Urban Renewal Saint John

I was walking through the market this weekend when I seen taking with elderly ladies talking with the clerk at Baleman’s in the Saint John City Market holding this article. It was nice to see the interest as I have been working with the authour on her website at http://www.ursj.ca.

Book revisits urban renewal era

Published Tuesday September 23rd, 2008
History City native’s book shows how the 1960s began a period of transformation

SAINT JOHN – Most schoolchildren learn something about how the Great Fire of 1877 changed the look of the city, but how many are aware of events closer in time that have had a far greater impact on the landscape of the city?

Soon, such information will be readily available, thanks to the efforts of Brenda Peters McDermott.

The Saint John native has put together a collection of photographs and documents showing just how much the urban renewal projects of the 1960s through the 1980s made the city what it is today.

Her book, Urban Renewal Saint John: A City Transformed, shows the tremendous impact the project had on the old east end, north end and city centre, culminating with the opening of Market Square in 1983.

An urban renewal study in 1956 discovered that out of 13,000 dwellings in the city, 4,000 needed to be immediately demolished and another 8,000 were in fair to poor condition, leaving only 1,000 that could be described as good, said McDermott.

Many of the poorest quality homes were in the old east end in areas such as Prince Edward and Crown streets. Before 1960, the old east end was jam-packed with tenement buildings, many in a shocking state of disrepair, on streets that no longer exist. Before 1960, Crown Street came out of the south end and stopped at Union Street. The section now connecting with Haymarket Square, the Saint John Throughway and on to Rockwood Park came out of the urban renewal plan.

Anyone who looks at the pictures and various newspaper stories and studies collected by McDermott will see just how much the city has changed.

McDermott grew up in a Lebanese family, part of the larger Lebanese community that was located in the old east end, along with a large Irish community. She remembers moving from the now-demolished neighbourhood to a home purchased by her grandmother just outside the renewal boundary.

“So we watched as they tore it down and rebuilt it,” she said.

They played outside as the town houses were built along Crown Street and still recalls the smell of the drying plaster, wafting around the neighbourhood.

“Later on we moved to Celebration Street, which was expropriated for the throughway, so we were displaced twice,” she said.

The book grew out of her involvement with an earlier book, sponsored by the Lebanese Club, called As the Cedars Grow. She was searching for photos of old corner stores in the neighbourhood when she came across photos from the expropriation.

Included in that was a reference to a huge collection of pictures taken by Claude Miller, now the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Fredericton, who worked as an appraiser when all the properties were purchased for demolition, before joining the ministry. His photographs form the core of the book and he wrote the introduction.

Mac Somerville, who was on the Urban Renewal Commission of Saint John, also gave McDermott access to the scrapbooks he kept of the era.

The book has taken a few years to put together while McDermott worked full time as a teacher. It was not something she wanted to put off for retirement. Her goal was to get it done before the people who remember that era are no longer around.

The book records 20 years of change in the city, including information on neighbourhoods demolished to make way for the Harbour Bridge and throughway, as well as changes in the north end and city centre.

McDermott has one hardcover copy of the book that was printed by a company in China on high quality paper. The 1,000 copies she has already paid for are on their way and she hopes to have them on sale in the City Market by late October for around $45.

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