Description of Historic Place
Old Post Office is a large three-and-a-half storey stone Second Empire building with high Roman arch windows and a mansard roof. It faces Prince William Street and extends to Water Street in the rear, creating two basement levels on Water Street. It is located within the boundary of the Trinity Royal area of the City of Saint John.
Old Post Office is designated a Local Historic Place for its architecture and for its former use as a post office.
Old Post Office is one of a collection of Second Empire government buildings that were built between 1877 and 1881 after two thirds of the City of Saint John were destroyed by the fire in 1877. Constructed in 1881, it is an excellent example of institutional Second Empire architecture from the rebuilding period in Saint John. This style is evident in such details as the mansard roof, the elaborate attic and dormer windows, the rectangular massing and the various arched door and window openings. The richly sculpted style of this building is similar to buildings constructed through the United States government's Post Civil War Construction Program. Making use of the sloping terrain, the building contains three storeys and an attic above Prince William Street, with two extra basement storeys on the Water Street façade. This was the City of Saint John's first iron frame building. The use of iron and stone represented the will for the city to rebuild, as well or better, after the fire. Thomas Scott, chief architect of the Public Works Department, was the main architect. During his ten years in this position, Scott designed twenty-seven custom houses and post offices. Matthew Stead was the local architect who assisted with revisions to the original plan for the building.
Aside from being in the Trinity Royal Preservation Area, Old Post Office is one of a collection of buildings that form the federally protected Prince William Street Historic Streetscape, the first of its kind. This historic streetscape is distinguished by its rare concentration of homogeneous, primarily late 19th-century architecture. Traditionally referred to as the “Wall Street of Saint John”, the area contains major public buildings, banks, hotels, insurance, shipping and legal offices, and the Seamen's Institute.
Old Post Office is also recognized because it served as Saint John's main post office for 34 years from 1881 to 1915. It is built on the foundation of the former post office that was destroyed in the 1877 fire. In 1915, the building was replaced by a new structure across the street. Old Post Office was then converted into offices for the Federal Government and later sold to the city and used for various purposes.
Source: Planning and Development Department - City of Saint John
The character defining elements that describe the Second Empire architecture of Old Post Office include:
- large, rectangular three-and-a-half storey massing, with two extra basement levels on the Water Street façade;
- stone exterior walls;
- Roman arch, segmented arch and rectangular windows and door openings with decorative elements;
- three carved faces in the keystones of the two window openings and entrance in central bay at ground level, depicting the voyageurs, Canada's earliest mail messengers;
- mansard roof with dormers above the attic;
- curved pediment above the clock;
- Canadian Coat of Arms in pediment;
- bracketed stone cornice;
- pilasters separating the bays;
- ground floor's central bay entrance projecting from the main façade, providing a balcony between the first and second floor;
- 1878 datestone;
- "G R" etched into the Roman arch above entrance (Gratia Regina).