French explorer Samuel de Champlain landed at Saint John Harbour on June 24, 1604 (the feast of St. John the Baptist) and is where the Saint John River gets its name although Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik peoples lived in the region for thousands of years prior calling the river Wolastoq. The Saint John area was an important area for trade and defence for Acadia during the French colonial era and Fort La Tour, in the city’s harbour, was a pivotal battleground during the Acadian Civil War.
After over a century of ownership disputes over the land surrounding Saint John between the French and English, the English colonists deported the French colonists in 1755 and constructed Fort Howe above the harbour in 1779. In 1785, the City of Saint John was established by uniting the two towns of Parrtown and Carleton on each side of the harbour after the arrival of thousands of refugees from the American Revolution who wished to remain British and were forced to leave their U.S. homes. Over the next century, waves of immigration via Partridge Island, especially during the Great Famine, would fundamentally change the city’s demographics and culture.