The evolution of Fredericton’s architectural heritage and its unique character developed hand in hand with its designation and growth as the Provincial Capital of New Brunswick. Not only are the dominant landmark buildings in the city a direct result of this governmental, administrative as well as educational status but its picturesque setting on the wonderful St. John River is also a distinct part of this legacy.
The river, first known as the Wolastoq (the beautiful river) and valley have long been inhabited by the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet). They summered on the islands a few miles above the sweeping curve in the river which featured a wide intervale punctuated by meadows, berry bogs, salmon pools and small brooks. Their descendants still maintain a strong community in the city today.
French geographer Samuel de Champlain attempted the first permanent European settlement of New France. His expedition “discovered” the river mouth on St. Jean Baptiste Day, June 24, 1604, and so named it ‘la Riviere St. Jean”. The Wolastoqiyik greeted them warmly, but no suitable place for settlement was identified and the explorers moved on to the doomed settlement of Ile St. Croix.
Between 1692 and 1698, the French commander of what was then called Acadia, Joseph Robineau de Villebon, built and occupied Fort St Joseph as the Acadian capital at the confluence of the Nashwaak and the John Rivers (where the present day walking bridge meets the Northside). The remoteness 60 miles upriver from the sea was seen as a deterrent from attack by ship, and although it withstood a British attack in 1696, the fortified French capital eventually moved across the Bay of Fundy to Port Royale, in present day Nova Scotia.
In 1732, a small group of French Acadians fleeing British advances in Nova Scotia settled along the bend in the river, naming the community Pointe Ste-Anne. Although a 1733 census listed 15 families and 83 people present, the settlement was abandoned by the late 1750’s when American Rangers came to establish British sovereignty in this remote local. Sadly, none of the Acadian building stock remains extant in the city.
The story of Fredericton really begins with the arrival of the Loyalists in October 1783. The first winter was harsh with early and severe snowfalls. Bedding was in short supply and many died during the harsh winter of 1783/84. They were buried in what became the Loyalist cemetery, which is still found on the south bank of the Saint John River.
The Loyalists had fought on the side of King George III in the American War of Independence and they received separate colonial status for the newly named colony of New Brunswick by 1784. Colonel Thomas Carleton became the first Governor in 1785 and chose St Anne’s Point as the capital as it afforded better protection from possible attack by their American adversaries than the port city of Saint John.
Carleton renamed the new settlement “Fredericktown” in honour of the King’s second son, Frederick. In 1786, the original Town Plat of streets and lots was surveyed and laid out in a typical grid pattern by Captain Dugald Campbell, a member of the British regiment stationed there at the time, thus giving credence to the claim that Fredericton is one of the oldest “planned” cities in the commonwealth. The streets reflect the British and Loyalist influence in their names: Queen, King, Brunswick, George and Charlotte.
The British colonial capital designation dictated the presence of a governor’s residence, and construction of a legislative assembly building, as well as the establishment of a substantial military presence to protect and project a strong sense of sovereignty over the region.
Likewise, the Anglican Church chose this location for the bishopric and the subsequent building of Christ Church Cathedral, which has been said to have set a new standard for the construction of Cathedrals in North America.
From the earliest and simplest of Loyalist vernacular dwellings to the most flamboyant Victorian mansions, the sweep of Fredericton’s architecture is our most direct connection to the social and economic conditions of the past, and how that past has fashioned this exceptional city.
Resource: Fredericton Heritage Trust
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