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Founding of the Province of New Brunswick


The first Monday in August is New Brunswick Day, a statutory holiday that has been observed every year since 1975 through activities and events all across the province. New Brunswick was founded in 1784, and its present territory was carved out of Nova Scotia by a royal commission appointed by George III. New Brunswick was named for the German county of Brunswick, a duchy of King George III.

The official seal of the newly established province symbolized shipbuilding, showing a ship between two riverbanks flanked by large Canadian white pines. It resembled the British coat of arms and bore the Latin motto Spem Reduxit, meaning "hope restored." That seal remained in use until Confederation in 1867 and has since been reworked several times.

Arrival of the Loyalists

The founding of the Province of New Brunswick in 1784 coincided with the massive inflow of New England Loyalists intent on maintaining allegiance to the British Crown during the American War of Independence (1775-1783). Thousands of Loyalists arrived with their families and wanted to settle here, despite the trying conditions. The British king acquiesced by founding a new province. New Brunswick's motto refers to that hopeful arrival. While many Loyalists were soldiers and officers, their ranks also included farmers, lawyers, merchants,shipbuilders, and so on. They settled mostly in the south of the province, including the regions of St. Andrews, Saint John, Gagetown, and Fredericton.

The Loyalists worked to fashion New Brunswick through their energetic participation in establishing the provincial government and its constituent bodies. They also founded teaching institutions, including King's College, which later became the University of New Brunswick. The Acadians, who were already settled in several parts of the province, were allowed no role in organizing the new province.

Governor Carleton

Thomas Carleton is a prominent figure in New Brunswick's history because of his key role in setting up the administration of the new province. Upon arriving in Parr Town (Saint John) in the fall of 1784 with the title of governor, Carleton appointed a seven-member Executive Council to second him. The governor and the Council members swore an oath to serve the best interests of the Province of New Brunswick.Thomas Carleton had been appointed by the British Crown, to which he was therefore accountable. Today, Carleton County and Mount Carleton, located in the heart of the province, call to mind the first governor of New Brunswick.

The capital

Fredericton has been the capital of New Brunswick since 1785. It was chosen by Governor Carleton himself, who named it Fredericstown after Prince Frederick, second son of King George III. As a long-time military man, Carleton found the site easy to defend since large ships could not reach it by river. It had previously been the capital of Acadia at the time of Fort Nashwaak in the late 17th century. A small Acadian colony, which lived in close proximity with the Maliseet, was established there.

The capital Fredericton was home to a garrison and colonists who had settled along the river to cultivate the land. In 1787, the governor had his residence, called Mansion House, built at Saint Anne's Point. Old Government House, an architectural gem, now stands on that site. At the time, Mansion House was a magnificent two-and-a-half-storey wooden building surrounded by gardens, with a terrace sloping to the river. It was where the governor lived and met with his Executive Council. The building burned down in 1825.

The Governor's Council

The first Council comprised seven paid members who could also hold government positions such as comptroller, surveyor-general, or inspector-general. The Council and the Governor consented to the enactment of laws after three readings. Together, they filled the legislative and executive roles.

The elected assembly

The first elections took place in late 1785 by order of Governor Thomas Carleton. The Legislative Assembly comprised 26 elected members and sat in January 1786 at Mallard House in Saint John. Only males aged 21 or older and residing in New Brunswick for three months or more were eligible to vote. The Legislative Assembly had limited decision-making authority in comparison with the powers of the Governor and his Council. As of late 1788, the legislature sat in Fredericton.

The counties

The territory of the new province was first divided into eight counties: Charlotte, Kings, Northumberland, Queens, Saint John, Sunbury, Westmorland, and York. Other counties were established in the 19th century by further dividing the territory of the largest counties. Each county elected its quota of representatives to the Legislative Assembly. New Brunswick now has 15 counties, which are all divided into civil parishes.

Each county was administered by an elected county council, and those councils provided governance until 1967.

New Brunswick's 1784 boundaries

Southwestern boundary

The St. Croix River, which flows into Passamaquoddy Bay, marks the traditional boundary between New England and New Brunswick. In practice, however, it was difficult to determine which of the region's three rivers was actually the St. Croix. A commission was therefore appointed to pinpoint the location of the French colony established on St. Croix Island in 1604.

