“Saint John was a powder keg, waiting for a spark.”
Most residents of Saint John know the city’s history: founded by Loyalists escaping persecution post-Revolutionary War; laying claim to being the first incorporated city in what would become Canada and suffering a massive fire that burned most of what is now called the “uptown” (that peculiarly unique Saint-Johnism). What most of us don’t know is this: it was the single most devastating urban fire in the 19th century in North America, eclipsing the more famous fires in Boston and Chicago. Mark Allan Greene’s new book, The Great Saint John Fire of 1877: The rise, destruction and recovery of Canada’s leading port city, is filled with that and many more remarkable little details and stories.
A lush visual feast, the book is overflowing with photographs and paintings, laying out the history of this small city, once the third largest in Canada. From pre-colonial times to its glory days as a hub of shipbuilding and lumber trade, to the aftermath of the fire of June 20, 1877, Greene rebuilds the city through stories and images. It is not a heavily academic history; I read the book, cover to cover in an evening. I might have liked more stories of individuals affected by the fire, but that, perhaps, is for another type of book. This one exceeds in its mission to create a picture in the reader’s mind of what Saint John looked like, to see what has changed and what glimpses of the pre-fire past are still there.
Greene’s is a book I am certain to return to again and again, to experience a kind of time travel. Beautifully bound in heavy, quality paper, it deserves a place on every coffee table in Saint John. Scratch that, it should be in the collection of everyone interested in the history of Canada.
About the Author
Mark Allan Greene grew up in Saint John. A writer, playwright and practicing lawyer, he retains a fascination with the history of his hometown and its dramatic destruction and rebuilding. He has searched through hundreds of archival images from the 1800s and early 1900s to find images that portray the city before, during and after the 1877 Great Fire. He has also researched the impact of the fire to find many fascinating accounts of the event and its aftermath. Mark Allan Greene now lives in Edmonton.
- Publisher : Formac (Oct. 18 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 112 pages
- ISBN-10 : 145950707X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1459507074
Heather McBriarty is an author, lecturer and Medical Radiation Technologist based in Saint John, NB. Her love of reading and books began early in life, as did her love of writing, but it was the discovery of old family correspondence that led to her first non-fiction book, Somewhere in Flanders: Letters from the Front, and a passion for the First World War. She has delivered lectures to the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, NB Genealogy Society, and Western Front Association (Central Ontario Branch), among others, on the war. Heather’s first novel of the “Great War”, Amid the Splintered Trees, was launched in November 2021.