Description of Historic Place
Old Government House Provincial Historic Site consists of a large Palladian stone building from the early 19th century, the 4.5 hectares of land on which it sits on Woodstock Road near the banks of the Saint John River in Fredericton and a separate but related 2.9 hectare parcel of land just upriver. The structure is the official residence of New Brunswick’s Lieutenant-Governor.
Old Government House is designated a Provincial Historic Place for its significant political history as the vice-regal residence of New Brunswick from 1828-1893 and from 1999-present, as well as for the site’s ties to the region’s Acadian and Aboriginal history as archaeological evidence of settlements and burials for these cultures are present on the grounds.
The residence is of Palladian architectural design aligned with the early 19th century British colonial government. The official residence of the Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick, Old Government House replaced its predecessor destroyed by fire in 1825. This grand vice-regal stone residence expresses the influence of British architectural vogue and colonial politics in early 19th-century New Brunswick. The building was commissioned by Sir Howard Douglas, an inspired and popular Lieutenant-Governor, who hired locally-stationed military officer John E. Woolford as architect. Construction lasted from 1826 to 1828, and until the 1890’s, it played a central role in the social and political life of the province, hosting state dinners, balls and parties, as well as 14 Lieutenant-Governors. After 1890, when Lieutenant-Governor Sir Leonard Tilley refused to continue living here due to the lack of a maintenance budget, the decision was made to close Government House. Subsequently, the building would periodically stand vacant, host a Deaf and Dumb Institute, act as a military hospital for veterans, and accommodate the RCMP “J” Division headquarters from 1932 until 1990. All three levels of government supported the restoration of the structure in the late 1990’s, and since 1999 it has once again become the home of the Lieutenant-Governor. It was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1958.
The site surrounding Old Government House was once the location of an early 18th-century Acadian settlement known as Sainte-Anne that was destroyed by British forces in 1759. Located on site is an early burial ground where both Wolastoquewiyik (Maliseet) and Acadian peoples are buried. Some archaeological evidence from the French period of the site was recently discovered, including the buried remains of an Acadian house foundation that is situated just to the east of the present Old Government House.
Source: Department of Wellness, Culture and Sport - Heritage Branch, Site File: Vol. VI-66
The character-defining elements that describe the Palladian architecture of Old Government House include:
- the symmetry and order of the two-and-a-half storey, seven bay structure;
- the front elevation with a central door and rounded portico entry balanced by lower Neoclassical-influenced curved side wings at both ends;
- the medium-pitched, hipped, standing seam metal roof;
- the rear façade with a central full-height curved bay, flat walls at the side wings and a thin covered verandah;
- the exterior stone walls of locally-quarried coursed ashlar sandstone, with raised beveled quoins at the building corners, smooth raised belt courses delineating the first and second floor levels, and a curved second storey niche above the entry;
- the original fenestration, featuring 6 over 6 single-hung wood windows at the second and third floors, and 9 over 6 single-hung wood windows at the main floor;
- the larger window units along the main floor that include large multi-pane units with thin sidelight windows at the corner rooms;
- the wood-paneled double front door with an arched transom light.
The character-defining elements relating to the interior of Old Government House include:
- the interior plan consisting of a central formal entry hall at the main floor leading directly to the rear rooms and the curved bay, giving a sense of both space and termination;
- the cross hall running parallel to the façade giving access to various public rooms and offices at the front and to winding staircases at either end;
- the kitchens and service facilities assigned to the basement, official quarters to the second floor, and servants to the attic;
- the pair of full building-height winding stairs and railings at both ends of the main hallway, with their squared balusters and tapered wood newel posts;
- the original window, door, and arch trim throughout the house, carved in an ornate Regency pattern;
- the fireplaces and wood mantles throughout the house;
- the basement kitchen featuring the remains of a large brick and stone cooking fireplace, hearth, and cement parging with blackened soot coating;
- the surviving original furnishings and interior fittings, including wood- and plaster-work in the major public spaces, classically inspired decorative elements including the faux-marbled Tuscan columns and pilasters at the entry hall, the large sliding pocket doors in the ballroom, and several sections of original (circa 1830) painted plaster wall surfaces concealed behind hinged flaps in the ballroom;
- the collection of furniture and decorative arts on loan from the Provincial Collection, Heritage Branch.
The character-defining elements relating to the context and grounds of Old Government House include:
- the location of the building along the Saint John River, deeply set back from the street within a large formally landscaped yard, with gardens along the river side, creating a dwelling with a highly visible civic presence;
- the only remaining 19th-century outbuilding of the grounds, known as “the Buttery”, a distinctive circa 1838 circular stone building with a conical tapered roof covered with wood shingles;
- the buried archaeological remains of an Acadian house foundation that is situated to the east of Old Government House;
- archaeological evidence of Wolastoquewiyik and Acadian burial sites.