Harbour Grace becoming suburb of Carbonear?
I write in response to an article by Andrew Robinson in the March 22 edition of The Compass entitled “Ridley Hall on crash-course; Historic building from 1834 likely to crumble with time.”
Would you take a rotten piece of meat and sandwich it between two pieces of bread? Sadly, the situation in Harbour Grace has been deteriorating for some time due to lack of innovation in stimulating businesses in the town’s decrepit buildings. Streets that look like they have had their teeth knocked out; historical buildings that once dotted the landscape are now missing.
Now comes the turn of the axe for the most storied and fabled building in all of Harbour Grace. Ridley Hall represented an establishment associated with a prominent 19th century fishing and sealing merchant. They reflect the prosperity and growing economic and political importance of the merchant class in Newfoundland, as well as the failure of one of this class’s most important families, the Ridleys.
Thomas Ridley was a wealthy man and this affluence was displayed in his family home, which he built and named Ridley Hall. The house, located amongst a collection of highly ornate, mercantile houses, was the centre of most of the social, political and economic activities in the community.
Reports of a glamorous ball given in 1855 say it was the “most brilliant entertainment that has ever taken place in Newfoundland.” A ballroom addition at the rear of the house was used for this event. Another grand ball was held in honour of representatives from the Direct United States Cable Company Ltd., who, in 1866, were in the area to recover a lost, transAtlantic submarine cable between Heart’s Content and Halifax.
During the 1930s and 40s the building was used as a cable station by the same company, though, by this time it was known as Cable and Wireless Ltd. Eventually, Ridley Hall was used again as a private residence until the 1980s when it became vacant and began it’s decent into neglect.
Ridley Hall was extensively damaged when fire struck in 2003, resulting in a stone ruin where once stood a house that was commonly saluted by passing ships. This is a sad end of the onceimposing dwelling house and the history that was made there. Set upon a large plot of land, and within the Harbour Grace Registered Historic District, the ruins occupy a prominent area of town that can clearly be seen from the ocean, directly across the street.
Sadly, I believe that over time, if this continued erosion of our town’s history continues, I fear we will end up becoming a suburb of Carbonear. Harbour Grace council and town residents should be rooted in an investment in heritage and the development the Town of Harbour Grace. The increasing problem of “demolition by neglect” there is no point to lament and cry over what we have lost.
I approached the town council in 2008 to form a much-needed historical society in Harbour Grace. I was turned down with the statement that Mayor Don Coombs was starting a society and had selected members. Some years have passed now, and I wonder what happened to the historical society?
There is a disconnect between the town council in Harbour Grace and heritage. Why were these heritage buildings not considered in town planning? It seems the town council will always steamroll over the wishes of some people who are passionate about moving the town ahead.
Combine the undervalue of heritage issues with the lack of money for heritage, and not promoting the town for its rich heritage, and it is next to impossible to create a culture of conservation, and caring. Endangered heritage structures? But what of the endangered Town of Harbour Grace? Rhonda Parsons