Timeline: Saint John

The red cranes for loading container ships stand opposite a pierful of buoys and floats.

The Saint John Harbour has long been appreciated for the fact that it does not freeze solid in winter. People have been working here quite a few years…

Plaque commemorating Fort La Tour, in English, French, and Mi’kmaq.

…possibly 4,000.

In 1604, four years before he founded Quebec City, Samuel de Champlain named the Saint John River after the patron saint of France. In 1631, Charles de La Tour set up shop a stone’s throw from the plaque commemorating him today. His fort quickly became a busy trading post, doing business with the Algongkian tribes of the area.

Loyalist burial grounds.

Later came the English, or perhaps “gently used” English, in the form of United Empire Loyalists who left New England after it broke ties with Old England. Some 10,000 of them came to this harbour, and Saint John was the first incorporated city of Canada, in 1785.

“Sacred to the memory of Catharine Hull, the beloved wife of Abel A Hardenbrook, who departed this life the 5th of December 1799, aged 57 years.”


Staircase, looking up.

It took a couple of years to build the imposing County Court House, finished in 1829. The plaque outside reads, in part, “Among its notable features is a freestanding circular staircase whose steps, made from single blocks of stones, are cantilevered from the wall.”

A light was placed near the waterfront in 1842, in hopes of guiding sailors in the fog. In 1848, the gas company commissioned a triple lamp affair on a trident post, which eventually acquired the nickname of “the Three Sisters”. In 1967, the lamps underwent restoration. The sides facing the water are red, and those facing the town are white.

The Three Sisters.

The latest work to be done concerning this lamp post is scheduled to be finished before the snow falls. You can see the construction equipment at the foot of the post, and a corner of the dirt pile: a small parkette is being placed here, as part of the waterfront beautification project.

At the time the Three Sisters lamp was being commissioned, Ireland was in the throes of the Great Famine. Many Irish, coming to Canada, were halted at Partridge Island for quarantine before they could come onto the mainland. Yesterday, flanked by tourist buses of today and Partridge Island of recent history, and standing before a heap that will become the latest public garden, E.g. pondered the past and present of her hometown, and wondered about its future.

2 Responses to Timeline: Saint John

  1. I wonder why the call it the three sisters. I know there are three lamps but would the one on top be the older sister and the other two twins?

    I’m just asking. 🙂

  2. lavenderbay says:

    My first guess, Urban Thought, is that because ships are traditionally feminine (as in, “she’s a fine sloop” ) , maybe by association the lamps were feminized too. And there is a legend of three human sisters waiting for their seafaring husbands to return, but it’s probably a piece of tourist trade twaddle as much as anything.
    A big clue here is that the gas company commissioned someone to create the lamp — it’s a piece of art to showcase the advantages of gaslight. As such, it would have been not just a beacon for sailors but also a landmark for the townspeople. You can probably picture, then, how “Meet you at the Three Sisters” would have evolved from the much clunkier phrase, “Meet you at the triple-headed gas lamp thingy down at the harbour on the Courtney Bay side.”
    I suppose folk could just as well have nicknamed the lamp post “the Supremes”, but that would have been a bit anachronistic. 🙂

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