Building New Brunswick: An Architectural History

Building New Brunswick: An Architectural History

By John Leroux. Fredericton: Goose Lane, 2008.

Released in conjunction with an exhibition at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, Building New Brunswick: An Architectural History is a thoroughly researched volume that is accessible and lavishly illustrated. While Maritime cities such as Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton are not typically considered hotbeds of architecture and design, John Leroux has lovingly assembled images and drawings of hundreds of buildings located in these communities and throughout the province that will convince the most skeptical of readers that New Brunswick has a rich and worthwhile heritage. Although change comes slowly to New Brunswick, when it happens, the results are often earnest, modest and tentative, but occasionally exuberant and even bold.

A native of New Brunswick, Leroux is a Fredericton architect in his thirties who champions his province’s architectural legacy by contributing a biweekly column to the Telegraph-Journal. Having previously worked in Toronto, he belongs to a fledgling group of New Brunswick architects who have chosen to return home to practice architecture in smaller communities.

In compiling this catalogue, Leroux engaged the assistance of Robert Leavitt, an expert on the of Eastern Canadian aboriginal peoples, to write about the province’s first architects, the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet, while contrasting their traditional ways of building with the early settlement patterns of Europeans. Stuart Smith, former director of the province’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery, revisits the architecture before Confederation (1867), a period of history that brought Government House (1828), Saint John County Court House (1829) and King’s College (now known at Sir Douglas Hall)–which has served as Canada’s oldest continuously operating university building since 1829. Gary Hughes, a curator at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, discusses the province’s period of growth from 1840 to the First World War, a period that saw the establishment of New Brunswick as a significant centre for commerce and shipping. Buildings such as John Cunningham’s Neoclassical magnum opus–the New Custom House in Saint John (1841), have come to symbolize the province’s Golden Age. Unfortunately, the Great Fire of 1877 destroyed the building, along with much of the city. The latter half of the 19th century also saw the construction of numerous well-known churches, such as the Christ Church Cathedral (1853) in Fredericton, considered to be one of the most important Gothic Revival buildings in North America. By the late 1950s, the Modernist era had come to New Brunswick. The decade closed with the inauguration of the province’s 20th-century Modernist masterpiece–the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (1959), designed by Neil M. Stewart. Leroux continues to thoughtfully document the ensuing periods of architecture, from curtain-walled buildings in the ’60s to the Brutalist and Postmodern buildings of the ’70s and ’80s. The book closes on a speculative note–the new facilities for the New Brunswick Museum–but resists taking a position on what the most effective means of developing a regional identity for the province in the future might entail. Perhaps the erudite and architecture-friendly Lieutenant- Governor Hermngilde Chiasson sums up the book’s intent in his preface where he writes, “What has resisted the test of time should be a source of pride and inspiration in our drive to maintain a strong identity. Building New Brunswick is an important impetus to move in that direction.” IC