Living HistoryActive Community Living in Saint John, New BrunswickBritish North America’s Oldest Incorporated City
Newfoundland/Labrador (NFL) Tourism spins a tale that tells inquiring tourists looking for a special place to visit to come to St. John’s and experience what life is like in Canada’s oldest city. I’ve been there and done it. It was enjoyable. However, using Maritime talk, it’s small potatoes in comparison to living in what’s British North America’s first true city in Canada’s colonial era. Saint John New Brunswick was incorporated as a city in 1785 by the United Empire Loyalists (UEL) upon landing on its shores as proud British patriates in the aftermath of the American revolution.
St. John’s, and as Saint John natives will tactfully remind you never to put “St.” in front of John or an “’s” at the tail end, was still an out-port fishing colony in 1785 when the (UEL) landed on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. Now, these UEL were not ordinary folk. They were representative of the upper crust of what are commonly referred to as the “Boston States” and counted among their numbers graduates of Harvard, Yale and Princeton (the Ivey Leagues) as well as the famed barristers from the historic Inns of Court in London. The UEL were determined to make their mark on their new home and leave a legacy that would remind all who came after them of what thy had to gain by following their lead and making the historic harbour on the Bay of Fundy their home.
And they have left a legacy that in the pre COVID tourist season was scheduled to attract in excess of 90 cruise ships and an estimated 200,000 visitors. Of course, they do come to get a first- hand up close look at a natural wonder as the highest tides in the world on the Bay of Fundy butt up against the mouth of the Saint John River, reputed to be the second longest river in North America next to the Mississippi, and reverse the flow of the fresh water tide twice a day. But for those who live in Saint John they’re also the beneficiaries of being blessed with being happy since its been well documented that “people who live next door to the ocean report being happier than those who don’t”
A must stop for tourists is the historic Saint John City Market. It’s the oldest continuously operating market in Canada. For those who live in Saint John they actually get to shop for food and have bite to eat in this unique historic emporium. Both tourists and residents can then stroll through the historic King’s Square and wander over to walk through the historic Loyalist Cemetery. In your wandering about uptown you’ll notice two things. Although there are historic sites such as Fort Howe, Martello Tower and Loyalist House that give you a glimpse of the Loyalist city in the Loyalist era, there is a noticeable absence of historic Loyalist structures.
The “Great Fire of 1877” destroyed an estimated 80% of the city. But for those who want to live in a city with replete with Victorian and Edwardian brick and stone residences and business that are on par with what you admire as a tourist when you wander the streets of Beacon Hill in Boston and Upper Manhattan in New York you live that life experience in uptown Saint John. Saint John was a major centre of commerce in the Victorian era and one of the top three shipbuilding and lumber export centres in British North America. The city was rebuilt with those grand brick and stone buildings that are testament to the wealth of that era.
The rich and famous snatch up these stone and brick edifices as soon as they come on the market in Boston and New York. Just think! You could be doing just what they’re doing an affordable price and participating in active community living in Saint John.
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John G. Kelly
Mentoring & Counselling