The current New Brunswick Legislature Building, located in Fredericton, has stood as a beacon of democracy in New Brunswick since 1882. It came into being following the destruction of its predecessor in a fire two years prior.
An open competition was held by the government to identify the most compelling design, resulting in the adoption of J.C. Dumaresq‘s blueprint. Dumaresq was an architect from Saint John. The primary contract was awarded to William Lawlor of Chatham with an initial bid of $68,800, which later adjusted to a final settlement of $72,085.75. The building, inclusive of furnishings, cost around $120,000 in the currency of the early 1880s. Notably, $2000 was allocated for gas fittings.
Constructed in the Second Empire Style, the New Brunswick Legislature Building is a three-story edifice made of sandstone, featuring a mansard roof and corner towers. Its distinguishing feature is a central octagon domed tower, rising 41 metres above the main roof level, which has become a notable landmark in Fredericton. The main entrance is graced by a portico, supported by four 4.25-metre high round tapered stone columns with Corinthian capitals, which are adorned with stone carved faces and a cast iron decorative railing.
A statue of Britannia with her trident, standing 1.83 metres high, decorates the center of the façade, harking back to a time when Britain, not Neptune, dominated the seas.
Entering through the main door, visitors are welcomed into a vestibule that houses various commemorative plaques. Further in, an octagonal hallway filled with portraits of former lieutenant-governors awaits. The main highlight of the entry area, however, is an impressive, large self-supporting spiral staircase situated towards the back.
The Assembly Chamber, notably high given the relative compactness of the room’s length and breadth, is the most remarkable element of the building. It extends 13 metres through the two main stories.
Refurbishments were done to the Assembly Chamber in 1988, which included modifications to cater to an expanded balcony and the implementation of various legislative traditions over the preceding century. The design process was rooted in an extensive study of historical records, interior photos, paint analysis, and carpet fragments, ensuring modern requirements were met while respecting the building’s history.
The hand-blocked frieze at the point where the chamber walls meet the ceiling features the Anthemion leaf motif and is colored in red-based tones with accents of olive, cream, metallic gold and copper, representing the influence of ancient Greece. The mid-point border is a Greek key design widely used in Victorian buildings and found in historical photographs of this room. This motif is also repeated on the pilasters of the vestibule and hallway.
The interior design of the chamber displays late Victorian sensibilities, merging various stylistic influences. For instance, a hand-blocked frieze, featuring the Anthemion leaf motif in shades of red, olive, cream, gold, and copper, adorns the junction where the chamber walls meet the ceiling, reflecting ancient Greek influences. The Greek key design, a common Victorian feature, can be found on the chamber’s mid-point border and repeated on the vestibule and hallway’s pilasters.
The chamber’s wallpaper, named ‘Japanesque’, is a replication of a period design from the Smithsonian Institution archives, reflecting late 19th-century fascination with Japanese culture. Over 275 rolls of the paper were utilized to cover the chamber and gallery walls.
Window decoration in the 1860s often involved heavy drapery, a tradition reflected in the chamber’s formal draperies and valances made of olive-gold satin from France. The swags and jabots are lined with striped silk from Italy. Various shades taken from the wallpaper appear in the drapery’s accessories, such as ropes, tassels, braids, fringes, and tiebacks. In total, over 457 metres of fabric were used.
The room’s centerpiece is an oriental-style carpet, crafted in England, featuring a color palette of green, grey, terra cotta, and rust. Instead of mirroring the wall covering, the carpet’s pattern and hues provide a compelling contrast.
Conservation work carried out on the crystal chandeliers includes replacing several missing prisms, rewiring, cleaning and lacquering brass.
An attentive examination of the building’s exterior will reveal numerous unique artistic carvings, including pineapples and dragons. Pineapples, in particular, have traditionally been used as symbols of hospitality and welcome in various decor styles. This fruit stands as a representation of those cherished but intangible qualities we value in a home – warmth, conviviality, camaraderie, and generous hospitality.
To see more photos of the New Brunswick Legislature click on a thumbnail.
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