Wilmot United Church is an impressive landmark on the corner of King and Carleton Streets in the centre of downtown Fredericton. It is one of the finest examples of carpenter-Gothic architecture in New Brunswick.
Wilmot United Church is designated a Provincial Historic Site for its location, its architecture and its congregation of Methodists.
Known originally as the Fredericton Methodist Church, its prominent location in the centre of Fredericton’s downtown reflects the important role of Wilmot United Church in the religious and social life of the capital city. The growing influence of members of the Methodist community in business and politics is reflected in the ambitious architectural detail of the church’s façade. This building boasted the largest auditorium in 19th- century Fredericton, seating in excess of 800 people. In 1925, the church was named after New Brunswick’s first native-born Lieutenant Governor, Judge Lemuel Allan Wilmot (1868-1873), who exemplified the integration of civic leadership and church life through his efforts to plan and finance the construction of the church, his service as a church trustee, Sunday School Superintendent and leader of the choir.
Built in 1851-52, Wilmot United Church is also significant architecturally because, both inside and out, it exemplifies a key transition in Victorian aesthetic preferences. Architect Matthew Stead and chief contractor, John Purvis achieved a convincing balance of two architectural traditions – the Georgian and the Gothic. Behind the amassing of well-executed Gothic decorative detail, stands the familiar rectangular configuration of a Methodist meetinghouse inspired by earlier Georgian forms brought to New Brunswick in the late 18th century by the Loyalists. The attention to Gothic detail is most in evidence around windows, doors, and especially in the church tower and belfry. Leading Methodists in mid-19th-century Fredericton borrowed and adapted these Gothic designs from Anglican sources and most particularly, they were influenced by the design of Christ Church Cathedral which was being constructed at precisely the same time just a few blocks away from Wilmot United Church.
Wilmot United Church is also a symbol of the growing influence of the Methodists in the colonial capital. It was no accident that the steeple of the Methodist church exceeded the height of the steeple atop the nearby Anglican Cathedral. The 206-foot steeple was surmounted by a distinctive 7-foot carved hand, fashioned from a single piece of white pine, with the index finger pointing upward to heaven. This remained as a prominent landmark on the Fredericton skyline for 122 years until it was removed in 1974 due to structural problems. The carved hand remains on display inside the church. Having joined the United Church of Canada in 1925, today this building exists as the last of the large wooden frame churches that once dominated the Fredericton skyline.
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