The Maliseet Aboriginal people were here when the British and French began squabbling about furs. Though Samuel de Champlain landed in 1604, the area remained pretty much a wilderness until 1783, when about 7000 people loyal to Britain arrived from republican America. The Loyalists turned a fort site into Canada’s first legal city, incorporated in 1785. Between 1844 and 1848, some 35, 000 Irish immigrants arrived, fleeing the famine in Ireland, and enough stayed that today they comprise the city’s largest ethnic group.
By the mid-19th century Saint John had become a prosperous industrial town, important particularly for its wooden shipbuilding. In 1877, two-thirds of the city, including most of the mercantile district, was reduced to ashes by fire. It was soon rebuilt. Today, a large percentage of the population works in heavy industry, at the Irving pulp mill, the Irving refinery, the new Irving liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, the Irving gas stations and convenience stores, the Irving home renovation business or the Moosehead brewery.