The original aboriginal inhabitants of the Petitcodiac river valley were the Mi'kmaq people. French Acadians first settled the area in 1733, establishing a marshland farming community on the site of present day Moncton, naming it Le Coude (The Elbow).
The Petitcodiac river valley fell under British control after the capture of nearby Fort Beausejour in 1755. It was during this time that the majority of the Acadian population was deported; however, some of the inhabitants of the community escaped into the woods and were able to sustain guerilla warfare against the British occupiers until 1758, culminating in the British victory at the Battle of Stoney Creek.
The settlement remained empty until a group of eight immigrant families arrived from Pennsylvania in June 1766. They were armed with a land grant issued by the Philadelphia Land Company, one of the principal investors of which was Benjamin Franklin.
There is one surviving building in the city dating from this era: the "Treitz Haus", which is said to have been built in the early 1770's. It has recently been renovated as a downtown tourist information centre.
The community was incorporated as the town of Moncton in 1855. The town was named after Lt. Col. Robert Monckton, the British military commander who had captured Fort Beausejour a century earlier. A clerical error at the time the town was incorporated resulted in the misspelling of the community's name which has been perpetuated to the present day.
The railway came through in 1857, but did not impact the community. At about the same time, steam-powered iron ships began to replace clipper ships on the ocean's sea routes and this forced an end to the era of wooden shipbuilding.
As shipbuilding had been the main industry, Moncton had to surrender its civic charter in 1862. Moncton's economic depression did not last long and a second era of prosperity came to the area when Moncton was selected to be the headquarters of the Intercolonial Railway of Canada in 1871.
The coming of the ICR to Moncton was a key event for the community. For the next 120 years, the history of the city would be inextricably intertwined with that of the railway.
Moncton was able to reincorporate as a town in 1875 with the motto "Resurgo" (I rise again). One year later, the ICR line to Quebec was opened. The railway boom that emanated from this and the associated employment growth allowed Moncton to achieve city status on April 23, 1890.
Moncton grew rapidly during the early part of the 20th century, particularly after provincial lobbying saw the city become the eastern terminus of the massive National Transcontinental Railway project in 1912; this line would link Moncton with Edmonton, Quebec City, and on to Winnipeg where the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway continued to Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Prince Rupert.
The First World War brought a halt to the era of railway expansion but the city would become an important trans-shipment point for war materiel funneling onwards to the port of Halifax.
Realizing the city's importance as a railway and logistics/shipping hub, the T. Eaton Company's catalog warehouse located to the city in the early 1920's, employing over 500 people. Meat packing plants and light manufacturing also contributed to the local economy.
During WWII, the Royal Canadian Air Force established two air bases in the area for training and for operational squadrons. RCAF Station Moncton was located at the pre-existing Moncton airport.
The Canadian Army also built a large military supply base along the railway mainline near the CNR shops facilities northwest of downtown; this facility was used to sort much of the war materiel heading on to the ports of Halifax, Saint John and Sydney, as well as to supply army facilities throughout the Maritimes.
Railway employment in Moncton at the height of the steam locomotive era peaked at several thousand workers before starting a long decline when the new diesel locomotives were introduced in the early 1950’s.
The Université de Moncton was founded in 1963. This began an Acadian "renaissance" which led to increasing demands by the French-speaking population for municipal services in the French language, and led to tension between the Acadian minority and the Anglophone majority during the 1960s and early 1970s.
Eventually the Anglophone population of the city generally began to accept the principle of bilingualism; it would ultimately become one of the strengths of the community.
The late 1970s and the 1980s again saw a period of economic hardship hit the city as several major employers closed or restructured.
The Eatons catalogue division closed in 1976 and Canadian Northern Railway closed its locomotive shops facility in 1988, throwing thousands out of work.
However the 1990s saw the rise of information technology, led by call centers which made use of the city's bilingual workforce. By the late 1990s, retail, manufacturing and service expansion began to occur in all sectors and within a decade of the closure of the CN locomotive shops, Moncton had more than made up for its employment losses. This turnaround in the fortunes of the city has been termed the "Moncton Miracle".