St. Andrews stands as one of its most ancient and unique settlements. The town has a distinctive charm, characterized by its status as a National Historic District – one of the oldest and most picturesque in the Maritimes. St. Andrews is a haven of architectural splendor, stunning landscapes, and diverse marine life. Though it boasts the amenities of a modern resort today, its streets still exude an old-world allure, harking back to the turn of the century.
Founded in 1783 by Loyalists from Castine, Maine, St. Andrews is a hallmark of New Brunswick’s history. The original layout, which is now the heart of the contemporary town, is a neatly designed rectangle stretching half a mile deep and a mile long, situated on a southward-facing hillside gently descending towards the harbor. This design is a quintessential representation of colonial town planning. Wide, straight streets form a systematic grid, punctuated occasionally by open squares for public buildings and a marketplace. All streets, except for Water Street that traces the shoreline, bear names linked to royal or colonial associations. Thirteen streets are named after the offspring of George III and his wife, Charlotte, and two after loyal servants of the crown; the rest are King, Queen, and Prince of Wales, the latter being the centerpiece. In essence, St. Andrews is more than a settlement; it’s a symbol.
For about fifty years after its founding, the town prospered. St. Andrews was both the shiretown and a garrison town for British soldiers.
St. Andrews also prospered as a merchant settlement. Nestled at the extremity of a slender peninsula at the St. Croix River’s mouth, it was aptly positioned to service safeguarded West Indian and British markets. Lumber and fish were traded to the West Indies in return for molasses and rum (still a favored beverage), and lumber and wooden sailing vessels to Great Britain.
With just a bay and a web of islands separating it from Maine ports, the town’s merchants and shipowners also benefited from a thriving transit trade during British and American conflicts or wars. Both nations, needing each other’s commodities but prohibited from trading directly, utilized St. Andrews merchants and shipowners to mediate goods “along the lines” (the international border) between British and American ships.
Sadly, with the decline of hostilities and the withdrawal of the colonial preference in the 1830s and 1840s the town’s economy crumbled.
By 1880, the population had dwindled to approximately two thousand, similar to its current size, and possibly half of that at the dawn of the century. The economic upturn only arrived towards the century’s end with the construction of railways and the wealthy’s wish to flee the eastern and seaboard cities’ summer heat, humidity, and related illnesses. With its cool offshore waters courtesy of the mighty tides of the Bay of Fundy, and a splendid harbour and bay, St. Andrews naturally emerged as a fashionable summer retreat.
Until the 1930s the town was an exclusive summer retreat. Overnight trains from Boston and Montreal brought prosperous, and often prominent, Americans and Canadians to well appointed hotels and elegant summer houses.
In the past, visitors often stayed for a month or a season, bringing along a retinue of maids, cooks, chauffeurs, and in some instances, butlers, if they owned summer homes. However, as the middle classes’ wealth grew and cars became more accessible, the town’s era as an exclusive resort started to wane. The hotels remain luxurious and the summer houses still hold their grace, but nowadays, visitors are more likely to come by family car or tour bus than a chauffeured limousine.
As well as attracting health-seeking summer visitors, the great tides and cool water of Passamaquoddy proved irresistible to marine scientists. The Bay is extremely rich in plant and animal life.
The Federal Government has upheld a biological research station in St. Andrews since 1908. Known to locals simply as “The Station,” it is now the oldest among three research and teaching institutions in the town. The other two are the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, which is affiliated with universities, and the Atlantic Salmon Federation, a privately funded organization committed to preserving the wild Atlantic Salmon.
Given the decline of wild fish populations, government research now focuses on aquaculture, widely seen as the only way to maintain a viable coastal fishery. The early government-backed experiments in salmon farming from the late 1970s have flourished into a critical commercial industry that provides year-round employment and injects millions of dollars into local economies.
In 1998, St. Andrews was recognized as a National Historic Site. As the town was relatively untouched by the main thrusts of 19th-century commerce and trade, it was spared the rapid growth that transformed many Canadian and American communities. Existing buildings were preserved, and until the late 19th century, few new ones were constructed. Despite subsequent losses, a sufficient number of early buildings have survived to offer a thorough record of the town’s architectural evolution. Styles vary from basic salt box and Cape Cod houses to sophisticated Georgian townhouses and summer homes built in the American “shingle” style. Many of these were designed by the esteemed architect Edward Maxwell, based in Boston and Montreal.
The intersection of Montague and King Streets, adorned by an elegant Anglican church and townhouses in Georgian and Federal styles, is reputed to be the most beautiful street intersection in Canada. Several commercial buildings on Water Street also hail from the late 18th or early 19th century, and their gable ends facing the street create rooflines reminiscent of older sections of Bergen or Bristol.
Over the years, Saint Andrews has played host to visitors from all over the world. Today, the year-round population hovers around 1800, swelling significantly during the summer months.
Presently, Saint Andrews stands as one of the best-preserved examples of colonial heritage in North America. While it retains its enchanting charm, Saint Andrews is also a vibrant, thriving community. The town blends small-town values and friendly neighbors seamlessly with a dynamic business environment. For the inhabitants of Saint Andrews, life is truly delightful.
There were many opportunities for photographs in St. Andrews. We’d like to share more of them with you below:
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