Saint John was founded in 1783, and incorporated in 1785. In the next three decades a large timber shipping industry was established and had given life to shipbuilding. Wood was a common factor in house construction, resulting in the 2 ½ storey colonial style familiar on Long Island, New Jersey, and New York. After the War of 1812 a new element harkened change – British immigration, especially the Scots who thought in stone not wood. John Cunningham was its most influential proponent designing two neoclassical villas, a town house and a county court house in the late teens and early 1820s. Before his departure to Boston at mid-century, Cunningham had dabbled in the early Victorian Gothic but his successor, in every sense was English born Matthew Stead. He too was attracted to the pointed arch and Gothic styling as well as the Italianate for domestic work but here again American influence came to play, especially the designs of theorist and author Andrew Jackson Downing.

The Great Saint John Fire of 1877 destroyed two thirds of the city and it was rebuilt by an army of architects, many from south of the border but also locals who had earned their stripes from the 1860s.  They competed effectively for commissions in this crowded milieu as a great exhibition of brick and stone buildings was installed in the city centre and its south end. Queen Anne and Romanesque styling dominated the late 19th and early twentieth centuries as signs of an early Modernism appeared under the guise of repeated stories under a roofline and towers coated in 19th century styling for a proposed city hall in 1911.