Downtown Moncton in 1878 (showing Assomption Blvd for context)


Moncton’s working waterfront started with fishing and shipping trades in the 1830s.  The first wharves were built in Moncton in 1841.  Shad was caught off the ships on the riverfront.  Joseph Salter’s shipyards, established in 1849, were located at the end of Mechanic Street.  As Salter’s business grew, wooden shipbuilding became Moncton’s principle industry.  Moncton became a port of entry in 1850 and the prosperity from shipbuilding contributed to Moncton’s incorporation as a town in 1855 with Salter as its first mayor.  However, Moncton had to give up its town status in 1862 upon the collapse of the wooden shipbuilding industry.  The demand for iron and steam ships contributed to the Salter Shipyards’ bankruptcy.

Fortunately, a new economic engine arrived with the inauguration of Intercolonial Railway’s Nova Scotia-Lévis line in 1867.  It was one of the first major rail lines to cross New Brunswick, going through Moncton, Newcastle, Dalhousie, Campbellton, and crossing into the Gaspé Peninsula.  In 1865 Moncton only had a population of 1,000 people, but by 1875 Moncton was growing again.  It re-incorporated, its economy bolstered by Intercolonial Railway’s headquarters and repair centre established in 1871.  Moncton’s railway shops originally covered twenty hectares of land on Albert Street.  

By 1880, Moncton’s population grew to 5,000 people and it quickly doubled to nearly 10,000 in 1890.  New service and manufacturing jobs spurred Moncton’s urbanization in the late 19th century as people moved there from surrounding rural communities. In this time period, tenement houses for rail workers and their families were built along the corner of Albert and Foundry streets, known as Government Row.  Moncton became a city in 1890, a reflection of its significant growth.  In 1897 the Intercolonial Station was built, later renamed Union Station.  Moncton’s development as a regional distribution centre in the late 1800s contributed to the establishment of many other businesses, including Frederick Sumner’s street railway, the Harris brothers’ sugar refinery and cotton factory, and the arrival of the NBTel Company.  Its first hospital was first opened in 1898 in an almshouse in what is now Dieppe, but it moved to the corner of King Street and Mountain Road in 1903.

  • 1830s - Fishing and shipping trades found Moncton’s working waterfront.
  • 1841 - First wharf built.
  • 1849 - Joseph Salter establishes his shipyards.
  • 1855 - First bank opens: Westmorland Bank.
  • 1862 - Moncton gives up its town status upon the collapse of the shipbuilding industry.
  • 1867 - Intercolonial Railway’s Nova Scotia-Lévis line is inaugurated.
  • 1871 - Intercolonial Railway establishes its headquarters and repair centre.
  • 1880 - Population = 5,000 people
  • 1880s - Reed Wharf built on Mechanic Street.

Downtown Moncton in 1907 (showing Assomption Blvd for context)


In 1905, Moncton was home to 1,900 families.  Monctonians lived in the neighbourhoods north of Main Street.  Main Street was the commercial centre for the shops, banks, and public institutions that served workers and residents.  The land south of Main Street was used for industry, with the exception of some residences on Robinson and Lutz Streets.

Despite the collapse of wooden shipbuilding, the shipping industry survived from Moncton’s seven wharves: Public Wharf (Harper Street, built in 1910 replacing the Railway Wharf), Harris Wharf, Dunlap’s Wharf, Sumner’s Wharf, Reed Wharf (Mechanic Street, built in 1880s), Master’s Wharf, and Winter’s Wharf (Westmorland Street).  The federal government built the Public Wharf so that everyone could have access to the waterfront.  At the foot of Downing Street, Captain J.E. Masters owned a wharf where he exported Humphrey’s Pond ice and imported Nova Scotia coal.  The Reed Company shipped molasses from its warehouses at the foot of Mechanic Street to the West Indies.  Schooners, steamships, and scows transported cargo and passengers to Saint John, Yarmouth, the southern United States, and West Indies.  The Gunningsville Bridge was another development of note on the Petitcodiac River, built to connect Riverview and Moncton early in the 20th century.  The warehouses in this industrial section of the city were built rapidly in an ad hoc fashion, leading to irregularly shaped blocks without a consistent grid south of Main Street.

