As the first incorporated city in Canada, Saint John is a lively urban centre, heaped with history and brimming with culture.
Although most people associate Saint John with the Loyalists who came in droves following the American Revolutionary War, it's also one of the most Irish cities in North America.
With an area population of just over 120,000, Saint John is a small city at the mouth of the St. John River, on the north shore of the Bay of Fundy. Saint John is always written out in full, to differentiate it from St. John's, the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador, but the name of the river is written in abbreviated form. And that's just one of the many quirks of this beautiful historical city.
The history of Saint John goes back several thousand years to when the area was first inhabited by the Passamaquoddy Nation. French cartographer Samuel de Champlain discovered the area in 1604 and in 1631; it was fortified by Charles de la Tour who named it Fort La Tour in his own honour.
The Loyalists began arriving during the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783, establishing settlements in Parrtown and Carleton. In 1785, those two communities amalgamated to become the City of Saint John, making it the first incorporated city in Canada or British North America as it was known then.
The Irish immigrants began arriving on Saint John's doorstep in the early 1800s. The early arrivals were mostly tradesmen but following the Irish Potato Famine in the mid- to late-1840s, Irish immigrants arrived en masse. More than 150,000 people came to Saint John during this period - 30,000 between 1845 and 1847 alone. A quarantine station and hospital were set up to handle the large number of arrivals.
By 1850, Irish Catholics were Saint John's largest ethnic group. In the census of 1851, over half the heads of households in the city registered as natives of Ireland and by 1871, 55 percent of Saint John's residents were Irish natives or children of Irish-born fathers.
Although it wasn't always by choice, newcomers to the area had found a good spot to land. Saint John was entering the industrial age and with its year-round ice-free harbour, shipbuilding would take centre stage in the city's growing industrial economy over the next century. In 1918, St. John Drydock & Shipbuilding Co. was established and began work on building the longest drydock in the world. Operating from 1923 until 2003, the facility was sold to Saint John industrialist K.C. Irving in the 1950s and built oil tankers for Irving Oil and freighters and other cargo vessels for Kent Lines, a shipping company owned by K.C. Irving. In the early 1990s Saint John Shipbuilding built nine warships for the Canadian Navy's Halifax-class frigate program but changing global economic conditions for shipbuilding left the yard with little work after the frigates were done. The facility was mothballed in 2000 and permanently closed on June 27, 2003.