New Brunswick

Stop Officers' Square changes until review, activists ask province

Fredericton heritage activists want the province to put the renovation of Officers' Square on hold and review the character-defining elements of the historic park. 

City of Fredericton has given province a revised plan for downtown heritage park

The City of Fredericton will save eight mature trees under its revised plan for Officers' Square, a historic park downtown. (Submitted/City of Fredericton)

Fredericton heritage activists want the province to put the renovation of Officers' Square on hold and review the character-defining elements of the historic park. 

The group still worries about the overall heritage and archeology of the downtown park and whether artifacts are being properly cared for, said Beth Biggs, a spokesperson for the Save Officers' Square group.

"People want to see authentic history [and] heritage," Biggs, a board member of Fredericton Heritage Trust, said Thursday.

Heritage Trust, a group dedicated to preserving heritage in the capital city, held a public meeting Wednesday night to encourage people to voice their concerns to the province, which has to approve the Officers' Square plans.

Public unhappy with original plan

The city provoked a public outcry last spring when it announced it was cutting down 19 of the 23 trees in Officers' Square as part of an $8.9 million revitalization project in the area.

Now, under a revised plan, the city wants to cut down all but eight trees. Among the doomed trees is one named after the Calithumpians theatre group, Biggs said.

Save Officers' Square is also concerned that a proposed performance stage would block the view of the St. John River from the green. The group has debated whether the stage and a proposed new skating oval are even appropriate for the historic space.

The province has a say over the city's plan because Officers' Square is a designated provincial historical site and a known archeological site.

"We realize at this point it's very important to have public engagement about the process," Biggs said. 

Beth Biggs, a member of Save Officers' Square, said the city should go back to the drawing board to come up with a plan for Officers' Square that includes more conservation. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

In November, city council approved a revised design for the square that would keep eight mature trees — four more than would have survived under the original plan.  

The design would also save a large elm tree at the corner of the park between Queen Street and St. Anne's Point Boulevard. And it would reinstate an ornamental cast-iron fence, which had become unsafe.

The changes push the overall cost of the Officers' Square project to $9.1 million.

City staff hoped to start working on the project this spring.

Johanne LeBlanc, a spokesperson for the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, said the province received the latest plans and specifications in early March.

"Discussion with the city remains ongoing to assist in meeting their regulatory requirements," she said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

Since the file is still being reviewed, LeBlanc said, the province won't be saying anything else. 

Sees no heritage preservation

Biggs said she has asked the city and province how they plan to protect the heritage elements of Officers' Square, which dates back to the late 18th century, when the British built a military post there. The site was used by the Wolastoqiyik for centuries before that. 

"Clearly, no heritage is being conserved," Biggs said.

The province is supposed to review the submission to make sure the character-defining elements of Officers' Square are preserved.

"We don't know what the outcome will be, so really we have to wait until the province reviews the file and gives their determination of what they'll permit to happen," Biggs said.

Coun. Bruce Grandy, chair of the city's development committee, would not comment except to say the city is waiting for the province's response to the revised plans.

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