Around this time, Canadian Pacific Railway and Transcontinental added routes in New Brunswick travelling through Moncton.  In 1908, Moncton’s railway shops were re-built in a new location, called the ‘new shops’, following a fire that destroyed the six acres of railway property on Albert Street in 1906.  The brick blacksmith shop off Albert Street was the only building built in the 1870s that survived the blaze.  The shops in Moncton were rebuilt on a new site off John Street in the west, spanning over a mile.  These highly mechanized shops were considered some of the most modern in North America.  There were two spur railway lines connecting the waterfront to the main railway near the subway.  They travelled eastward to the Public Wharf (Harper Street), crossing Main Street to end at Marven’s Biscuit Factory.  In 1917, the federal government bought and combined several railway companies, creating the Canadian National Railway Company, and not long after the CNR Roundhouse was completed. 

  • 1890 - Population = 10,000 people
  • 1890 - Moncton becomes a city.
  • 1897 - Intercolonial Railway Station built (later renamed Union Station)
  • 1906 - Fire destroys six acres of railway property on Albert Street.
  • 1908 - New, modern shops are built off John Street, spans over a mile.
  • 1910 - The federal government builds Public Wharf on Harper Street, replaces Railway Wharf.
  • Early 1900s - Gunningsville Bridge built.

Downtown Moncton in 1956 (showing Assomption Blvd for context)

The Lead-Up to Mid Century

The CN shops were now north of St. George Street and John Street. To reach the shops, the tracks crossed Main Street twice at the main subway and at the west subway, and travelled under a bridge on St. George Street.  At its peak in the late 1920s, about 1,000 men were employed at the CN repair shops.  

Eaton’s opened in 1920, where the Record Foundry and Machine Company used to be on Foundry Street.  Eaton’s employed over 750 people, starting with a mail order business, but expanded in 1927 to include retail.  In 1931, the Peter McSweeney Company was liquidated, unable to compete with Eaton’s.  In 1936, the Post Office was built at the corner of Main Street and Highfield Street across from Hotel Brunswick.  

By the early 1940s, Moncton’s shipping industry had wound down. The Reed Company imported molasses, salt, and rum until 1942. The G.E. Barbour firm took over and moved the Reed Company's operations to an industrial park.  Also along the Petitcodiac, east of Eaton’s, was Moncton’s first recreational sports field, the baseball diamond for the Moncton Amateur Athletic Association grounds. It was converted to commercial use in the late 1930s. 

In 1937, the Moncton airport was completed, establishing a new form of transportation to and from the hub city.  During WWII, bases in the area hosted up to 15,000 airmen training at Moncton’s flying school.   In the 1950s, Moncton boomed and its city boundary expanded by 14.4 miles.  In 1953, the modern Moncton Hospital opened, complete with 225 beds, on D. A. MacBeath’s donated land in the largely undeveloped northwest.

  • 1920 - Eatons opens mail order business on Foundry Street.
  • 1936 - Post Office built at the corner of Main Street and Highfield Street, across from Hotel Brunswick.
  • 1942 - Reed Company imports end and is sold to G.E. Barbour firm. 
  • 1950s - Moncton’s boundary expanded by 14.4 miles.
  • 1960s - CN Hump Yard built.  The spur line running along the waterfront, crossing Foundry and Main Streets was abandoned.

Present-day Downtown Moncton

Railway Downsizing & Transition

Moncton underwent a transition period starting in the 1960s and extending through the 1980s which transformed the city’s form and function once more.  At this time, the Trans-Canada Highway was built along Moncton’s northern edge.  The causeway connecting Moncton and Riverview was finished in 1967.  The Université de Moncton was built in 1963 with on-campus housing for students.  In the 1970s, Moncton’s second hospital, the George Dumont, was built near U de M. 

In the 1960s the waterfront was characterized by warehouses, railroad related business, mills, vacant land, and wharves.  The derelict industrial edges of the Petitcodiac were largely inaccessible to the general public.  CN’s Hump Yard was constructed in the 1960s, requiring different train routes and leading to the removal of the west Main Street subway and the St. George Street crossing.  In the early 1960s the spur line running along the waterfront, crossing Foundry Street and Main Street near King Street was abandoned, and later removed in the early 1980s.  In 1986, CN closed its repair shops, which were later demolished in 1988.  When the shops closed, CN relocated 5,000 jobs from Moncton to other parts of Canada.  As industry along the waterfront closed, buildings were demolished and the land was used for surface parking lots.

