Fredericton / News / Officers square

The history of a beloved fence

There has been much written about the fence around Officers’ Square.

In his book entitled Travels, Patrick Campbell described the military barracks in September 1791 as being “surrounded with a piquet, about fourteen feet high, put endways in the ground, so straight and close that a cat cannot get through; and so firmly as to secure everything within, like a rampart.”

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.

As the purpose of Officers’ Square changed, so did the versions of fence. The Square has had no less than six different style fences over the years with many enclosures unfortunately falling into disrepair under the ownership of various governments. For example, a 1875 article in The Reporter newspaper complained “that the fences and enclosures of the said grounds are becoming fast decayed and falling down, thus rendering the said military grounds a public nuisance.” The City of Fredericton addressed the issue by leasing the site from the Canadian government and immediately fixing the infrastructure at the site such as the fence.

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.

There are a number of key points in the history of the Officers’ Square fence:

  • A 14-foot wooden palisade became part of the Square in 1791.
  • A wood rail fence appeared in the Square by the 1850s.
  • The enclosure became a picket fence in 1887.
  • Freestone coping appeared in 1901.
  • Lights were incorporated into the fence in the 1910s with possible iron fencing.
  • The iron fence similar to the one presently installed appeared by the 1930s.

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.

The need to change the fence around Officers’ Square always occurred as response to changes in Fredericton’s downtown. For example, there was no wall around the Square prior to the first decade of the 20th century. Instead, wooden fences surrounded Officers’ Square in the 18th and 19th centuries. Once installed, the Square’s wall changed several times. Sections of it were removed in the 1950s to make way for new entrances many people use today such as the current main entrance on Queen Street where the monument to New Brunswick's 104th Regiment of Foot is found today. Fredericton City Council minutes from 1956 also noted that damage to the fence required repair. The work continued in the 1970s to accommodate for changes to downtown infrastructure such as parking in the area that at one point included parking spaces in the Square.

This section of the Officers' Square fence opened in the 1950s and is now used as a main entrance to the Square.

In addition to being a separation between the Square and the street, the enclosure serves as a retaining wall for those adjacent streets. Due to that fact, the Square’s wall grew in size several times over the years to accommodate the growth in the size of the streets around it.

The 1960’s National Historic Site designation and later provincial heritage place designation specifically mentions the cast iron fencing around Officers’ Square as one of the Square’s key character defining elements.  This cast iron fencing originated in the fencing installed around the Provincial Normal School on Queen Street (now the provincial Justice Building) between 1877 and 1879. The fencing eventually made its way to Officers’ Square between 1913 and 1936. During the First World War, the Square's fencing even included lighting. The remaining fencing around the Historic Garrison District was completed in stages all the way to the 1980s when the wall and railing was installed next to the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design and New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame. One only has to look closely at the number of cement vs. sandstone posts in the entire Garrison District wall to see this fact.

The Officers’ Square Revitalization Plan proposes a restoration of the wall and fence with a sandstone wall and cast iron decorative railing throughout.  The cast iron fencing will be based on the mould of the original cast iron railing. This effort will include every attempt as possible to include the original railing where possible to ensure heritage is respected based on the recommendations of the intergovernmental Canada’s Historic Places collaboration.

This engineering drawing shows how the proposed new wall and fence would look incorporating sandstone and the same ornamental fence design. 

Fredericton's most important public gathering space truly has a rich history that has evolved as the community has grown.