New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Notes About the Earliest Public Markets in Saint John, New Brunswick

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From the blog at

Details of the earliest public markets at Saint John are rare now, and not much information has been gathered. Following is what I have found.

St John City Hall

The Old Saint John City Hall

From Footprint…1 by Joseph Wilson Lawrence, as published in Saint John for the Centennial in 1883. This appears to be the brick building as it was from between 1837 and 1841

Notes About the Earliest Public Markets in Saint John, New Brunswick

According to a web site dedicated to the history of the present City Market2, there was no centralized market building in Saint John before the first one was built in 1830. Instead, there were six markets, including a fish market on Water Street, a ‘county market’ occupying some sheds on Market Street, Sydney Market serving Lower Cove, a hay market on King Street, and a cattle market in King Square. This list of the six markets totals only five, however, so that details might not be precise.

The actual building cannot have been built in 1830, since it was a multi-use structure and included court rooms and some jail cells. It was there that Patrick Burgen was hanged from a second story window in 18283. The building therefore predated 1830 which throws into question whether the market might have been there prior to that time, and possibly as early as 1797 as J.W. Lawrence said4. In all, the multi-use building included a general store and the jail cells in the basement, a city market at street level, and the courts and council chamber on the second floor. Early accounts refer to the city market as a butcher shop only. The law court moved to another location in 1830, and the mix of tenants may have changed from time to time.

The multi-use nature of this City Hall building is highlighted by the Burgen hanging, and also by the confinement of mentally disturbed persons in the jail cells. A letter5 written to the Commissioners of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in late 1836 outlined that the conditions in the jail had been awful. ‘Maniacs’ were kept naked and in filth, in cells with criminals of all sorts. This was unjust, and dangerous for the ‘lunatics’ and criminals alike. Our history is not always quaint and picturesque.

Lawrence indicated that this first multi-use building was taken down in 1837, while the City Market web site indicates that it was made of timber and that it burned in that year. The City Market history is correct, because there was a very significant fire on January 13, 1837 and it is not surprising that the City Hall was destroyed.

“The scene of horror on the South Market wharf and in Ward street is beyond description—valuable goods to an immense amount either burned or destroyed by throwing over the wharves—thousands and thousands of barrels, puncheons and casks of all kinds piled up in the slips—the streets choked up with furniture and merchandize of all descriptions—men, women and children stalking about half crazed; all tend to render our city lamentable indeed . . . Horrid, horrid devastation, we know not what will be the result of it all.”6

A new brick building was built in 1837 (Lawrence), or in 1839 (City Market history). 1837 seems correct, as shown from the following description from that year.

“A spacious brick edifice, intended for a Market House, is now erecting by the Corporation in the Market Square, in place of the building formerly used as a Court House, Common Council Chamber, butchers’ market, &c; but as the public carts and coaches, to the number of one hundred and fifty, congregate in the square, and as seven of the principal thoroughfares diverge from it, a strong feeling exists among the citizens against a building of such large dimensions as the one now in progress, being erected there many, indeed, incline to the opinion, that it would have added to the public health and convenience, if the square had been kept entirely clear, and another site selected for the building.”7

On the other hand, the construction may have continued into 1839 as noted in the City Market history, from the following description from 1843.

“At the foot of King Street, is a new Market-house, just finished, with lofty and spacious Halls above, for public meetings.”8

This brick building was also destroyed by fire.

“On the 15th November, 1841, a fire broke out on the South Wharf and burned the whole of that wharf together with Peter’s Wharf, south side of Water Street, and the large brick Market-house in Market Square, which was occupied by butchers in the ground flat, and used for the civic offices in the second story. This building could have been saved, and was lost through gross carelessness.”9

Details leading to the construction of the present City Market which opened in 1876 can be found at their history web site.


  1. Joseph Wilson Lawrence, Footprints; or, Incidents in the Early History of New Brunswick published in Saint John for the Centennial in 1883, and excerpted in this blog at
  2. Saint John City Market web site at
  3. Lawrence, ibid. The different story of the hanging is also told in this blog at
  4. Lawrence, ibid
  5. Peters, George P., Letter to the Commissioners of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum, Saint John, November 28, 1836, as referenced in this blog at
  6. Reynolds, W.K., The Fire of 1837, in The New Brunswick Magazine, Volume 2, Number 1, Saint John, N.B., 1899, as presented in this blog at
  7. Reynolds, ibid
  8. Buckingham, James, “Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Other Provinces of British North America…,” Paris, 1843, as presented in this blog at
  9. City Market web site, ibid

Written by johnwood1946

October 14, 2015 at 8:36 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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