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Photo of the New Brunswick Museum

New Brunswick Museum, photo: beyondships.com

New Brunswick Museum

Located in Saint John, N.B., the New Brunswick Museum is Canada’s oldest operating museum. Since its official opening in 1842 (Cormier 1999), the museum has undergone several changes, including changes in name and location.

When the New Brunswick Museum first opened, it was named the Gesner’s Museum of Natural History after Dr. Abraham Gesner, the individual who founded the institution. When Gesner first opened his museum in the mid nineteenth century, his original plan was to establish a science museum focused on natural history, geology, and paleontology.

In 1929, the institution changed its name to The Provincial Museum as a result of the New Brunswick Museum Act, which was passed in that year. One year later, in 1930, the museum became known by its current name, the New Brunswick Museum.

The site of the newly named museum was on Douglas Avenue in Saint John. The construction of the building was completed in 1932. The building is made up of four floors and a basement, and it contains a library and archive collections, along with an area where researchers can conduct their work. The facility has been open to the public for more than seventy years.

As decades passed, the Douglas Avenue building aged and became too crowded for proper storage of artifacts, collections, and documents. As a result, a newer facility was designed to compensate for the limitations of the older building. In 1996, the new facility opened in the core of downtown Saint John. This new building is known as the Market Square location.

The second site was officially opened by The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles. The three-storey stone building houses a gift shop, a small theatre that seats 120 people, and a proper display venue to showcase collections to the general public.

Before the Market Square location opened, attendance at the New Brunswick Museum had dropped to below thirty thousand visitors per year. The new location in Market Square tripled that number to between 76,000 and 101,000 visitors annually (Cormier 1999). The Douglas Avenue location, however, is still in use, as it stores collections and provides office facilities for staff.

The New Brunswick Museum has accumulated thousands of collections over the decades it has been in operation. Items range from works of art to natural science collections. It is estimated that the museum contains over 300,000 specimens (Cormier 1999), some of which are the oldest in Canada. Many artifacts have need for restoration, as they were given to the museum in poor condition and have continued to deteriorate over time.

The main purpose of the New Brunswick Museum is to display and preserve records of the province's past. These include natural artifacts from the land and shores of New Brunswick and historic documents from frontier inhabitants. As New Brunswick has a very diverse cultural history, many exhibits showcase Acadian, British, and Native cultures.

When New Brunswick became the only officially bilingual province in Canada in 1969, the museum also began offering bilingual services, publications, and public programs. For over a century, the museum has sought to collect and preserve essential aspects of New Brunswick's natural and cultural history.

Calen Joseph Outhouse, Winter 2008
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Selected Primary Sources

Allison, Frank Drummond, Peter J. Laroque, and New Brunswick Museum. A Canadian painter abroad: the sketchbooks of Frank Drummond Allison. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1997.

Christie, David S., Brian E. Dalzell, Marcel David, New Brunswick Museum, and New Brunswick Bird Records Committee. Birds of New Brunswick: an annotated list. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 2004.

Clayden, Stephen R., Donald F. McAlpine, and Carol Guidry. Rare and vulnerable species in New Brunswick. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1984.

Cushing, J. Elizabeth, Teresa Casey, and Monica Robertson. A chronicle of Irish emigration to Saint John, New Brunswick 1847. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1979.

Elliot, Robert S., and New Brunswick Museum. Matchlock to machine gun: the firearms collection of the New Brunswick Museum. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum; Fredericton, NB: Brunswick Press, [c. 1981].

Elliot, Robert S., Alan D. McNairn, and New Brunswick Museum. Reflections of an era: portraits of 19th century New Brunswick ships. [Saint John, NB]: New Brunswick Museum, 1987.

Finley, A. Gregg, ed. The Loyalists: a catalogue featuring selected pieces of Loyalist history from the collection of the New Brunswick Museum. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1975.

Finley, A. Gregg, and New Brunswick Museum. Heritage furniture: a catalogue featuring selected heritage furniture from the collection of the New Brunswick Museum. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1976.

Ganong, William Francis. Champlain’s Island: An expanded edition of Ste. Croix (Dochet) Island. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 2003.

Hughes, Gary K., New Brunswick Museum, and Royal Architechtural Institute of Canada. Music of the eye: architectural drawings of Canada’s first city, 1822-1914. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum & Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, 1992.

Lemon, Donald P. Theatre of empire: three hundred years of maps of the Maritimes. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1987.

MacDonald, Marjorie Anne. Robert Le Blant, seminal researcher and historian of early New France: a commented bibliography. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1986.

McAlpine, Donald F, and New Brunswick Museum. A survey of natural history collections in New Brunswick. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1986.

Miller, Randall F. Fossil hunter: Will Matthew and the giant trilobite. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1999.

---. Catalogue of type fossils in the New Brunswick Museum. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1988.

Miller, Randall F., and Gary K. Hughes. Rebuilt in Stone: Geology and the stone buildings of Saint John, New Brunswick. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 2009.

New Brunswick Museum. One hundred and fifty years: New Brunswick’s sesqui-centennial celebration. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1934.

---. Perilous times: early English-speaking settlers of New Brunswick, 1758-1783. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1994.

Once upon a time in the marine history gallery. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1997.

Pelletier, Gaby. Micmac & Maliseet: traditions. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1977.

Percival, Robert. Ukiyo-e: art for the people. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1978.

Ross, David, and New Brunswick Museum. Military uniforms. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1980.
Simpson, Valerie, and New Brunswick Museum. Women’s attire: a catalogue featuring selected women’s wearing apparel from the collections of the New Brunswick Museum. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1977.

Taylor, Donald F., and New Brunswick Museum. The early steamboats of the St. John River. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1980.

Thomas, Anthony W., and New Brunswick Museum. A preliminary atlas of the butterflies of New Brunswick. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1996.

Webster, John Clarence. Acadia at the end of the 17th century. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1934.

---. Catalogue of the John Clarence Webster Canadiana Collection, Pictorial Section, New Brunswick Museum. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1939-1949.

Wilson, James, Peter J. Larocque, Peter Buckland, and New Brunswick Museum. Portraits: New Brunswick painters. Fredericton, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 2009.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

"Attractions: New Brunswick Museum." City of Saint John website. 18 Oct. 2008. <http://www.tourism saintjohn.com/files/fuse.cfm?section=23&screen=202>.

Cormier, E.F. The New Brunswick Museum: An Operational Review. New Brunswick: Sales Growth Programs Limited, 1999.

"New Brunswick; History." New Brunswick Museum website. 14 Oct. 2008. <http://www.nbm-mnb.ca/index.php?option=com_con tent&view=article&id=59&Itemid=251>.