Fact or fiction? A look at some of Fredericton's biggest urban legends

·4 min read
When it come to Fredericton urban legends, there's a mixture of fact and fiction. (Daniel McHardie/CBC - image credit)
When it come to Fredericton urban legends, there's a mixture of fact and fiction. (Daniel McHardie/CBC - image credit)

All cities have legends that residents swear are true.

Fredericton urban legends are a lively topic on the Reddit social media platform.

Specifically, Fredericton subreddit users, a page dedicated solely to discussion about the capital city, were asked, "What is a fact about Fredericton that sounds made up?"

The responses are interesting, but are they true?

Let's take a look.

Soaring heights

Christ Church Cathedral holds a special place in the hearts of many Fredericton residents and in the skyline of the city itself.

That's probably why the legend that "no building can be taller" has stuck around for so long.

Unfortunately, for those hoping the church's spire will permanently be the tallest point in the downtown, there is no law forbidding a structure from exceeding it.

Lauren Bird/CBC
Lauren Bird/CBC

"In short, it is an urban myth," said Hank Williams, a retired verger who trains tour guides for the church.

He said the origin of the story may come from a "competition" between the Anglican cathedral and the then-Methodist Wilmot United Church to have the tallest spire.

"Wilmot eventually won, but when the cathedral spire was rebuilt in 1912 following [a fire] in 1911, they had enough money to rebuild the tower so they added the extra 26 or 27 feet and thus the cathedral won," said Williams.

City of Fredericton spokesperson Wayne Knorr confirmed there is no bylaw limiting the height of structures to be shorter than the spire of the cathedral.

"There's nothing in the heritage bylaw-design guidelines that applies exclusively to the cathedral," said Knorr.

Splish, splash

A new aquatic sports centre has been a dream for many in the city for years now.

But maybe all swimmers need to do is head to a basement on the campus of the University of New Brunswick.

Legend has it that there's an abandoned swimming pool in the basement of the Lady Beaverbrook residence.

A Pictorial History of the University of New Brunswick by Susan Montague
A Pictorial History of the University of New Brunswick by Susan Montague

According to Kelsey Pye, a UNB spokesperson, there is indeed a pool in the basement of the residence.

"It was a special feature of the residence, which opened in March 1930," said Pye.

Unfortunately for water sports enthusiasts, the pool is no longer in use.

Falling off the edge

In 240 B.C., a Greek astronomer living in Egypt named Eratosthenes of Cyrene proved the Earth is round by calculating its circumference.

It appears some Fredericton residents didn't get the memo, because word is the city is the home of the Flat Earth Society.

It turns out to be true, but the story is a little more complicated than that.

CBC
CBC

According to the UNB Archives and Special Collections, the Flat Earth Society of Canada was founded by a St. Thomas University philosophy professor by the name of Leo Ferrari.

The society also included other well-known, local luminaries such as the writers Alden Nowlan and Raymond Fraser.

Despite what the name of the society may lead one to believe, the group was not advocating a flat view of the world.

"According to them, a prevailing problem of the new technological age was the willingness of people to accept theories "on blind faith and to reject the evidence of their own senses," according to materials provided by the UNB archives.

"To promote critical thinking, the society chose to dispute one thing that 'scientific Western civilization' considers indisputable — namely, that the Earth is round."

As above, so below

Most of the myths so far have dealt with claims topside, but could downtown Fredericton be riddled with underground tunnels connecting neighbouring buildings?

There are indeed tunnels connecting some areas of the city's downtown.

Michael Stemm
Michael Stemm

"There are underground heating tunnels serving provincial buildings, as well as the Playhouse and maybe the Beaverbrook," said Knorr. "They are tall enough to walk around in."

While Knorr did confirm the existence of some tunnels, he directed all other questions about them to the province.

CBC News reached out to the province for clarification about how many tunnels there are and their purpose but did not receive an answer by publication time.

A famous signature

We head above ground for our final legend, which includes one of Fredericton's most recognized landmarks and a famous Irish poet and playwright.

There is a story that the infamous Oscar Wilde signed his name to the underside of the dome of the New Brunswick legislature.

This would appear to be at least plausible.

Napoleon Sarony/Wikipedia CC
Napoleon Sarony/Wikipedia CC

Wilde actually visited the city in October 1882 and spoke to a large audience at city hall, which at the time was also the premier performing arts venue in the city.

The legislature opened in 1882, replacing the former government meeting place Province Hall, which burned down in 1880.

Unfortunately, the province was unwilling to confirm or deny the existence of the literary autograph, so this one will remain a mystery … for now.