Saint John City Market - a National Historic Site of Canada

June 19, 2016


Built between 1874 and 1876, the Saint John City market narrowly escaped the fire that swept through the town in 1877 and stands today as a rare and distinguished example of a 19th century market building. Completed in 1876, its formal entry façade, a three-and-a-half storey Second Empire-Style office block, faces the square. Extending back from this block is the market hall with its double height open space organized around a wide central aisle and individual stalls that extend along both sides. The building extends the length of a city block.

Designed in the Second Empire style by New Brunswick architects McKean and Fairweather, the market building contains shops on the ground level, offices above, and, through the passageway, a long, open market hall. An impressive feature of the hall is the exposed timber framing, with its queen post trusses supported by cast-iron columns. The market has been in continuous use since its construction.

In 1986, the Market was designated a national historic site of Canada because of its market hall interior, its commercial Second Empire façade on Water Street and its two side elevations on North and South Market Street; it is a rare and distinguished surviving example of a 19th century building designed as a market. 

Character-Defining Elements

The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include: 

  • the prominent downtown location at the northwestern corner of King Square;
  • the substantial, rectangular massing of the whole, and the three-and-a-half-storey massing of the front block;
  • the timber construction with brick facing;
  • the Charlotte Street façade with its central entranceway flanked by two shallow pavilions crowned by pavilions, its classically detailed cornice, the rhythm of alternating single and paired windows on the second and third floors, the large shop windows at ground level and decorated dormer windows, and the mansard roof;
  • the elaborate exposed timber truss work of the market hall with its decorative circular motifs in the spandrels of semi-circular arches that support twenty modified queen posts;
  • the semi-circular clerestory windows that run the length of the side elevations at the level of the tie beams, and the tall round-headed windows running along the side aisles;
  • the wall brackets set between the cast iron columns and tie beams that link the support structure to the walls;
  • the decorative iron gates; its continuing use as a public market.

 

In the style of the times

The market's distinctive design was selected in a competition among local architects, and constructed by the city's skilled tradesmen of the day. On December 16, 1874 the Market Committee offered two prizes to architects for a Market design competition. The first place prize of $200 was awarded to Messrs. McKean and Fairweather. A second place prize of $100 went to D.E. Dunham. Mr. W.P. Clark and Mr. W.M. Smith received a premium of $50 for the submission of their plan, and the Saint John City Market on Charlotte Street officially opened in 1876.

In the nineteenth century Saint John was one of the world's leading shipbuilding centers, so it is no surprise that the roof of the City Market resembles the inverted keel of a ship. Hand-hewn timbers and dove-tailed joints that have stood fast for more than century attest to the skill and experience of the builders. Fortunately, the Great Fire of 1877 left the market building undamaged. Today the market is more vital and productive than in any time in its history.

Sources:

Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1986.

Parks Canada Agency/ Agence Parcs Canada, 1987.