European settlement at the head of the Bay of Fundy set down roots in the 1670s when French Acadians built homes at a 90-degree bend in the Petitcodiac River. In 1755 the British captured nearby Fort Beauséjour and expelled the French from the region. No move, however, was made to repopulate Le Coude, as it was known from the Acadian word for “The Bend.”
The first to try were a band of Pennsylvania Dutch from the American colonies in 1766, brandishing a land grant from the Philadelphia Land Company. The eight families were led by Nathaniel Shiverick and they christened their new home The Bend of the Petitcodiac. Growth was painfully slow for the mostly agrarian community. There were no real roads and those who arrived by boat usually left. Census takers could count the number of households in The Bend on four hands until the 1830s.
In 1836 the Westmorland Road became usable all year round and the village began to form as an important stopover between Halifax and Saint John. Then Joseph Salter arrived and began to use the abundant spruce forests to build ships. By the 1840s there were over 1000 workers assembling the wooden packets and clippers of the day. Business was so good that The Bend was able to incorporate as a city in 1855 with Salter as mayor. The new name was retrieved from the conqueror of Fort Beauséjour, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Monckton. Paperwork was lax in those days and a “k” went missing in the shuffling of paperwork.
Unfortunately the steamship era was upon the seas and the toll was so great on the sleek wooden ships of the day that Moncton was forced to give back its civic charter in 1862. Gloomy days did not last long, however, as the denuded city was selected as the linchpin for the Intercolonial Railway of Canada (IRC) in 1871. Moncton was now a railroad town and would be so for 120 years. With some deft political maneuvering and its history with the IRC, Moncton became the eastern terminus for the National Transcontinental Railway in 1912. The newly repurposed city was soon the home for the Canadian National Railways locomotive repair shops for the Maritimes.
The railroad and its attending industries left abruptly in the 1980s and the city was once again in crisis. This time civic boosters cast a line back as far as it could go - to the region’s Acadian origins. Moncton had become a centre for the Acadian minority in the region and its cultural strains were now given more prominence. The city’s emergence as a bastion of bilingualism was parlayed into economic services leading to a revitalisation known as the “Moncton Miracle.”
The economic resurgence cost the downtown area many of its heritage buildings but there is still much to see from the days when Moncton was the railroad capital of Eastern Canada. And we’ll start our tour at the tallest freestanding structure in the Maritime provinces...
Bell Aliant Tower
southwest corner of Queen Street and Botsworth Street
The purpose of this concrete tower is to provide directional radio services. The reason it is so high is that the high-rise Assumption Place was built on Main Street and blocked microwave transmissions. So New Brunswick Telephone sent it antenna 127 metres into the sky in 1971. At the time this was the tallest microwave communications tower in North America; nearly fifty years on it is still the tallest structure in Moncton by a good margin. Moncton’s first telephone exchange was located on this site in 1883 - George C. Peters, a physician and surgeon, bankrolled the operation with five subscribers.
WALK SOUTH ON BOTSFORD STREET (THE TOWER IS ON YOUR RIGHT).
18 Botsford Street
Twenty-eight year old Henry Thaddeus Stevens and his partner James Brewster, one year younger, but out the first edition of the Moncton Times, then a weekly, in 1868. The newspaper offices were in a wooden structure at this location. The paper caught the fancy of Moncton readers and became a daily in 1877. Stevens did three stints as mayor of Moncton but overwhelming legal bills forced him to depart the masthead in 1893; his wife had been accused of manslaughter in the death of the couple’s adopted daughter and was only acquitted after two trials. Fire claimed the wooden building in 1902 and in its stead rose this simple three-story Italianate-styled commercial building. Harvey Havelock Mott, a busy Saint John architect, provided the design for the brick building with stone trim. The Times stayed in this building until 1945; in 1983 the paper merged with its century-old rival, the Transcript.
WHEN BOTSFORD STREET REACHES MAIN STREET, YOU ARE FACING A TWO-BLOCK BUILDING. ON YOUR LEFT (THE WESTERN SIDE) IS...
Provincial Bank Building
696-698 Main Street at southwest corner of Downing Street
The Provincial Bank of Canada set up shop in Moncton in this building in 1910 and stayed more than six decades. Since then the ground floor has compromised the rusticated Beaux Arts base and the decorative cornice has come down. This bank building was an early project of local architect René Arthur Frechet who would continue working in the province until after World War II.
ON THE EASTERN SIDE OF THE BLOCK IS...
700 Main Street
Peter McSweeney’s department store was a sensation when it opened its doors in 1901. It was not only the first department store in Moncton but its passenger elevator was so novel that riders came from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to try it out. McSweeney had sailed to Moncton from Ireland and began selling dry goods and furniture with brothers Edward and Thomas before starting on his own in 1877. A member of the Liberal party, McSweeney was sent to the Canadian Senate in 1899 and served until his death in 1921. The building has lost its ornate balustrade on the roof but most of the decorative details of the facade remain, including the engaged Doric columns and the Ionic column in the centre.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET.
