New Brunswick

Officers' Square project to undergo archeological assessment

Efforts to revitalize Officers’ Square in downtown Fredericton took another twist this week with the announcement that First Nations will be consulted and a third party will do an archeological impact assessment.
Last spring, 19 trees were set to be cut down to revamp Officers' Square. (CBC)

Efforts to revitalize Officers' Square in downtown Fredericton took another twist this week with the announcement that First Nations will be consulted and an archeological impact assessment will be done that could take a year and a half to complete.

The assessment could stop Officers' Square project entirely or result in a "substantial financial burden," said Coun. Bruce Grandy, chair of the city's development committee.

"We don't know until you find something. And that will only be determined as we move into the process."

The Officers' Square project has had trouble getting off the ground, partly because of public reaction to the fate of trees and an old wall along the square and the potential loss of heritage and archeological resources underground, especially any important to Indigenous people. 

Looking for way forward

Fredericton heritage activists called on the province to put the project on hold and review the character-defining elements of the historic park.

Grandy said the city has been working with the province to try to find "a way forward" with the project.

"We want to make sure that we're doing the best that we can," he said. "We know that the square is in the hearts of a number of people."  

The province will conduct the consultations with First Nations, he said. 

The city's website says the land near the St. John River was used for centuries by the Wolastoqiyik. A military compound was established on the land in the late 18th century, and the square was a training ground for British soldiers until 1869. 

The plans for Officers' Square call for a skating rink, performance stages, and a water feature, among other additions. The latest cost estimate is $9.1 million.

Studies already underway

Grandy said the city has hired Grant Aylesworth of Stratus Consulting Inc. to do the archeological assessment. 

In a news release, the city said Aylesworth has been examining historical and archival records of Officers' Square and the area surrounding the site, including where soils would have previously been disturbed over the years and to what depth.

"We realize there may be some archeological findings within that property," Grandy said. "And if there are, we certainly will ensure they are found."

The city said these investigations, along with information from the province, will determine where more intensive archeological work should be conducted to protect any undiscovered underground resources.  

The City of Fredericton plans to save eight mature trees under its revised plan for the historic downtown park. (Submitted/City of Fredericton)
 

Upgrades to the downtown park were on hold last year, following public outcry that 19 out of the 23 trees in the park would be cut down to include a new performance stage and skating oval. 

But last fall, city council chose a new design for Officers' Square that will save eight mature trees.  

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

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

Wall being rebuilt

The rebuilding of the wall along Queen Street was expected to be completed this summer, but Grandy said the city is waiting for permits from the province. 

"We know we have to move forward on it and we're hoping that with the province, we get those permits soon so that we can undertake work on that, " he said.  

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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