Fredericton landmark celebrates 190

In downtown Fredericton, Old Government House sits on the bank of the St. John River.

For 190 years, the solid sandstone building has held many different roles. In 1826, the house was built for the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick. The first to hold the position was British army officer Thomas Carleton. 26 other Lieutenant Governors occupied the house until Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley.

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Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley   Photo: britanicca.com

Tilley and premier Andrew Blair had a falling-out, resulting in Tilley’s relocation to Waterloo Row. Old Government House had lost its heart.

The old house sat vacant for a six years. In 1896 Old Government House took on a new role; New Brunswick’s Institute for the Deaf and Dumb. Those who couldn’t speak or hear attended the house for lessons and therapy.

Fredericton has always been a military town, and the early 1900s were no different. During World War 1, Old Government House served as a military barracks. In the main level of the house, the most-eastern room is speculated to be the original chapel where soldiers attended service. Upstairs, soldiers signatures can be found  written on the walls. Many of New Brunswick’s young men that answered the call never made it back to see the house again. Some who did make it back may have been a hospital patient, as the house was a military hospital until 1934. Following the war, Old Government House received two regimental flags; a union jack with the New Brunswick Regimen’s crest, and another flag commemorating every battle the troop faced. The flags are never to be moved.

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New Brunswick’s WW1 Regimental Flags. Photo: Chris Robinson

 

In 1934, Old Government House found another new role; New Brunswick’s RCMP J Division headquarters. Although the home was originally built for government, the second longest-serving term was by law enforcement. The province’s RCMP operations were based out of the house for 54 years until headquarters moved beside the Regent Mall.

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RCMP Division Headquarters in the 1950s.   Photo: Unknown

From 1988 until 1998 the building sat vacant again. However, extensive renovations were taking place in the house, and was set for re-open in 1999.

Since re-opening, Old Government House has become open to the public on a regular basis. In days ago, the house was only open to the public on holidays; at Christmas time, the Lieutenant Governor’s Levy still attracts many from around the city as it did in days ago. Tours are a regular occurrence, you just have to call ahead to schedule your visit.

Old Government House functions still functions as a political building, but more so as a museum.

 

When you enter the house, you are taken back in time. Chandeliers hang from crown moldings, bookcases reach as high as the ceilings, and ornate furniture fills each room. Although renovations may have been completed, it was a restoration-renovation.

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Books well over 100 years old fill the library in Old Government House.   Photo: Chris Robinson

Original pieces were donated back to the house over the years, including the original chandelier itself and the dining room table. The original chandelier was sold at auction for 12 dollars in the 1890s- but is now worth over 250,00 dollars. Believe it or not, the carpet was cut up and sold by the yard to whoever wanted it.

Over the years, many people have donated items they believe originally belonged to Old Government House. These items include chairs, clocks, furniture, dining ware- you name it.

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Four original Old Government House chairs made in Woodstock, NB. You can see the tag on the upside-down chair.    Photo: Chris Robinson 

 

Many of the items in the house are donated by people who would “just like to give something.” One item in particular was the showcase of Waterford Crystal Glasses; a lady in Fredericton said she didn’t need them anymore, and thought that Old Government House could use them- talk about a donation! Waterford Crystal is the world’s leading crystal artisan company, with creations that cost hundreds of dollars. When one of the chandliers fell at the Legislature in Fredericton, Waterford was the only company that could fix it. It ended up costing over 2 million dollars to replace. And this lady gave them to the house because “she didn’t need them anymore.”

A monument, a museum, an old house; Old Government House is still around after 190 years. The building has seen many people come and go through its doors, and has served many different purposes in its life, but is now back to its roots.

 

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