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.