New Brunswick Legislative Assembly Building

By: Rose Donovan


The construction of the Legislative Assembly Building of New Brunswick began as a result of discontent with “the disgraceful, shabby looking, and ill ventilated” Province Hall, the previous seat of Government in New Brunswick. Constructed between 1880 and 1882, the building was designed to represent the place of political authority within the Province. Prior to its construction in Fredericton, there had been an ongoing dispute between Fredericton and Saint John around where the site of the elaborate new building would be. After a fire destroyed Province Hall in Fredericton, contracts were established for the plans of the building. The site for construction was eventually established in Fredericton at a cost not to exceed $75,000. The design of James Charles Dumaresq, a local architect from Nova Scotia won the competition for the plans of the building.
An exciting time for architecture, Dumaresq designed the Provincial legislature during the peak of the High Victorian period, when architects excelled at designing grand building complexes. Originally a style associated with Napoleon III of France, its Second Empire architectural style became very popular during the later part of the nineteenth-century. By 1880, picturesque eclecticism which emphasized the visual experience, creating balance and harmony, had become the standard in Canada. The country was also experiencing steady industrial expansion as a result of John A. Macdonald’s National Policy, with specialized building types emerging such as the Second Empire style of architecture. Previously, Parliament Buildings, banks, and houses all resembled each other, following examples of the Georgian-Palladian models. When construction began, it was hoped that the structure would provide for both houses of the Legislature, Law Courts, Library and more, and ultimately be a “credit in point of design, elegance, and architecture for the province”.
When construction of the building finished in 1882, Fredericton citizens praised its opening on February 16, 1882. They were happy with Dumaresq’s design and Lawlor’s quick completion. Saint John citizens however, showed little satisfaction with the building as a result of a grudge against not landing the site of construction in their city. Since its completion, historians have viewed the Second Empire architectural style of ‘picturesque eclecticism’ as representative of the expression of life and ideals of Canada’s first decades as a nation, as did contemporaries.

Second empire style of architecture is most easily recognized by its mansard broken roof and rich sculptural ornamentation. It provided the Province with a “fittingly grand architectural symbol to the province’s spirit of self-confidence.” Erected as a symbol of prosperity, it is no surprise that the Government chose the prestigious designs of James Charles Dumaresq. Dumaresq’s expensive Second Empire style with lingering conservative elements, such as the cupola and pedimented frontispiece, would coincide well with local architectural tradition. Dumaresq abandoned the previous Georgian-Palladian models and followed the example of federal architecture choosing the style of the day in an attempt to express a budding nationalism. The variation in colour of the stone of the Legislature, fabricated by William Lawlor, represents the “picturesqueness” Victorian style, combined with man’s effective expression of power over nature by forcing nature to abide by his laws forcing stone into unnatural shapes and disguises in buildings.
Today, the legislature stands in the downtown core of Fredericton as the seat of Government in the Province, with many Government offices and bureaus located around it. It continues to attract tourists for its architectural amplification of the late Victorian period of design, and overall size and beauty

For more information on the design and architecture of the Legislative Assembly Building of New Brunswick, visit its website at
. Or, refer to sources used throughout this article:
Cameron, Christina, Wright, Janet, "Second Empire Style in Canadian Architecture" in Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaelogy and History No. 24 (Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services, 1990)
Gowans, Alan, Looking at Architecture in Canada (Toronto: McCorquodale and Blades Limited, 1958)
Kalman, Harold, A History of Canadian Architecture (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1994)
Peck, Mary, A Study of The New Brunswick Legislative Building: Fredericton, New Brunswick (Fredericton: Historical Resources Administration, 1981)
Power, Robert, Smith, Colin, "Renovating the New Brunswick Legislative Building" Canadian Parliamentary Review Summer 1990