Ri­d­ley Hall on crash- course

His­toric build­ing from 1834 likely to crum­ble with time


From a dis­tance, Ri­d­ley Hall in Har­bour Grace re­mains an im­pos­ing struc­ture. The large, two-storey stone build­ing is still a lovely look­ing one; de­pend­ing on what an­gle you look at it from.

Sadly, the in­sides, dam­aged in 2003 by van­dals be­lieved to have started a fire, are an­other story. The ab­sence of its for­mer slate roof leaves the build­ing open to the el­e­ments, and com­bined with a pre­vi­ous owner’s re­moval of the parge coat­ing that pro­tected the ex­te­rior stone and the dif­fi­culty that comes with sta­bi­liz­ing ma­sonry ru­ins, one ex­pert on her­itage prop­er­ties pre­dicts the build­ing will slowly crum­ble over the next decade.

The main trou­ble for the stone struc­ture, ac­cord­ing to Ge­orge Chalker, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New­found­land and Labrador Her­itage Foun­da­tion ( NLHF), is its ex­po­sure to wa­ter.

“If wa­ter gets in, then you have to freeze-thaw it, and when it freezes, it ex­pands and makes the cracks big­ger, and then more wa­ter can get in the next time. Even­tu­ally, so much wa­ter gets in that it pumps out the stone, and things start to crum­ble.”

Thomas Ri­d­ley, a well-known fish and seal mer­chant at the time, built Ri­d­ley Hall in 1834. It has a com­pan­ion build­ing just around the cor­ner on Beach Hill, which has had restora­tion work com­pleted in re­cent years.

Ac­cord­ing to NLHF, the build­ing was a fo­cal point of so­cial, eco­nomic, and po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity dur­ing Thomas Ri­d­ley’s hey­day. It even had a ball­room.

“In its day, it was cer­tainly the grand­est build­ing that was out there,” says Chalker.

The fam­ily’s bank­ruptcy led to the build­ing go­ing through a num­ber of dif­fer­ent own­ers af­ter 1894. It was used as a cable sta­tion in the 1930s and ‘40s, be­fore re­vert­ing to a pri­vate dwelling. It main­tained its ex­is­tence as a pri­vate res­i­dence un­til the 1980s, when it be­came va­cant. It was reg­is­tered as a her­itage struc­ture in 1994.

Chalker, who has been with NLHF for 22 years, says there have been sev­eral own­ers who had plans for Ri­d­ley Hall since the 1980s. One, he says, was look­ing to make it a high-end bed and break­fast that could func­tion as a site for cor­po­rate re­treats.

The cur­rent own­ers are Brian and Jean Flana­gan from Red Deer, Alta. They were also the own­ers prior to the fire. Chalker says they too had plans to ren­o­vate the build­ing, but the fire ul­ti­mately dashed those plans.

“ They had great plans,” he says. “My guess is the fire must have been the fi­nal blow that sort of de­feated them. It is un­for­tu­nate the build­ing wasn’t more se­curely taken care of so that van­dals could not get in.”

If the own­ers ever in­tend to tear down Ri­d­ley Hall, Chalker says NLHF would have no say, as the build­ing never made use of restora­tion grants of­fered by the foun­da­tion. If it had, then in­sur- ance would give NLHF the legal right to pre­vent the own­ers from do­ing so.

“ If any­one takes our grant, they must in­sure the prop­erty. It’s very much like in­sur­ing a mort­gage.”

Other­wise, any de­ci­sion on the build­ing’s de­mo­li­tion would have to go through the per­mit process with the Town of Har­bour Grace.

“ They would be the ones who would have to ei­ther agree or dis­agree with de­mo­li­tion,” says Chalker.

Chalker says the build­ing could have been saved many years ago if gov­ern­ment had be­come in­volved. Had that oc­curred, Chalker says a pro­ject sim­i­lar to what was done with the Bay Roberts Cable Sta­tion could have hap­pened.

The Bay Roberts Her­itage So­ci­ety and the Town of Bay Roberts worked to­gether in the 1990s to re­store the for­mer cable sta­tion, also a reg­is­tered his­toric build­ing. It now houses mu­nic­i­pal of­fices, a mu­seum, and the Christo­pher Pratt Art Gallery. Chalker says the com­bi­na­tion of a non-profit or­gan- iza­tion and a mu­nic­i­pal­ity opened doors when it came to ap­ply­ing for pub­lic money to put to­wards the restora­tion of the build­ing. Most of those funds are not avail­able to pri­vate own­ers.

“ If that hap­pened in Har­bour Grace, ( Ri­d­ley Hall) might have sur­vived. But it would have re­quired some­thing of that na­ture, or an in­di­vid­ual with ex­tremely deep pock­ets to re­store it.”

This red door serves as a side en­trance for Ri­d­ley Hall.

De­bris clut­ters the floor of Ri­d­ley Hall’s long-va­cant in­te­rior.

A view of the back en­trance to Ri­d­ley Hall’s first floor.

Ri­d­ley Hall was built in 1834, and for a num­ber of decades in the 19th cen­tury it was a hub of ac­tiv­ity in Har­bour Grace. A fire in 2003 seemed to seal the build­ing’s fate as a slowly crum­bling ruin.

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