An archaeological survey finally identified the exact location of the first French colony, making it possible to determine which river was the St. Croix. Once it was established that the river's mouth was located near St. Andrews - at Joe's Point to be precise - Grand Manan, Campobello, and Deer islands officially became part of New Brunswick. Other islands in the area were declared to be American. A short while later, surveyors went up the St. Croix River to the junction of present-day Carleton and York counties, where they erected a boundary monument.

Southeastern boundary

The New Brunswick-Nova Scotia boundary in the southeast was easier to establish as the line between Green Bay and Chignecto Bay.

Western boundary

The northwestern boundary entailed much more of a challenge, and it took authorities some time to establish it. The problem arose after the small colony of Madawaska was founded because that land area was not yet assigned to a specific jurisdiction. Central to the dispute over that long border was the economic value of the huge white pine forest, given the lucrative timber trade at the time. About 1839, the dispute even threatened to turn into an armed conflict between Maine troops and soldiers dispatched to the area by the Government of New Brunswick. That gave rise to the so-called bloodless Aroostook War. It was during that boundary dispute that Fort Petit-Sault (Edmundston), overlooking the St. John and Madawaska river valleys, was built in 1841. The territory occupied by those two valleys and the Aroostook River Valley were pivotal to the boundary issue.

The dispute prompted the two governments to build fortifications and conduct numerous population census surveys. In addition to all that, loggers in New Brunswick and Maine coveted the same forests. The situation remained tense.

The conflict ended with the 1842 signing of the Ashburton-Webster Treaty in Washington. The pact was named after the two diplomats, one British and the other American, who negotiated it. Setting the St. John and St. Francis rivers as the boundaries deprived New Brunswick of a large part of the coveted territory, including some parishes and their inhabitants. Those people became Americans overnight, whether they liked it or not. Still, people on both sides of the border maintained very close ties. Once those boundaries were established, the Government of New Brunswick was able to draw up titles of ownership.

Northern boundary

The issue of the boundary between Madawaska and Lower Canada (Quebec) arose upon the arrival of Acadian settlers in the region. Each of the two governments clamoured for a rather substantial share of the territory. George Sproule, surveyor-general of New Brunswick at the time, suggested drawing the boundary line between Lake Temiscouata and the St. Lawrence River; the Surveyor for Lower Canada proposed a boundary in the Aroostook region. As for the colony of Madawaska, it wanted to remain under the purview of the Government of New Brunswick. But no conflict was triggered, and the matter remained pending.

Those claims were resuscitated in the wake of the Ashburton-Webster Treaty. The Government of New Brunswick tasked Leonard Coombes, a Madawaska resident, with protecting the province's interests in that particular boundary matter. It was Coombes' position that land areas where the rivers and streams flowed into the St. Lawrence River belonged to Lower Canada and those where the waters flowed into the Atlantic Ocean belonged to New Brunswick. In 1851, an arbitration board named by the House of Commons in London worked out a compromise that set the boundaries as we know them today.

In the north of the province, the natural division created by Chaleur Bay has marked the boundary from the time the first settlers arrived in the area.


ALBERT, Thomas. Histoire du Madawaska, new edition by A. Bérubé, B. Bérubé and G. Desjardins, LaSalle, Éditions Hurtubise HMH, 1982.

LAPOINTE, Jacques F. Grande-Rivière : une page d'histoire acadienne. Monographie de la ville de Saint-Léonard, N.-B. 1789-1989, Moncton, Éditions d'Acadie, 1989.

MACBEATH, George. New Brunswick's Old Government House. A Pictorial History, Fredericton, New Ireland Press, 1995.

MICHAUD, Guy R. Brève histoire du Madawaska. Débuts à 1900, Edmundston, Les éditions GRM, 1984.

PINCOMBE, C. Alexander. The Birth of a Province, Fredericton, New Brunswick Bicentennial Commission, 1984 (bilingual edition).

SCHUYLER, George W. Saint John. Two Hundred Years Proud, Burlington, Windsor Publications (Canada Ltd), 1984.

SOUCOUP, Dan. Historic New Brunswick, Lawrencetown Beach, Pottersfield Press, 1997.

New Brunswick Historic Events, Fredericton, New Brunswick Bicentennial Commission, 1984 (bilingual edition).