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A fire damaged Barbour's General Store in uptown Saint John on Jan. 25, 2022. Image: Brad Perry

Fire-damaged Barbour’s General Store to be demolished and replaced with gateway project

By Scott Pettigrew Jun 14, 2023 | 8:53 AM

One prominent Uptown Saint John landmark celebrating a New Brunswick business titan is being demolished while another new placemaking landmark is being created, according to city council.

The fire-damaged historic Barbour’s General Store, once a museum and tourist bureau for Envision Saint John, is being demolished according to Barbour’s president Jeff Rose.

“It is with great regret that G E Barbour Inc announces the upcoming demolition of the Barbour General Store building.  This decision has been reluctantly made after a structurally damaging fire in January 2022.  Investigations into repair and relocation of the Store over the past months have proven difficult and the results economically unfeasible,” Rose said in an email exchange with Huddle.

The confirmation of the fate of the building comes following a city council meeting about the reimagination of the space the general store sits on in Uptown.

“I understand the site’s going to be a great site for a new building. But I still think that we should put it out there to see if we can save the building with some type of organization, to have it as a historic building even if it’s used privately,” said Saint John city councillor Barry Ogden during a meeting on the issue Monday night.

Council voted to “accept the terms of settlement with GE Barbour Inc” but the terms themselves were not released publicly at the meeting, nor was Huddle able to confirm them at the time of publication.  Councillors Ogden, Radwan, and Sullivan did not support the motion.

“It’s part of our history,” Ogden continued. “The Barbours were on Market Slip [now Market Square] and they were along the river and they’re still in business. So I’m going to vote against it because I don’t want to destroy our history and our knowledge of who we are from the past.”

“I believe the building can be moved and used again privately,” Ogden said in an email exchange with Huddle.

But it would be costly. The 2022 wintertime fire caused extensive damage to the 163-year-old building, that has yet to be fully repaired.

Originally a rural general store in Sheffield outside of Fredericton, the building was purchased by GE Barbour in 1967, marking 100 years of business for the New Brunswick company which got its start right there on Market Square in 1867. It was floated down the Wolastoq/Saint John River to the Port City and was placed in several historic locations throughout town before landing at 10 Market Square in 2013.

Now based in Sussex, the tea, spice, and nut butter giant Barbours was housing artifacts from its early days as a business at the 10 Market Square location. GE Barbour president Sylvia McVey said in a 2022 interview following the fire that the store was a pet project of her grandfather’s.

“This was his vision and his gift to the city. I am just heartbroken about the entire thing.”

“Although the land the building is on is owned by the City of Saint John, the Barbour’s Store building itself is privately owned,” said Saint John director of external relations, Lisa Caissie in an email exchange with Huddle. “Discussions on future plans for the building are currently underway with the owners and once those conversations have been finalized, we will be able to speak to specifics around the next steps for the building.”

But all is not lost at 10 Market Square. The city has engaged Acre Architects to create a new space for Saint Johners to enjoy.

Firm co-founders Monica Adair and Stephen Kopp presented their preliminary vision for the space, acknowledging the historic significance of the site.

“It should celebrate our past, it isn’t to take a piece away,” Adair told council. “I think it’s an opportunity to look at the heritage around us in a new way that activates people to be part of that community and part of making that new history.”

The city has allocated up to $360,000 for Acre’s proposal, tentatively entitled ‘The EDDY’. It is an evolving project “envisioning a new gateway pavilion building on the site which would serve as a welcome centre and transit hub, while supporting inclusive arts, culture and heritage programming,” according to a council report prepared by city staff, which also described the reimagined space as a Plaza for the People.

The total funding for the project is $2 million over 2023-24.

The 10 Market Square location is described as being the gateway to the Trinity Royal Heritage District. The report says the new space could include “overhead charging stations for Saint John Transit buses and enhanced shelter amenities for transit users.”

The proposed inside of the pavilion could house “a small welcome information centre, interactive digital information displays” and that Envision Saint John will work in partnership to “re-establish the visitor information and welcome centre,” the city report says.

“It’s a place where all of the energy, all the diversity, all the public activity has this opportunity to meet as a gateway. It’s just a transformational site,” Adair said.

The proposed landscaping plan would use existing resources like bricks and benches and would be implemented with city landscaping staff through existing operational budgets.

A Saint John Energy substation exists on the site.

“I’m looking forward to the evolution of our site moving forward,” Mayor Donna Reardon said.

Alex Graham is a reporter with Huddle, an Acadia Broadcasting content partner.


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