Uptown Saint John is built mostly on Cambrian rocks first described in detail in the 1880s by local geologist George Matthew. At the south end of the Uptown peninsula there are volcanic rocks of the Precambrian to Cambrian age, and Upper Carboniferous rocks along the shore. Outcrops can be seen scattered around the Uptown area, below buildings and along sidewalks. Cambrian rocks are visible on Canterbury Street near the corner of Princess Street, or behind the Courthouse east of Kings Square.
Uptown Saint John provides other opportunities to explore geology. Many of the older buildings are built of New Brunswick stone. In particular, buildings constructed immediately after the Great Fire of 1877 are interesting. Fire destroyed over 1600 structures south of King Street in June 1877. The city was quickly rebuilt, especially the commercial district along Prince William and King Streets. By this time the Province had a flourishing building stone industry and many new buildings in Saint John were constructed of sandstone from southeastern New Brunswick, granite from Hampstead and Charlotte County, and local marble.
Be sure to look up when exploring the geology of Uptown Saint John. Many of the most interesting features are the sandstone carvings around windows and doorways. Sandstone is a relatively soft material and it was used extensively to create decorative elements on buildings. Try counting the animals on the Palatine Building on Prince William Street. Red and black ‘granite’ is much harder and was used to make colourful pillars. The St. George granite industry in Charlotte County had only just begun a few years before the Great Fire. You can sometimes tell pre- and post- fire buildings by the use of St. George granite.