New Brunswick — History and Culture
As Canada’s only official bilingual province, New Brunswick has an unofficial linguistic dividing line running diagonally through the province. Fredericton, Saint John, and the rest of southwestern New Brunswick are predominantly English-speaking, while most of New Brunswick’s French Acadians natives live in the province’s north eastern regions.
New Brunswick’s first residents were the Maliseet and Mi’kmaq people whose history is best preserved at the Augustine Mound erected near Metepnákiaq. New Brunswick’s oldest surviving community dates back to around 800 BC, although Jacques Cartier didn’t lay eyes on New Brunswick until 1534. The province’s first permanent European settlement was not established until after Samuel de Champlain claimed the area as part of the French colony of Acadia in 1604.
Over a century of battles between France and Great Britain transpired leaving Acadia to become a British territory in 1710. In 1755, they expelled over 5,000 residents from their homes. Although many of these Acadians fled to the United States or other faraway lands, those who settled in present-day eastern New Brunswick became ancestors of the province’s present-day French-speaking population. Le Pays de la Sagouine (57 Acadie Street, Bouctouche), named after founder Antonine Maillet’s most famous novel, provides entertaining reenactments and demonstrations of 17th century Acadian life.
Southern New Brunswick had a very different history and became a safe refuge for thousands of Loyalists who fled the United States after the American Revolution. Although most were British, some were Dutch, German and African American. Shortly after the influx of Loyalists, New Brunswick was established as a separate province from Nova Scotia in 1784. Saint John became Canada’s first incorporated city a year later and Fredericton was established as the new capital. Kings Landing Historical Settlement (5804 Route 102, Prince William) is now a living museum of daily 18th-century Loyalist culture.
New Brunswick also welcomed numerous Irish and Scottish immigrants during the early 19th century, and became one of the Dominion of Canada’s four original provinces in 1867. Although the Great Fire of 1877 destroyed much of Saint John’s thriving shipbuilding industry, Moncton became an important rail hub and northern New Brunswick became dotted with pulp mills.
After Louis Robichaud became New Brunswick’s first elected Acadian premier in 1960, he dramatically increased the province’s number of French services and made New Brunswick Canada’s first—and to this day, only—officially bilingual province in 1969. New Brunswick’s Acadians remain Canada’s largest and strongest French speaking community outside of Québec.
Bouctouche’s Le Pays de la Sagouine and the Kings Landing Historical Settlement in Prince William are, respectively, New Brunswick’s two most fascinating living museums to Acadian and Loyalist cultures. New Brunswick’s Mi’kmaq culture, on the other hand, is best preserved at Metepenagiag, the province’s oldest community, with a history dating back more than 3,000 years. Evidence of Metepenagiag’s long history was confirmed after the 1972 discovery of the Augustine Mound.
New Brunswick’s provincial capital, Fredericton, contains a large percentage of architectural gems, especially within the city’s Historic Garrison District overlooking the Saint John River. Fredericton is also home to New Brunswick’s official provincial art museum, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. The Symphony New Brunswick orchestra is situated in Saint John, while Moncton’s Atlantic Ballet Theatre is the only professional ballet troupe in any of the Atlantic Canadian provinces. A more informal, yet always entertaining, glimpse into New Brunswick culture can be heard within the lively music played inside the province’s pubs and local homes.