The Old Bathurst Post Office – 130 Years

On February 20, 1989, the Old Bathurst Post Office in Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada was designated a Provincial Historic Site and its history shares ties to the Confederation of Canada. The Old Bathurst Post Office is clearly the most significant historic building in the city of Bathurst. 2015 will mark the 130 year anniversary since this iconic building was strategically constructed where the Village and Station Bridges (today’s Causeway) meet. For the next 130 years the Old Bathurst Post Office has stood the test of time and throughout time it has become the highly recognizable and iconic landmark of the City of Bathurst. The Romanesque Revival styled structure was commissioned by the federal government under Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald and designed by Thomas Fuller, the country’s chief architect at the time (1881 – 1896). Thomas Fuller (B: March 8, 1823 – D: September, 1898) is one of Canada’s most prolific architects and is famously known as the architect responsible for the design of our majestic Parliament Buildings (Library of Parliament & House of Parliament) in Ottawa. Other notable buildings designed by Fuller include the Royal Military College (Kingston, ON), Halifax Armoury (Halifax, NS), and New York State Capitol Building (Albany, New York, USA).

The Golden Age of Canadian Architecture
The Old Bathurst Post Office is 1 of 81 unique and individually designed post offices constructed as part of a government initiative which was carried out in the early days of confederation and a period considered to be “the golden age of federal architecture in Canada” (1881 – 1896). Today, less than half of the federal post office buildings (34) have survived with 10 in Atlantic Canada and only 4 remaining in the Province of New Brunswick (Miramichi, St. Stephen, Sussex, & Bathurst). Today, these government buildings are most often utilized for their original intent (ie. post offices) but also as town halls, cultural/information centres, military barracks, and/or to house various municipal departments. The City of Bathurst is privileged to own a Thomas Fuller building with ties to our nation’s early beginnings. 

Construction Begins
The strategic property at the corner of Douglas Avenue and Main Street was first acquired from A.J.H. Stewart at a cost of $990. In November 1884, a construction contract was awarded to builder John Black from Hull, Quebec who supervised production. The building materials consist of red brick made locally by a Mr. Heffner and sandstone which was shipped from a quarry in Grand-Anse by way of a schooner. The masonry structure of 2.5 stories was built over a five year period and part of the costs were voted on and raised by the citizens of Bathurst (Pop. 4,800 at the time). In 1889, the cost of the 4-faced clock was $2,000 and the building and grounds were approximately $33,706. Notable architectural details include a mansard roof, Italian bracket and hipped roof, basement cut of solid stone, voussoir arched windows and doors, soffits decorated with serrations, circular and spiral staircases between the main floors, decorative sheet metal ceiling, 4-story tower, half-circle miniature tower, and capped with a 4-sided illuminated clock face.

For most of its existence the building served as a Post Office and Customs House until 1959 when postal operations moved to a new building and the Department of National Defence purchased it to serve as an armoury for the 2nd Battalion Royal New Brunswick Regiment. The DND utilized the building for 35 years until a new armoury was constructed in 1994. A few years later on March 10, 1997, The Department of National Defence gifted this historic building to the city of Bathurst in exchange for the city’s commitment to preserve and restore the building’s heritage value. Jessica Ryan of the Bathurst Heritage Trust Commission Inc. was instrumental in helping make this initiative happen. The most recent tenant of the property was the Nepisiguit River Company.

Proactive Preservation
In 1991, a Dutch/Canadian clock designer by the name of Wilhelmus “Bill” Bongers (1933 – 2012), originally from Hoorn, Netherlands, moved to the city of Bathurst. Mr. Bongers, who was often referred to as the “Clock Man”, took on the daunting challenge of trying to make the old town clock operational again. Bill Bongers was successful in this restoration initiative and exactly 20 years ago (January 1, 1994), the 4-sided illuminated clock of the Old Bathurst Post Office began ticking once again. 

2013 – Current
In recent years, the City of Bathurst has struggled to find a tenant for this prime real-estate property and so it has unfortunately remained vacant. In December 2013, it was announced that a newly formed non-profit community radio station, Phantom FM 103.3 (Bathurst Radio Inc.) would become the new tenant of the Old Bathurst Post Office. This is great news and the presence of a community radio station will bring life to the historic building and help improve activity in the downtown business area. 

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2 Comments

  1. Chris January 2, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    Thanks for the write-up. I’ve learned more about this historical building reading here than my lifetime of living nearby. :)

    Something that has me concerned with this project (or any project in that building) are the chimney swifts that come each summer and take up residency at the old P.O. According to one publication from Ontario, after assessment, the Chimney Swift has been recognized as endangered by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Any idea if there are plans to help keep the species safe? It is pretty entertaining to see them come back “home” each evening in the summer and it would be a shame if anything we consciously did prevents that from happening.

    • AHerygers January 2, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

      Thanks Chris! I am glad that you enjoyed this article about the history of the Old Bathurst Post Office. Bathurst does has a very rich history and it should be shared and celebrated more often.

      As for the chimney swifts… I am aware of their presence at the Old Bathurst Post Office but I don’t know a lot about this endangered species. Thanks for pointing this out. I will read up on it some more.

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