New Brunswick's first library opened in Saint John in 1811 and this event was followed by the opening of several other society and commercial libraries, all of which were operated on a subscription basis with a fee being charged for the use of the collections.
The impetus for a free public library first came from the President of the Mechanic's Institute in 1874, and plans were being developed to this end when the Great Fire of 1877 caused the project to be set aside. By 1879, Colonel James Domville, member of Council, was actively involved in the procurement of a book collection for the use of the public to replace the many private collections lost in the fire. Largely because of his efforts, Saint John has the distinction of having established the first tax supported public library in Canada.
The archival collection is a treasure trove of information and history with a focus on scarce or rare New Brunswickana, Canadiana, local history and selected works related to the history of the Atlantic Seaboard. The strength of the collections consists of : a research resource for local studies; a heritage library reflecting the cultural origins, literary tastes and reading habits of the region from the founding of Saint John to about 1900.
This collection evolved through gifts and bequests from various residents of the City of Saint John including authors, local historians and members of the business community. The content of this collection represents the social, legal and business history of the Saint John area. There are numerous documents related to the commercial transactions of pre-Loyalist business pioneers Simonds, Hazen and White, and accounts and correspondence of Colonel Abraham dePeyster who died insolvent and whose affairs were settled by a series of decrees by the Executive Council of the Province of New Brunswick.
Subsequent to the arrival of the Loyalists, many of the papers relate to land transactions and legal disputes about the disposition of land. There are letters discussing a scrutiny of voting, itemized accounts of court costs, plans to build a church, a statement of the amount owing for pew rent and an invoice for 55 barrels of herring. An order for the Appearance in Court of one of history's most famous or infamous turncoats, Benedict Arnold is one of the treasures of this era along with a few very rare political pamphlets. The collection is eclectic and intriguing in its diversity.
Saint John Regional Library