PICTURESQUE SAINT JOHN A HISTORY BUFF'S DELIGHT

Saint John, NB - This is such a walkable city, its tree-lined streets fronted with historical architecture, that you end up strolling when you really planned to hail a cab.

Saint John's Loyalist roots are evident almost everywhere. On May 18 1783 a fleet arrived with Loyalists escaping the aftermath of the American Revolution. Three thousand of them set up camp at the mouth of the Saint John River, literally founding the city overnight. Two years later it was formally incorporated, the only Canadian city to receive a royal charter.

The early 1800s brought the timber and lumber trades, products that were soon being shipped to Britain in sailing ships built here. Merchants and manufacturers established businesses to serve the growing population, which increased dramatically when the lumber ships brought back immigrants.

Fire raged through the city in 1877, destroying more than 1,500 buildings. Reconstruction began immediately, using brick instead of wood and flat roofs to prevent future fires from spreading. Now walking tours of the historic areas are on every visitor's agenda. Go it alone with map in hand, or join a free escorted walk. Whatever your choice, you will likely start at Barbour's General Store, the replica of a 19th century general store that serves as an information centre between May and October. (During the rest of the year, an information centre is open in City Hall.)

Revitalized in recent years, the waterfront area is a delightful setting for summer entertainment, outdoor dining or an evening stroll. It is also a departure point for the boat to Partridge Island, North America's first quarantine station, which played a significant role in Irish immigration. During the 1840s potato famine, thousands left Ireland for Saint John and at one point more than 24,000 typhoid victims were confined on the island.

The city hub is Market Square by the waterfront, a mix of restored warehouses and modern buildings, including a shopping mall and the Hilton International Hotel. The block-long Old City Market has been a favourite venue for residents since 1876. Open six days a week, it is a bright and lively market selling fresh foods, crafts and toys. One local specialty packaged to go is the edible seaweed called dulse. Seafood, salads, pies and the like are served to take out or eat in a glass-enclosed patio, which makes this a good stop for an informal lunch.

Loyalist roots can also be seen in street names such as Prince William, one of the few streets in Canada designated a National Historic Streetscape. King's Square is a central park, with summer concerts in its bandstand and walkways laid out to resemble the Queen Anne flag. Close by, the Old Loyalist Burial Grounds were set aside as a cemetery in the 1780s. The 1810 Loyalist House (20 Union Street) escaped the great fire when quick-witted servants dampened it with wet sheets. It is now a museum. However, if you have the time for only one museum, do try to go to the New Brunswick Museum at 277 Douglas Street, for its exhibits of regional, national and global importance.

Saint John is a city that can claim many firsts: North America's first police force, Canada's first newspaper and its first bank. Inventions conceived here are as varied as kerosene, the variable pitch propellor and the tea bag.

This 750-word piece ends with "If You Go" information: