The founding of Frederick's Town between 1783 and 1785 was inextricably interwoven with the attempts of the LOYALISTS and their sympathizers to create a new province and a "haven for the King's friends" in British North America. Carefully planned ahead of this permanent settlement, Fredericton (named after Prince Frederick, second son of King George III) was to be their capital and the centrepiece of their new society.
In addition to assuming the seat of government with the creation of NEW BRUNSWICK in 1784, Fredericton was to become a British military headquarters, a centre of education and culture, and a stronghold for the Anglican Church. The capital was to take on an appropriately "aristocratic flavour" in contrast to the fledgling commercial entrepôt of SAINT JOHN, already distastefully dominated by "men in trade."
Prior to the arrival of the Loyalists, both the advantages and disadvantages of the future site of Frederick's Town had been realized by Native people and Acadians. The MALISEET recognized the value of the scenic alluvial plain that had formed at this central inland river junction. It marked the terminus of an important portage route from the MIRAMICHI RIVER and for several generations was the site of Maliseet camps and a burial ground.
The strategic advantages of Ste Anne's Point (as it became known) were not developed, however, until 1691 when Governor Joseph Robinau de Villebon decided to establish the capital of ACADIA at the mouth of the Nashwaak River, opposite the alluvial plain. The site afforded a fine deep-water anchorage on the main artery into the region, and it could be defended more easily from the attacks of the British or New Englanders than a location closer to the Bay of Fundy.
Yet by 1698 de Villebon had abandoned Fort Nashwaak. Eminently secure in wartime, in times of peace the site was too isolated from the main routes of trade, commerce and communication to do well economically. In the 1730s Acadian farmers established a settlement on the rich soils of the plain at Ste Anne's; but less than 20 years later they were described as "exceeding poor" and had "become half savage from neglect." The remnants of the settlement were swept aside by a New England raiding party in 1759, clearing the way for the Loyalists and their "design."
In the 200 years following 1783, Fredericton unfolded very much as its founders had hoped. In addition to its role as provincial capital, it became the shire town of York County (1785). Substantial pieces of land on the town plat were set aside for government, for a university, for the Anglican Church and for the military. King's College received a royal charter in 1828 and began to grow "up the hill," especially after the construction of a fine stone building that same year.
Equally grand stone barracks and a military compound grew in the centre of the town; and Bishop John MEDLEY's selection of the community as the site for CHRIST CHURCH CATHEDRAL in the newly created Anglican See of New Brunswick in 1845 was directly responsible for the elevation of Fredericton to city status in 1848. The magnificent cathedral was constructed from 1846 to 1853.
In time, modifications were made to the Loyalist design. King's College was reorganized into the nondenominational UNIVERSITY OF NEW BRUNSWICK in 1859, as Methodists and other nonconformists from Saint John and all corners of the province assailed Fredericton and its Anglican "establishment."
The British garrison left in 1869, shortly after the coming of CONFEDERATION, by which time Irish immigrants, Presbyterians and Catholics had altered the demographic and religious base. Lumbering, and to a lesser extent agriculture, plus Fredericton's role as a point of trans-shipment between the lower and upper Saint John River, brought prosperity throughout the century.
The city grew slowly - to only 7117 by 1901. In 1941 it still contained only 10 062 inhabitants. The immigrants brought diversity, divisions and community tensions, such as the "Orange-Green" riots in 1847; and there were less-violent political conflicts between the poorer Upper Towners and the more affluent, "established" Lower Towners over town clock, marketplace and wharf sites.
Yet a "gentleman-like" atmosphere prevailed in the city. Fredericton's genteel society was responsible for producing such literary figures as Bliss CARMAN and Sir Charles G.D. ROBERTS. In the 20th century, Max AITKEN donated a fine art gallery (BEAVERBROOK ART GALLERY) and The Playhouse, both in Lower Town, near Christ Church Cathedral and the legislative assembly.
Fredericton doubled its size in 1973 as a result of amalgamation. Today it serves an area called the Greater Fredericton region with a combined population of some 125 000. This includes 2 towns (OROMOCTO and Nackawic) and 11 villages. The population remained stable until the early 1990s during which the population of the surrounding region increased at a much higher rate. The population is predominately of Canadian or British origin, however, over 20% are bilingual. Some 6% are Francophone.
A different kind of society emerged on the north side of the river during the 19th century. In 1862 Alexander "Boss" Gibson began the construction of his industrial empire at Marysville with a lumber mill on the Nashwaak. Before he was done he had constructed one of the largest cotton mills in Canada (1883-85) and an entire community to go with it. He built brick row houses for his workers, detached homes for management, a boarding house, a company store, a magnificent Methodist church and a railway to Chatham.
Though Gibson was forced to sell out in 1908 under pressure from a Central Canadian cotton consortium that he refused to join, the mill limped on until 1973, and Marysville added another different industrial working-class community to the area. Now known as Marysville Place, the old cotton mill is one of Fredericton's more noteworthy buildings forming the centrepiece of a national historic district (designated 2003).
In the downtown core, on the south side of the river, are a number of other historically significant buildings: City Hall, the Legislative Assembly, Wilmot United Church, York County Gaol, the Justice Building, the Soldiers' Barracks and Officers' Quarters, Christ Church Cathedral and Old Government House (1828). Some of the existing residential housing stock dates back to the beginning of the Loyalist period in the late 1700s. This is particularly true of the eastern section of the old town.
A noted Canadian author, Bruce HUTCHISON, in his book The Unknown Country (1942), wrote a chapter on Fredericton, "The Hometown". The city remains as he described it even today with its tree-lined streets and traces of old-world atmosphere.
Fredericton today is also a city on the move. The city is becoming a centre for information technologies and telecommunications in part by utilizing its bilingual workforce. The University of New Brunswick, NB Tel, the provincial government and private entrepreneurs have combined to strengthen and nurture growth in this sector of the economy.
The 2 major employers in the Greater Fredericton region are GAGETOWN CFB and the provincial government; these are followed by the Dr Everett Chalmers Hospital, the federal government and the University of New Brunswick. Fredericton has one of the highest per capita incomes for a community in its population range in Canada. This is reflected in its rate of retail activity per capita, which is one of the highest in Canada.
SAINT THOMAS UNIVERSITY broadened the city's educational sector in 1964 by moving to the University of New Brunswick campus from CHATHAM. Also present is the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. Theatre New Brunswick, the province's only professional English-language theatre, is based in The Playhouse but also performs throughout the province. The Beaverbrook Art Gallery has in its permanent collection many works of Atlantic Canada and other Canadian, as well as British, artists. The Daily Gleaner is Fredericton's daily newspaper.
Fredericton remains much as its founders would have wished: small, intimate and personal, cultured, refined and with an air of prosperity and importance in the midst of New Brunswick.
Author ALAN BROOKES Rev: WILLIAM W. THORPE
Links to Other Sites
The official website for the City of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Click on "Visitors" for information about local historic sites and cultural attractions.
Beaverbrook Art Gallery
View a large online collection of paintings by Canadian and international artists from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.
Theatre New Brunswick
The official website for Theatre New Brunswick. Check this site for the latest performance calendar and updates about their innovative educational programs.
Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival
The official website for the rollicking Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in Fredericton. Click on artist names for selected music videos.
Fredericton Heritage Trust
The website for the Fredericton Heritage Trust, an organization dedicated to promoting the preservation of the natural, historical, and architectural heritage of the capital region of New Brunswick. Features illustrated examples of the various architectural themes found in local heritage structures.
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