Retail in Moncton underwent transition at this time too.  The establishment of Champlain Place, Highfield Square, and the Moncton Mall starting in the 1960s changed the dynamics of Moncton’s retail industry. Eaton’s main building was converted to the Heritage Court residential complex in the late 1970s and its mail order business closed in 1978.  Its retail addition was torn down, and this department moved near Highfield Square, which continued to struggle through the 1990s.  In the 1980s, over a dozen of Moncton’s oldest businesses closed.  Some buildings along Moncton’s waterfront were refinished in the 1980s, one of which became the Shipyard nightclub.  In 1989, the Riverfront Symposium established a vision for the the riverfront’s development.  Moncton was faced with the need for a major economic shift by the end of the 1980s. During this transitional time, it became known for its trucking, logistics, warehousing, and distribution services.

  • 1960s - Beginning of new retail establishments: Champlain Place, Highfield Square, and the Moncton Mall.
  • Late 1970s - Eaton’s building converted to Heritage Court.
  • 1980s - The spur line running along the waterfront, crossing Foundry and Main Streets, was removed.
  • 1980s - Over a dozen of Moncton’s oldest businesses close.
  • 1997 - CN shops site decontaminated and redeveloped into playing fields, ice pads, the CN Sportsplex, the Dundee Sports Dome, and Emmerson Park. 
  • 1999 - Halls Creek pedestrian bridge and Chateau Moncton completed.
  • 2001 - The Landing at the Bend completed.
  • 2004 - Bore Park redesign completed.
  • 2006 - Gravel trail built on rail bed of old waterfront spur line.
  • 2012 - Highfield Square closed.
  • 2016 - Construction of the Downtown Centre begins.



Today only about 320 residents live within Moncton's downtown core.  As the city grows, it is experiencing sprawl in the north, with many new homes built in car-dependent neighbourhoods. The challenge of increasing downtown residential density is compounded by the fact that Moncton’s downtown housing supply is limited and unappealing to young families and creative workers relative to other urban centres outside of New Brunswick.  From 2006 to 2011, the number of people permanently living in the Downtown Core decreased. 

Though few people live downtown permanently, 2,500 people work there.  Half of those people are government employees and professionals.  Institutional employees comprise Moncton’s well-educated and well salaried consumptive class who disproportionately consume cultural events and products.  Moncton’s current downtown residential population is not big enough to support a large retail sector (just 11% of employment in the downtown core).  Workers help to support the similarly sized restaurant, bar and entertainment scene.  A major limitation for downtown revitalization is the significant underutilization of its land; surface parking lots cover 45% of the downtown core’s area.

Despite many remaining challenges and opportunities, Moncton has invested significantly in its downtown over the past couple decades.  The 1990s and 2000s brought major redevelopment along Moncton's waterfront.  In 1999, construction of the Halls Creek pedestrian bridge and Chateau Moncton hotel were completed.   This first phase of the waterfront circulation system gave pedestrians access to the river, separated them from a busy section of Main Street, and created a link between Moncton and Dieppe.  The Landing at the Bend was constructed in 2001, adding new retail buildings on an old industrial site and a timber boardwalk following the original Public Wharf line.  The Bore Park redesign was completed in 2004, adding seating for viewing the Tidal Bore, an outdoor performance area, and further extension of the riverfront walkway.  In 2006, a gravel trail was built with stairs connecting to South King Street on the rail bed of the old waterfront spur line.  These new developments made Moncton's waterfront accessible to the general public once more, connecting Moncton culture and recreation to the Petitcodiac. Another major downtown investment was the construction of Assomption Boulevard, improving connectivity and delineating Riverfront Park.  

Now nothing remains of the railway complex on the land by the waterfront.  Only about 200 CN jobs remain in Moncton at the Hump Yard.  In 1997, the 282-acre west Moncton site previously home to the railway shops was decontaminated and redeveloped into playing fields, ice pads, the CN Sportsplex, the Dundee Sports Dome, and the technological Emmerson Park.  Since the loss of the railway industry, the focus of economic development in Moncton has been securing financial and business service jobs like call centres and back offices.  One example is Rogers, which employs 700 people in its downtown office.  Other key drivers of Moncton's economic growth are population-growth-dependent sectors in construction, education, health care, public administration, and retail. 

Much of Moncton’s retail sector is made up of big-box stores concentrated along Trinity Drive in the north end of the city.  A number of destination retailers like Costco and Cabela’s attract people from northern New Brunswick, PEI, and parts of Nova Scotia who will drive over 2.5 hours to shop.  This population of retail commuters covers an economic region of about 1.3 million people.  The competitive nature of big-box shopping has been detrimental to other retailers.  Highfield Square closed in 2012, unable to compete. Shortly after, this valuable land was slated for redevelopment.  In 2016, construction began on Moncton’s Downtown Centre.  It will provide new space for entertainment and sport when it opens in the fall of 2018.