655 Main Street
Moncton’s aggressive urban renewal efforts are symbolized by this 60,000 square foot government seat that was built in 1996.
599 Main Street
John Albert Humphrey began his business career in milling in 1845 but eventually had his fingers in many pies, including the Moncton Gas Light and Water Company, the Moncton Sugar Refining Company and the Moncton Cotton Manufacturing Company. Humphrey was along the wealthiest men in Canada when he brought his son, William F., into the business. His son, William A. Humphrey, bought the rights to sell the first Ford automobiles in Moncton and built this prototypical dealership showroom in 1930. The garage was in the back. Humphrey’s timing was not ideal and the Great Depression sank the business. The brick building still looks like it could sell cars but has done other commercial duty since.
Bank of Montreal Building
567-569 Main Street
This stone commercial building was raised in sections as is obvious from the fenestration, although the builders attempted to duplicate the Italianate style from the original Bank of Montreal structure raised on the east end in 1876. The arrival of the Bank of Montreal gave Moncton its first major bank. In 1883 Christopher and John Harris, sons of a Loyalist shipbuilder in Annapolis, made the attached addition for their general merchandise business. After the money men departed in 1891, the next generation of the Harris family took over the entire building. A variety of tenants filtered through the building over the next century, the most interesting being the Journal L’Évangéline, the first French language newspaper in the region.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON MAIN STREET AND CROSS BOTSFORD STREET.
679-687 Main Street at northwest corner of Botsford Street
Although much compromised on the ground level you can look up to see the Romanesque influences of this three-storey commercial block fashioned from pink sandstone. Lester H. Higgins made so much money making boots and shoes that he was able to build the eastern section of this building in 1901. In 1909 he was able to expand his building to an impressive 14 bays, all amply decorated with stone carvings. Higgins then concentrated on adorning Main Street with several other important commercial properties.
Rubin’s Ltd. Mural
720-730 Main Street
Jordi Bonet emigrated to Canada from his native Spain in 1954 at the age of 22. He had lost his right arm at the age of nine and began creating metal and concrete reliefs. This mosaic, one of the largest ceramic works in Canada, was called Explosion. It was created in 1962 for Rubin’s Department Store, the retail concern of Norman Rubin. Rubin was a founding member of the Moncton Central Business Development Corporation and a leader in lighting up the downtown for the holiday season. After creating more than 100 significant works, Bonet died prematurely of leukemia in 1979.
Royal Bank Building
713-721 Main Street at northeast corner of Alma Street
Celebrated Halifax Victorian-era architect James C. Dumaresq came to Moncton in the employ of the Merchants’ Bank in 1898. He delivered a beautifully balanced three-story vault in the Romanesque style and executed with pink sandstone carted from a Sackville quarry. Merchants became a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada in 1901 and remained in these handsome quarters until 1986. A sympathetic addition was added along Alma Street in 1929 but it has been completely compromised in recent years.
770 Main Street
This 20-storey office tower is the home of Assumption Life which was founded by Acadians in Massachusetts in 1903. The business relocated to Moncton in 1913 on St. George Street and this tower rose in 1972. At a height of 80.8 metres it is tied with Brunswick Square in Saint John as the tallest office building in the province.
795-797 Main Street
The evolution of this unusual Main Street landmark began in 1892 with William H. Faulkner who had an expanding clothing business. The building began as a standard red brick affair with stone trim and a flat roof. In 1905 the space was purchased for $25,000 of stock by John Daniel Creaghan and the transformation began. Creaghan was an Irishman who began his career in dry goods in Glasgow, Scotland. His company sent him to Fredericton and in 1875 at the age of 24 he went into business in Newcastle with Scottish native Donald Sutherland. Sutherland sold out in 1892 and when Creaghan took over the Caledonia Building he cased in the windows and spent $700 to install special lighted display cases known as “silent salesmen.” The building was enlarged in 1937 and picked up a modernized false front as it became the flagship store for the small chain. Creghan’s lasted just short of a century in this location, departing in the 1990s.
828 Main Street at southwest corner of Westmoreland Street
The Transcript began life as a weekly publication in Sackville. In 1882 it was brought to Moncton by Liberal businessmen as a counterbalance to to the resident Tory organ, the Moncton Times. The competition was lukewarm until the arrival five years later of John T. Hawke from Ottawa who unleashed non-stream attacks on the philosophical opposition and continued until his death in 1922. Hawke bought land on this corner in 1897 and erected a wooden newspaper office. In 1900 it was replaced by this red brick Victorian confection perched on a stone base. Instead of waiting for his editorial to be printed Hawke would occasionally use the balcony that once existed on the corner tower to harangue Moncton readers directly. The rival newspapers came under the same corporate umbrella in 1945 and the Transcript left these quarters in 1960. In 1983, after a century of co-existence the two newspapers became the Times-Transcipt.
