The Building: A cozy, communal gallery for Fredericton’s art lovers

Don’t let the imposing columns outside Fredericton’s Beaverbrook Art Gallery fool you—its new expansion is a warm, inviting space for art buffs (and an ideal party spot)
Prarthana Pathak
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The Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton houses its share of intimidatingly beautiful works (roughly 6,000) by artists like Cornelius Krieghoff, Emily Carr and Salvador Dalí. But in August of 2019, when the Beaverbrook’s board tapped Toronto’s KPMB Architects to design its new expansion— a reception area and social hub—the goal was to create a warm and inviting space. A living room for the city.

The pavilion houses several sculptures, including one by Acadian sculptor Marie Hélène Allain. Local artists have also been invited to pitch the space’s next mural. (They’ll rotate every year.)

Late in 2020, the team broke ground on the Harrison McCain Pavilion (as it’s now named), a 9,000-square-foot extension off of the mid-century modern main gallery. The exterior was meant to fit in with the linear architectural vibe of Fredericton, which includes plenty of clapboard-covered homes formerly occupied by United Empire Loyalists. (The team at KPMB also took some international inspiration from the neoclassical colonnade of Berlin’s Altes Museum.) A precast company in Saint John crafted the 44 towering columns that surround the pavilion, which act as a brise soleil to stop sunlight from scorching the lobby. The entrance itself is gently rounded to mirror the curve of nearby Queen Street (which, in turn, mirrors the curve of the Saint John River).

“Daily Espresso,” the name of the expansion’s café, is a nod to Lord Beaverbrook, former owner of London’s Daily Express newspaper.

Inside, the pavilion features a café (relocated from the gallery’s lower level), gift shop, fireplace, seating area and, importantly, lots of event space—for book launches, art shows, and even weddings. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the city’s greenery and the neighbouring legislature and give the building a welcoming glow in the evening. A quiet palette of white concrete and strategically placed Venetian plaster allows visitors to focus on the art. One of those works—a permanent mural by Indigenous artist Jordan Bennett—sits in the lobby, intended to be the museum’s land acknowledgement to the Wolastoqey First Nation.

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On one side of the pavilion’s front steps, the architects added a concrete ramp. It provides an accessible entrance into the gallery, which is already raised above the floodplain next to the Saint John River to protect the art collections inside.

So far, the pavilion has welcomed, and been welcomed by, the public. Just prior to its grand opening in September of 2022, it hosted a 400-person private event where museum members marvelled at the pavilion’s acoustics (courtesy of a new ceiling of felt slats, designed to mimic the vertical columns outside). This year, the Beaverbrook hit its annual attendance goal by summer. And for those who can’t see the gallery’s contents up close, the Beaverbrook has posted photos of its 6,000-plus masterworks online—a pandemic project that ensures art for all.