The city solicitor’s department in Saint John is examining a 190-year-old trust involving the old Saint John County courthouse.
It’s the latest twist in a developing controversy over the now-vacant but historically recognized building, which is property of the provincial government.
With the new Saint John Law Courts now in place, there is growing enthusiasm to see this iconic building saved.
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The Saint John Law Society is one of the groups looking to preserve the old courthouse. Local lawyer John Barry says he’s disappointed Common Council was so quick to decline an offer to buy the building.
“Why would they out of hand not investigate it, assume some type of control, enter into discussions with with the province?” he said.
Barry is a driving force behind the efforts to preserve the building. His colleague Franklin Leger uncovered a trust written in 1826. They claim it is still valid and that may still tie the city to it.
“It says courthouse can only be used for municipal council chambers and offices and/or a courthouse,” Barry said.
The idea of municipal council chambers is something Barry and others think could work.
“It would be an excellent city hall. Return it to its original use because it was a municipal council chamber,” he said.
According to Saint John historian Harold Wright, there is enough room to host all the major functions necessary for a city hall building to operate.
He said the courthouse is the most significant public building in Saint John.
“It was the seat of both the city and municipal county governments from 1830 right through until the county council closed in 1967,” he said.
Councillor Donna Reardon doesn’t think the city is in a financial position to take it on, but said some parts of city hall could be used there.
“We are looking for efficiencies for our taxpayers, so do we want to break up city hall and have different departments all around?” she said.
Both sides seem to be on the same side when it comes to the importance of the building itself.
“I’d love to see it saved and used,” Reardon said. “I would love to see that.”