Har­bour Grace be­com­ing sub­urb of Car­bon­ear?

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION -

Dear edi­tor,

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

Toronto

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