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Reviewed by:
  • Building New Brunswick: An Architectural History
  • Jane Irwin (bio)
John Leroux . Building New Brunswick: An Architectural History. Goose Lane. 312. $50.00

Building New Brunswick deserves a wide readership, and not in one province alone. Its topic is explored in seven essays. The first, by Robert M. Leavitt, addresses the sustainable architectural skills of the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy First Nations peoples. John Leroux writes on the remaining evidence of the Acadian colonial period, 1604-1760, and Stuart Smith on the settlements of the early British colonial period, 1760-1840. Gary Hughes takes up the narrative with 'The Golden Years, 1840-1914.' In the final three essays - more than half the book - Leroux presents masterful surveys of 'The Great Wars and the Great Depression, 1914-1945,' 'A Tentative Modernism, 1945-1980,' and 'Contemporary New Brunswick, 1980 and Beyond.'

Although it focuses on local particulars, Building New Brunswick is rewarding reading for all who have an interest in Canadian architecture. It includes works by architects from other provinces, especially Quebec. Buildings designed for the Department of Public Works, the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the Bank of Nova Scotia, among others, are considered and their merits recognized. Similar structures all across Canada will benefit from such reconsideration.

The preface by Lieutenant-Governor Herménégilde Chiasson emphasizes the message expressed by Leroux: 'We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to build the best New Brunswick possible.' While diligently preserving heritage, 'we must care enough about our communities to invest in high-quality, high-value buildings that will also create a worthy contemporary architectural landscape.'

Among the creators of New Brunswick's built legacy are builders, sometimes anonymous, as well as professional architects. The authors share Harold Kalman's view in A History of Canadian Architecture that architecture is both the design and the expression of a culture. As a practising architect himself, John Leroux sees how buildings are fitted to their sites: their cultural, intellectual, and natural environments. Hence his guidelines for this illustrated survey of the province's full architectural heritage: 'As carefully as possible, the economic, artistic and social circumstances . . . have been investigated, going beyond simply dealing with the "what" and the "when" to consider equally the "why" and the how."' The result is a comprehensive and eminently readable text that offers fresh reappraisals of the most worthy aspects of New Brunswick's development. [End Page 469]

Julie Scriver's page layout allows convenient linking of some 430 illustrations to this text and provides space for informative picture captions. The images, including many archival ones, are generous in size, mostly in colour, and excellently printed by Freisens, Manitoba. Many photographs are by Leroux himself. His carefully chosen viewpoints are characterized by integrity, clarity, and respect, showing buildings just as their architects would prefer them to be seen. No doubt many readers will first study the images and captions, as a preliminary to reading the text itself; in this respect the book reminds one of Alan Gowans's Building Canada: An Architectural History of Canadian Life.

In other respects Building New Brunswick exemplifies how the narrative of Canadian architecture has grown in breadth and depth in the past fifty years. 'Building on the past' has often implied an ironic duplicity: it has meant tearing down something old in order to put up something new. The admirable use of past and present scholarship in this work illustrates a better pattern of building for future generations. 'Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone,' wrote John Ruskin. 'Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for.'

Jane Irwin

Jane Irwin, Independent Scholar



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pp. 469-470
Launched on MUSE
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