Historic Saint John



L'accueil de Kathleen, sa gentillesse et la qualité de ses petits déjeuners qui est un merveilleux moment. — Patricia

Saint John, located along the beautiful Bay of Fundy coast, is a city filled with history and great attractions.


Historic Saint John


Saint John is the largest city in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, is 90 km (56 mi) south of the capital Fredericton, and the second largest city in the maritime provinces. It is known as the Fundy City due to its location on the north shore of the Bay of Fundy at the mouth of the Saint John River, as well as being the only city on the bay. In 1785 Saint John became the first incorporated city in Canada.

The mouth of the St. John River was first discovered by Europeans in 1604 during a reconnaissance of the Bay of Fundy undertaken by French cartographer Samuel de Champlain. The day upon which Champlain sighted the mighty river was St. John The Baptist's Day, hence the name, which in French is Fleuve Saint-Jean. The city has the same name in English as well as French.

Uptown Saint John circa 1875

The Loyalist-dominated communities of Parrtown, on the east side of the Saint John River, and Carleton, on the west side of the Saint John River, were amalgamated by royal charter to become the City of Saint John in 1785, making it the first incorporated city in British North America (present-day Canada).

Market Slip (Market Square) circa 1902

By 1851 Saint John, with a population of 31,000, was the third largest city in British North America, after Montreal and Quebec City. Leadership was in the hands of merchants, financiers, railroad men and ship builders, who envisioned a great economic centre. The city serviced a large rural hinterland in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, with some 300,000 people.

The main industry was shipbuilding — it was a major player on the world stage; the industry finally shut down in 2002. Much of the city's shipbuilding industry was concentrated on the mudflats of Courtney Bay on east side. One local shipyard built the sailing ship Marco Polo. Due to its location for railways and servicing the triangle trade between British North America, the Caribbean, and Britain, the city was poised to be one of Canada's leading urban centres.

On 20 June 1877, a spark fell into a bundle of hay in Henry Fair Weathers storehouse in the York Point Slip area. Nine hours later the fire had destroyed over 80 hectares (200 acres) and 1,612 structures including eight churches, six banks, fourteen hotels, eleven schooners and four wood boats. The fire had killed approximately 20 people, and injuring many more. The fire destroyed two-fifths of the city and left 20,000 homeless. Food, tents, clothing, and donations of money came from all over Canada, the United States, and Britain. No photographs exist of the fire. But some survivors accounts of the blaze tell that the fire came so close to the harbour that it looked like the water was on fire.

Source: Wikipedia

Near-by Attractions


Irving Nature Park

West of Lancaster, and minutes from Fundy Heights B&B, the city hosts its second largest park, and one of the largest coastal urban parks in the country. The Irving Nature Park, along Saints' Rest Beach sits on an extensive peninsula called Taylor's Island extending into the western part of the harbour into the Bay of Fundy.

The Irving Nature Park is a 600 acre (243 hectare) site created to help protect an environmentally significant area. This special part of the Fundy coastline is a place where the public can enjoy and experience the various ecosystems of the Southern New Brunswick coastline. The peninsula of volcanic rock and forest on the Bay of Fundy is swept twice daily by some of the highest tides in the world. Mud flats and salt marsh are along one side. A long sandy cobble beach is on the other. The area nurtures one of the province's richest marine ecosystems.

The area is a traditional staging site for migratory and marine birds that travel between the Arctic and South America. It is a breeding ground for many waterfowl of the Atlantic coastline. Park visitors enjoy the park's rugged beauty, its trails and lookout points, its boardwalk on the salt marsh with amazing bird watching opportunities, its picnic sites and its free gas barbecues. Special events like moonlight snowshoeing, geological history, meteor showers, and story sessions are all free.

View a PDF map of the Irving Nature Park and its trails.

Carleton Martello Tower

Carleton Martello Tower is one of the nine surviving Martello Towers in Canada. The tower dates from the War of 1812 and had military significance in conflicts up until the Second World War. The site now features a restored powder magazine, a restored barracks room, and exhibits in the tower and in the Visitor Centre. The tower's roof offers a view of the city of Saint John and its harbour.

Carleton Martello Tower is the oldest building in the city and has been designated as a National Historic Site of Canada since 1930. It was opened to the public in 1963.

World Famous Reversing Falls

The St. John River flows into the Bay of Fundy through a narrow gorge several hundred feet wide at the centre of the city. It contains a unique phenomenon called the Reversing Falls where the diurnal tides of the bay reverse the water flow of the river for several kilometres. A series of underwater ledges at the narrowest point of this gorge also create a series of rapids.

