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Officers' Square 1905

Officers’ Square Through the Centuries

Frederictonians have gathered in Officers’ Square for more than two centuries, but it hasn’t always looked the same. The site has witnessed many changes over the years.

The history of Officers’ Square goes back centuries starting with its use by the Wolastoqiyik people as part of their travel and settlement along the beloved Wolastoq river.  

Fredericton’s most important public space then became a military compound in the late 18th century. British soldiers stationed in the city used the space as a parade square and training ground from 1786 to 1869. The current Fredericton Region Museum was the Officers’ Quarters of the British Garrison.

Despite its original purpose for the military, civilians used the open space for entertainment and recreation. Military bands played in the Square twice weekly attracting large crowds.

Officers’ Square originally served as a military compound. This photo, taken in 1867, shows how the Square looked at that time.
Photo, credit Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.

After the departure of British troops, the new Government of Canada took over ownership of Officers’ Square. The City of Fredericton agreed to lease the site from the Canadian Militia Department starting in 1881 for $10 a year and soon began a project to revitalize the Square. As part of its work, the City repaired and replaced deteriorating infrastructure such as the fence. This included the removal of the bandstand and trees. The Fredericton Police, located in the Officers’ Quarters, took over Square security.

Officers’ Square had a new look after the departure of British troops. This included being a site for tennis matches as seen in the above photo. 
Photo supplied by Provincial Archives of New Brunswick 1887.

The community became very involved in Officers’ Square after the departure of the British. Residents used the Square for a number of sporting activities such a cricket, skating and curling. One sport in particular became very popular -  lawn tennis. When the newly created Canadian military took over the grounds in 1883, Fredericton residents lamented the loss of a favourite sport in the Square. The sport had been so popular that one of the local newspapers at the time even suggested that a tombstone be erected in the Square sacred to the memory of lawn tennis.

 Curling is just one of several sports played in Officers’ Square over the years.
Curling painting by Dale Carruthers.

It's important to note that the old British Garrison became home to the new Infantry School Corps, Company “A”, hence Fredericton’s claim to being one of the sites that gave birth to the Canadian army in 1883-1884.

Recreational use of the Square continued into the 20th century with the establishment of a wading pool in the mid part of the century. It occupied the space near where the Lord Beaverbook statue is today.

A wading pool occupied Officers’ Square during the mid-20th century.  
Photo supplied by the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick 1950's.

The look of the Officers’ Square fence also evolved many times since the beginning of the site. In 1791, the fence consisted of a 14-foot wooden palisade to try to ensure privacy for the British troops stationed in the Square. A wood rail fence then surrounded the Square by the 1850s.

The early look of a new wall began to take shape in 1901 with the installation of freestone coping that year from a North Shore quarry. It did not include an iron fence.

The ornamental cast iron fence, originally established around the current Justice Building on Queen Street, began to appear around Officers’ Square after 1913.  However, the fence around the Square has been repaired and/or replaced several times over the years. Sections were replaced in the 1950s and the 1970s.

What is now the current wall around Officers’ Square began to appear in the early 20th century.  
Officers' Square 1905 photo supplied by Harvey Studios.

Officers’ Square hosted many monuments over the years. The installation of the Lord Beaverbrook statue took place in 1957. A Kennedy Monument occupied the Square beginning in 1964 but was later moved to the University of New Brunswick campus.

Lord Beaverbrook is just one of the monuments that became part of Officers’ Square. 
Officers' Square 1976 photo supplied by Harvey Studios.

According to Parks Canada, Officers’ Square was designated a National Historic Site in 1960 because it served as an important military establishment that contributed to the early character and development of New Brunswick. Provincial heritage designation occurred in 1965.

The federal designation of the Military Compound as a National Historic Site of Canada includes the following character defining elements pertaining to Officers’ Square (a component of the Military Compound):

  • its strategic location on the south side of the Saint John River maintaining traditional riverfront access;
  • its distinctive institutional character in contrast to the commercial buildings on the opposite side of Queen Street south of the site;
  • its cast iron fence enclosing the site;
  • the surviving early 19th century buildings which illustrate the historical function of the site;
  • its open spaces including trees and park amenities;
  • the integrity of any unidentified archaeological remains which may be found within the site in their original placement and extent.

On the Provincial side, key character defining elements of the Officers’ Square area of the Provincial Historic Site include:

  • its distinctive institutional character in contrast to the commercial buildings on the opposite side of Queen Street south of the site;
  • cast iron fencing
  • park amenities;
  • cannons;
  • large mature trees (at time of designation);
  • open green spaces (The Great Lawn);
  • statue of Lord Beaverbrook;
  • vista of the Saint John river from various areas of the site;
  • discovered and yet-to-be discovered archaeological resources associated with past use of the site as a military compound;
  • achitecture of Officers Quarters and use as the York-Sunbury Museum;
  • current cultural uses of various buildings and spaces;
  • open space for concerts and theatre;
  • changing of the guard in summertime;
  • ice skating in the wintertime.

No effort to revitalize Officers’ Square can proceed without a Heritage Permit from the New Brunswick government. The City worked positively with Heritage Branch officials throughout the Officers’ Square design process. The plan was reviewed and discussed many times. No concerns were raised. To ensure the Province would give final approval to the revitalization plan for Officers’ Square, the City asked for and received a Heritage Permit as a condition of purchase, prior to acquiring the site in August 2016.  The Province indicated it would only need to approve final plans and specifications.

Archeological resources are regulated by the Province of New Brunswick.  The City will, and always has, meet or exceed the requirement to protect these resources and by receiving all necessary permits from the Province.  For any work in Officers' Square the City has a contracted archeologist on site.

Officers’ Square is a well-loved gathering place that has adapted to changing uses over the years as the interests of Fredericton residents changed. The Square will continue to serve its important purpose as a site to remember our past but also embrace the culture and spirit of the city we call home.

Historical data for this blog post was compiled from various sources, including the following:
  • Photographs from Provincial Archives of New Brunswick & Harvey Studios
  • Various interviews with manufacturers of the cast iron fence and former installers of the fence.
  • Historic and current newspapers/periodicals on microfiche (The Reporter, The Maritime Farmer, The Gleaner and the Daily Gleaner).
  • Historical publications and books like “History of Fredericton: The Last 200 Years” by W. Austin Squires,  Louise Hill’s “Fredericton, New Brunswick, British North America”, “Old New Brunswick” by Arthur Doyle & Richard Vroom.
  • Statements of Significance from the Province of New Brunswick and the Government of Canada