803 Main Street
This is another property in Lester H. Higgins’ real estate empire on Main Street. He named it after the even bigger one controlled by the British Commonwealth. A staunch patriot, Higgins often gave his buildings flag-waving names like Victoria Block and Imperial Block and Liberty Block. For this one he brought busy architect Harvey Havelock Mott over from Saint John in 1916. You have to look up over the modernised ground floor to see the Italianate details of this pink sandstone structure.
844-852 Main Street
Like the Empire Block across the street the ground floor of this H.H. Mott design from 1891 has been compromised. Look up to see classical details atop the pilasters and at the centre parapet on the roof. The freestone for this building was quarried at Stevens Quarry.
811 Main Street
In 1926 the Capitol boasted a single entrance that led to two separate stages - the Empress that was constructed in 1908 and the Capitol from 1922. That year a fire demolished the Empress and left the Capitol in ruins. A.H. “Sandy” Lindsay perished fighting the flames and to this day remains the only Moncton fire fighter to lose his life in the line of duty. Rene Arthur Frechet, a favourite architect of the Catholic Church who also dabbled in theatre architecture, contributed the design to the original Capitol and the re-built model. In addition to hosting live performances and vaudeville troupes the first “talkie” in Moncton, The Donovan Affair, was screened in the Capitol. The theatre went dark in the 1980s but has been reborn as a 782-seat cultural centre.
817-831 Main Street
A group of invaders from Calais, Maine led by builder and architect S.O. Sawyer erected the Moncton Roller Rink here in 1884. The roller skating mania faded and the evolution to commercial space began in 1887. Lester Higgins bought the property in 1916, covered the wood structure with brick and gave the block one of his trademark British loyalist names. The second floor retains some of its original design elements.
R.N. Wyse Building
837-839 Main Street
Robert Nicholson Wyse erected this grand Romanesque emporium in 1909. The plans were drawn by William C. Barnes, a Sackville native who worked for the Intercolonial Railroad before trying architecture in 1905 when he was 47 years old.
TURN RIGHT ON COUR ROBINSON COURT. TURN RIGHT ON QUEEN STREET.
Central United Church
150 Queen Street at southwest corner of Church Street
The roots of this congregation stretch back to 1821 and the first services in the Free Meeting House. In 1847 the first Protestant congregation in Moncton organized at “the Bend,” where Wesley Street runs into Main Street. Several branches of Methodism joined forces to become the Methodist Church of Canada in 1874. Fire claimed the Central Methodist Church in 1914 and this Early English Gothic sandstone church replaced it. Andrew Randall Cobb, whose long career in Halifax had just begun a few years earlier, drew up the plans. The stone was brought in from a quarry in Notre-Dame owned by Reverend Edward Savage of St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church.
First United Baptist Church
150 Queen Street at northwest corner of Church Street
Joseph Crandall conducted the first Methodist services in town in 1828. The congregation began meeting on this site in 1857. the present Gothic Revival brown sandstone church dates to 1915, replacing the original wooden church that perished in a 1913 fire. One of Prince Edward Island’s busiest architects, Charles Benjamin Chappell, contributed the design.
St. George’s Anglican Church
51 Church Street at northeast corner of Queen Street
This is the third Anglican church on this corner, dating back to 1852. The second was torn down in 1932 to make room for this meeting house. Halifax architect Charles Allison DeWitt Fowler, who had added the Wesley Memorial United Church to the Moncton streetscape in 1927, brought the third Gothic Revival to this intersection.
115 Queen Street at northwest corner of Alma Street
This splash of Neoclassical architecture came in 1924, courtesy of local architect James William Frazer. The Masons became the first fraternal organization in Moncton with the establishment of the Alexander Keith Lodge in 1853. In 1911 a dispensation was issued to erect the Tweedie Lodge No, 41. The lodges merged in 1921 and then set out to construct this temple.
TURN LEFT ON BOTSFORD STREET.
St. Bernard’s Church and Rectory
43 Botsford Street
St. Bernards Church represents the first foray into stone church building in Moncton The job was entrusted to the leading Victorian architects of Saint John, John Thomas Charles McKean and Ernest G. Fairweather. Construction began in 1887 and was completed in 1891. St. Bernards was the first Catholic parish in Moncton. McKean and Fairweather delivered a design with strong Gothic arches and an abundance of tracery. The squarish corner tower dominates the composition. René Arthur Frechet arrived in 1914 and added a Norman-Gothic rectory at the corner, executed in freestone.
WALK A FEW STEPS BACK ON BOTSFORD STREET TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE ALIANT TOWER.