Loyalist Refuge


St. Andrews’s gridiron pattern represented one of the first instances of urban planning in Canada. Here was a plan philosophically in harmony with the neoclassical world view already shaken by the American Revolution and soon to be swept away by the French Revolution and the romantic juggernaut of the nineteenth century. The surveyor’s scheme, moreover, had a practical consequence: Large house lots and wide navigable streets for vehicles conferred extraordinary protection against fire, an ever-present danger in communities composed largely of wooden structures that relied year-round on wood fuel for heating and cooking. Today over 250 of St. Andrews’s 550 buildings are more than a hundred years old, and many are two hundred or more.

Within five years the town put up six hundred buildings and had a larger population than it does today.

The Nova Scotia settlements were derided by swaggerers in the newly minted United States—“Nova Scarcity” they called the colony, referring to the early hardships incurred by the exiles, including many in St. Andrews, especially during their second winter. But in May 1784, just six months after landing, William Pagan, Robert’s brother, could boast to John Adams’s old Loyalist friend Dr. William Paine: “We have now about: Ninety Houses up, and great preparations making in every quarter … for more. Numbers of inhabitants are daily arriving and a great many others are hourly looked for.” He noted with satisfaction that “a number of valuable inhabitants … wish to emigrate here, being tired of their new Government.” Dr. Paine was among them.


For three years the king provisioned the Loyalists with the essentials—food, tools, window glass, livestock—which they transformed almost overnight into the farms, sawmills, shipbuilding shops, and wharves on which their wealth would depend. Within five years the town erected six hundred buildings and the population swelled to three thousand, larger than it is today. So inundated with refugees—more than thirty thousand in all—was the whole Fundy region that in 1784 New Brunswick, “the Loyalist Province,” was carved from Nova Scotia’s northwestern precints. Today, if you ask a New Brunswicker where his family originally hails from, he is as likely to tell you New Jersey or even Plymouth Plantation as London.

By 1803 the town was cresting on the enormous wartime profits gained by Britain’s long conflict with revolutionary France and later with Napoleon. St. Andrews was cutting four hundred thousand board feet of lumber annually and had built forty-two square-rigged commercial vessels since 1784. As many as a hundred schooners might sail on a single outgoing tide. St. Andrews was ferrying the wealth of the Empire in a mercantile triangle between New Brunswick, Britain, and the West Indies, thus realizing the province’s motto, Spem Reduxit (“Hope Restored”).


The town’s prosperity was soon reflected in the houses, churches, and public buildings that constitute the civic wealth of any community. English by choice but Yankee by heritage, the Loyalists at first built houses derivative of the colonial styles they had left behind: ground-hugging, functional Capes and modest Georgians, the architectural standards of the age in both America and Britain.

Architects were scarce at first in the Fundy region, but skilled cabinetmakers and ship carpenters abounded. Using the so-called pattern books of the era—popular manuals providing floor plans for fashionable contemporary buildings—local craftsmen melded indigenous materials and local needs into a comprehensive architectural sampler. Within the central district’s 1.5 square miles—roughly the area of Central Park in New York City—the next century in St. Andrews produced a medley of the most influential building styles of three hundred years: Palladian, Georgian, neoclassical, Greek Revival, and later the fabulous miscellany of styles included under the broad rubric of the Victorian Romantic Revival. And St. Andrews prospered mightily, well into the new century, in spite of the War of 1812, an Anglo-American conflict that Loyalists elsewhere regarded as a continuation of the Revolution. For those in the Fundy region—a people who had already made their peace at the counting table—the war was largely a nuisance brewed in Washington and London. St. Andrews built two blockhouses and a fort, but its most effective defense, and that of its U.S. neighbors, was an agreement among the border towns to simply treat the conflict as an exercise. Still standing and unscathed, St. Andrews’s remaining blockhouse is the last of twelve martial defenses on the coast. It has survived not so much the trials of war as the ravages of time; its various big guns never fired a shot in anger. In fact, the only items exchanged by the 1812 “combatants” were not bullets but contraband gypsum for plaster walls. The war merely encouraged an already lucrative commerce in smuggling; Benedict Arnold himself had run a brisk business out of nearby Campobello Island in the 1780s. Smugglers “traded on the lines,” transferring goods at the border without actually crossing it. Yankee pragmatism, recall, was a common heritage.