The largest city in New Brunswick (pop. 126,000), SAINT JOHN is better known for its industrial prowess than its tourist attractions, home to iconic products such Moosehead beer, the mighty Irving group of companies and a booming oil and gas sector. Yet the surprisingly compact downtown area is crammed with diverting sights, from resplendent Victorian architecture to the absorbing New Brunswick Museum and the Reversing Falls Rapids on the St John River, a dramatic place to see the effects of the Fundy tides.
The French established a trading post here in 1631, but the city-proper was founded by Loyalist refugees from America in 1783. In the nineteenth century Saint John thrived on the lumber and shipbuilding industries, and despite a devastating fire in 1877, it was sufficiently wealthy to withstand the costs of immediate reconstruction. Consequently, almost all the city’s older buildings – at their finest in the Trinity Royal Historic Preservation Area – are late Victorian.
Most of the action in Saint John takes place in the downtown area, known here as Uptown – the part of the city across the harbour is dubbed West Side.
The tiny rectangular dock at the foot of King Street, known as the Market Slip, is where the three thousand Loyalists disembarked in 1783. The Slip no longer functions as a port, but is still at the heart of Saint John, with warehouses converted into wine bars, restaurants and boutiques that front the modern Market Square shopping mall behind.
The forty thousand United Empire Loyalists who streamed north from America to British Canada in the aftermath of the American War of Independence accounted for a sizeable chunk of the New England population. Many had been subjected to reprisals by their revolutionary neighbours and most arrived virtually penniless in the 1780s. All but eight thousand settled in the Maritime Provinces, where they and their descendants formed the kernel of powerful commercial and political cliques. As a result, the Loyalists have frequently – and not altogether unfairly – been pilloried as arch-conservatives. In fact they were far from docile royalists: shortly after their arrival in Canada they were pressing the British for their own elective assemblies. Crucially, they were also to instil in their new country an abiding dislike for the American version of republican democracy – and this has remained a key sentiment threading through Canadian history.
Before their enforced exile, the Loyalists conducted a fierce debate with their more radical compatriots, but whereas almost everyone today knows the names of the revolutionary leaders, the Loyalists are forgotten. The Loyalist argument had several strands: loyalty to Britain, fear of war and other European powers, the righteousness or otherwise of civil obedience and, rather more subliminally, the traditional English Tory belief that men live most freely in a hierarchical society where roles are clearly understood.