The Great Saint John Fire of 1877

The rise, destruction and recovery of Canada’s leading port city

Reviewed by M.C. Reid

Posted May 9, 2023

Did you know that during a portion of the nineteenth century Saint John, New Brunswick, was the third-largest city in British North America — or that the city’s largely Loyalist residents at the time expected their community to one day rival its southern cousins Boston and New York?

Catastrophe has a way of sidetracking even the wildest ambitions. Thanks to a massive fire in June 1877 that charred nearly half the city, Saint John’s cosmopolitan dreams were dashed and replaced by a fight for its very survival.

Author Mark Allan Greene grew up in Saint John, becoming a writer, playwright, and lawyer who now resides in Edmonton. His book The Great Saint John Fire of 1877 includes an abundance of art, illustrations, and photographs depicting Saint John’s founding, rise, and ruin — as well as, ultimately, its rebirth following the calamity.

As someone who lived and worked in Saint John, I found the book both an eye-opener and a page-turner. It’s a great read for anyone interested in the history of Canada’s east coast.

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This article originally appeared in the June-July 2023 issue of Canada’s History.

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