Cornelius [Sparrow] was born a slave at Norfolk, Virginia, in 1824. In the 1840s and 1850s, a number of escaped slaves came to Saint John [in New Brunswick] and Sparrow, probably hounded by slave hunters after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, escaped and made his way to Saint John in 1851. He married a Saint John lady, Martha Jane Moore, in 1851, and the same year he became a Freeman of the City.
Cornelius first worked as a labourer but by 1862 he had opened his Royal Saloon at 18 Charlotte Street, where the now demolished Shoppers Drug Store stood across from Calps. The land is now a City Parking Commission lot. The alley between the Shoppers Drug store and the United Book Exchange was known as Sparrow’s Alley. The Royal Saloon specialized in foreign and domestic fruits and vegetables, including “Buctouche and Prince Edward Island oysters.” In addition, he offered a Ladies and Gents hair dressing saloon. Cornelius may have been in business first with his brother John, but this would have been short-lived. In 1866 he served notice to the public that “Persons are hereby cautioned from crediting John Sparrow on my account as I will not be responsible for any debt contracted by him in my name.”
In 1873 Cornelius moved his business, now renamed the Victoria Saloon, to 8 Germain Street, where he also lived. The local newspaper wrote: “Cornelius Sparrow’s New Saloon on Germain Street opposite the Country Market is by far the finest in St. John, and, indeed has few rivals in Canada. It presents a most attractive appearance outside, and the interior is even more charming. The fine plate glass windows in front are admirably set off by the display of luscious fruits and delicacies within. The stalls are arranged in two rows – one for gentleman, the other for ladies. In the rear is a fine oyster bar and still further in the rear, two additional rows of stalls. All are provided with marble topped tables are scrumptiously neat and clean up stairs is a fine large dining room, provided with marble tables, and containing an elegant pianoforte. It has already become a fashionable resort, and is a new feature in the saloons of St. John. The bill of fare is of the simplest character, and the prices are distinctly marked. The check system is used and works admirably. Mr. Sparrow’s really elegant saloon is a credit to St. John, and should be well patronized.“
PS—Regarding the post’s title, I have just two words: Sister Act. Oh, wait, I mean Lauryn Hill. Or both! After the jump.