St. John, New Brunswick: Canada’s First Incorporated City

Taken within Area 506 showing some of the lovely murals which have been painted on the containers.

I have a question for you. Could you pinpoint the location of Saint John, New Brunswick, on a map? I’ll be frank – up until several months ago, I was unable to either. I am so glad I learned!

Saint John is the largest city on the breathtaking Bay of Fundy in what is known as Atlantic Canada. Saint John was founded in 1785 and is the oldest incorporated city in Canada. The Bay of Fundy is one of the most unique spots in the world. It is home to the highest tides in the world, experiencing two high tides and two low tides each day. Depending on where you are along this magnificent body of water, the surge can range from 35 to 56 feet. The tides change approximately every 6 hours and 13 minutes. Living in this area means you must be mindful of the tide cycles as part of your daily routine.

The ship that was docked in port during my visit.


As Saint John was Canada’s first incorporated city, there is terrific history everywhere. Due to its location, the water plays an integral part in the past and future. Shipbuilding was the city’s first primary industry, and the way the town grew reflects this. In Saint John, downtown refers to the waterfront area, whereas the ‘hub’ of the city is uptown. It is a city of hills. One travels upward to reach the shops, restaurants, bars, homes, and office buildings.

One exception to this is their newest endeavor – namely Area 506. The unique 506 Waterfront Container Village is just as the name implies. It contains over fifty refurbished shipping containers to house shops along the waterfront. Yes, old shipping containers – a fitting nod to their significance as a port city – into storefronts of all kinds. In addition, there is an open stage for entertainment, a turf grass area for picnic tables, food, and libations, and a three-tier patio that allows an enhanced view of the stage.

Old post office, now a retail furniture store building. Built in 1878. One of the different styles within the city.

As a port that hosts 70-80 cruise ships each year, Area 506 is a marvelous place for those cruisers to meander through and experience a bit of the city’s vibe. During my visit, a cruise ship docked at the port, and these visitors thoroughly enjoyed this one-of-a-kind experience. Many of these containers, painted with murals from varied artists, add another layer of enjoyment as one wanders through.


In 1877, a massive fire destroyed a great deal of uptown Saint John. The damage was crippling. In showing remarkable resilience, the people rebuilt,  only this time in brick. The result is a stunning city with a unique and extraordinary blend of architectural styles reflecting over 100 years of history. There is the Georgian style noted for rectangular blocks and a balanced façade. There are many in both the Greek and Gothic Revival style. The former is classical, fashioned like Greek temples, and the latter is more rebellious against formality. Other types include Italianate, Mansard, and Queen Anne Revival. All blend in a fascinating array of buildings, green space, and squares within the city – namely King’s Square, Queen Square, and Market Square – as well as an Old Loyalist Burial Ground. Visitors can find a few streets from Area 506’s forwarding thinking, many boutique stores and art galleries, and an eclectic mixture of bars and restaurants.

Old Loyalist Burial Ground: One of the parks within the city paying tribute to their history.

To show their constant commitment to progress, the waterfront area along the downtown area of Saint John will experience many changes for the next ten years. Construction of a continuous boardwalk is underway, along with adding a new hotel, condos, apartments, retail, and business space, an outdoor skating rink and entertainment venues, and other green space. All of this with a front-row view of the Bay of Fundy.


Do you know what a Geopark is? Did you know that the entire city of Saint John falls within the Stonehammer Geopark? Again, admittedly, before I visited, I did not know either of those things. My fascination to learn more was my reward. I cannot overstate the natural beauty and wonder of this area.

As stated eloquently on the Stonehammer website, “A geopark is an area that holds all kinds of stories about our past, present, and future. It is a designation that attracts tourists wishing to explore the connections between geology, local communities, culture, and nature.” I can tell you from firsthand experience, from this very non-science-loving person, I became utterly enthralled with everything I saw and learned during my visit to this area.

Stonehammer is one of 177 UNESCO Global Geoparks. How an area is designated as such is complicated. Still, there must be outstanding geological heritage, which must be used to develop conservation, education, community engagement, and sustainable tourism. It is also a designation that UNESCO could rescind.

However, from what I observed, the people and businesses in the area take this very seriously, and maintenance of that designation is essential to them.

These are actual fossils that have been found within the Stonehammer Geopark.

The geological history in Saint John goes back to the time of Pangea, when the continents, as we know them today, were all as one. It tells the story of tectonic plates and how the continents broke apart. I could see Stromatolite fossils that are approximately 1 billion years old. I followed a central fault line called the Caledonia Fault, which separates two geologic terrains in this area. I was able to view the stunning Reversing Falls Rapids. This tidal phenomenon forces the St. John River – or, as known to the First Nations people – The Wolastoq River – to flow backward when the Bay of Fundy reaches high tide. It is truly a fantastic sight. It is an area of whirlpools, Class 5 whitewater rapids, and a ledge and waterfall that descend below the surface.

The Reversing Falls – in simple layperson’s terms – were caused by the fault lines, the clashing of tectonic plates and their eventual separation, and glaciers moving through the area. The science eerily coincides with the story, passed down through the oral traditions of the Indigenous people in the area. I was honored to be able to hear this story from a member of the First Nations. It was simply fascinating.

Saint John and the area along the Bay of Fundy are steeped in history and surrounded by simple beauty. The residents are open and welcoming, proud of their city and its accomplishments. They are embracing the modern changes and progress that continue to evolve while keeping steady on the path to honoring the natural beauty given to them and revering those that came before.

I look forward to returning one day and experiencing more of this calmly stunning area.

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