The tide rises and falls approximately once every 12 and a half hours. To best appreciate the Reversing Falls, you should try to view them at least twice on a given day — near low tide and near high tide. A good water level vantage point from which to view the Falls is Fallsview Park, not far from the Reversing Falls Information Centre.

Uptown Saint John

Uptown Saint John, located in the city centre, includes the central business district and the Trinity Royal heritage district, which together are referred to as "Uptown" by residents throughout the city. As most of this area in the central peninsula is situated on a hill, it is rarely called "Downtown."

The Uptown is home to hundreds of privately owned and operated shops that sell a wide variety of food and merchandise. A stroll down King Street will offer stores selling local arts and crafts, while across the street the Brunswick Square Mall offers more commercial stores for your shopping pleasure. On Germain, Canterbury, Prince William and Charlotte Streets (all off King Street) you will find international cuisine, art galleries, and independent record and book stores. Market Square, located at the foot of King Street, offers shopping, events on the boardwalk, fine dining, a museum and public library.

Points of Interest:

  • City Market — The city market is located in the Uptown, with entrances on both Charlotte and Germain Streets. Upon entering the City Market, look up at the rafters and notice its resemblance to an inverted ship's hull. Inside this busy market you will find local produce, fresh seafood, old-fashioned butchers, a wide array of unique foods and crafts, native both to New Brunswick and around the world, delightful bakeries, artists and interesting souvenirs. The perfect place to fill your picnic basket or to buy yourself a little something to remember your time Saint John. The building, opened in 1876, is a Canadian National Historic site — the oldest continuing market in Canada.
  • King's Square — In the heart of the Uptown, King's Square is home to stately trees, gardens, monuments, and the trademark double-decker Bandstand/Fountain at its centre.
  • Loyalist Burial Ground — Adjacent to King's Square is the Loyalist Burial Ground, whose cobblestone paths lead past graves over two centuries old.
  • The Imperial Theatre — Located on the south of King's Square, this National Historic Site of Canada first opened its doors on September 19, 1913. It features everything from symphonies to plays to comedy and concerts. Be sure to check the schedule of events to see what is playing during your time in Saint John.
  • Harbour Passage — Harbour Passage is a red paved walking path that runs from the Marco Polo Cruise Ship terminal Uptown, along Market Square onwards to the Reversing Falls. The passage way is marked by various heritage sites, lookouts and great interpretive panels and is a great walking, biking or skating path in the summertime.
  • New Brunswick Museum — Located in Market Square in the city's Uptown. The museum boasts a wide array of local historic information and artefacts, artwork, scientific exhibits and displays, and a Discovery Centre with many interactive and educational activities. The Museum also has a to-scale plaster of a mastodon skeleton and skeletons of whales.
  • Barbour's General Store — It is an authentic 19th-century general store building, preserved and used to recreate a Victorian-era educational experience for visitors. It is located at the intersection of King Street and Prince William Street in the Trinity Royal Historic Preservation Area in the city's uptown.
  • Loyalist House — Built in 1810, this Georgian-style house is the oldest building in the City of Saint John. Built by a wealthy Loyalist from New York, David Daniel Merrit, six generations of Merrit's went on to call this Union Street dwelling "home". Loyalist House contains many impressive features such as eight fireplaces, authentic Georgian antique furnishings and a graceful curving staircase.
  • Three Sisters Lamp — The first lamp, an oil lamp, was erected in St. Patrick's Square at the end of Prince William Street in 1842 and then replaced by a gas lamp in 1847. Then two years later in 1849, a post containing three red gas lamps, visible for three miles seaward, was stationed at the end of Prince William Street. If the three red lamps appeared individually, sailors would know they were heading straight into the harbour, however if only one or two could be seen sailors knew they needed to alter their course.

Rockwood Park

Rockwood Park is located in the eastern area of the North End of Saint John and is one of Canada's largest urban parks. The park encompasses 890 hectares of upland Acadian mixed forest, many hills and several caves, as well as several freshwater lakes and beaches, with an extensive trail network, a golf course, campground and the city's Cherry Brook Zoo.

Over 55 trails and footpaths will guide you through the Park's unspoiled charm, with its unusal topography and geography. A Stonehammer Geopark site, Rockwood's billion years of history can be seen in unique rock formations, caves and waterfalls.

The park was designed by Calvert Vaux, one of the designers of New York City's Central Park, in the mid-19th century. The park was initially established around Lily Lake during the late 19th century, and was named in a vote by citizens in the area around the park. The World Speedskating Championships were held in the park in 1926, attracting 25,000 fans.

Irving Nature Park photography by Nancy Hamilton ([email protected])