throughout New Brunswick with the construction of Gothic Revival churches.
The heritage value of St. John the Evangelist also resides in its construction material and style. A Gothic Revival church built of stone was rare in New Brunswick at the time of its construction during the mid-1850s. The church, which was originally intended to be built of wood, was constructed using local stone. This church reflects Bishop Medley’s intertwining of architecture and sacred space. When Bishop Medley consecrated St. John the Evangelist in March 1856, he described the church as a “gem of architecture”.
The construction of this church demonstrates the liturgical needs of the local community. Discussion concerning the construction of a church began in 1851, when it was decided that families in the lower part of Douglas Parish had for too long been “destitute of church privileges”. The original plans, which were drawn in 1852, were altered in 1853 by John Henry Hokeswell of London, England and called for a stone church.
One particular family played a prominent role in the construction of the church. The Robinsons, who were descended from Loyalist stock and owned considerable property between Nashwaaksis and Douglas, provided both the land and the stone necessary for the construction. Major Fred Robinson and his wife donated the land upon which the church was constructed, and a quantity of stone had been culled from the Robinson family quarry.
In 1897, Beverly A. Robinson and his wife deeded a parcel of land on the lower side of St. John the Evangelist as a burial plot for his Lordship H.T. Kingdon, Bishop of Fredericton.
Rev. George Goodrich Roberts, born in Saint John became the Rector in 1857. His son, Sir Charles Goodrich Douglas Roberts, was born while the family lived in Douglas. Sir Charles was named Douglas because he was born in the Parish of Douglas. He became the first Poet Laureate of Canada.
When the church was built, a small wooden steeple was also constructed. Although plans called for a church bell to be installed, that didn’t happen until 97 years later. Since 1932 the bell has rung Sunday morning. The bell was donated to the church by the MacFarlane Wagon Factory. The bell had originally been on the ferry running from Ferry Avenue in Nashwaaksis across the St. John River to the bottom of Smythe Street before a bridge was built around 1880.