There are alternatives to demolition of Ridley Hall
As a relative newcomer and small business owner to the Town of Harbour Grace, and yes a “corner boy” from St. John’s, we have successfully operated our tourism business for eight years as a standalone, sustainable business.
In fact, we have grown a very credible, well-reviewed and recommended operation bringing tourist visitors from many countries. New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Kenya, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Finland, Austria, Germany, Norway, the Ukraine, Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Argentina, Columbia, Venezuela, Costa-Rica, Mexico, and just about every state of the United States, and definitely every province and territory of Canada.
They walk our streets, take pictures, eat evening meals at our property, ask questions of us and learn of the great heritage and history of this town and province.
These are seasoned world travellers who have for one reason or another chosen to come to this country, province and town. They are gracious, courteous, eager and curious.
They start arriving in April (a few), more in May, then June, July, August and September, and then slowing down in October.
So for six months, we have international, national as well as our own visiting Harbour Grace.
Now to bring these folks to this unique, historic town steeped in culture and heritage is one thing, and as an attraction and accommodation we have and continue to achieve that. However, to extend their stay, to keep them here for any extended period of time, to keep their interest, to offer more attractions (and I don’t mean merry-go-rounds) is a completely different quintal of fish.
What do we currently have that attracts our tourist? What is the inventory? Well, lets start at Riverhead scenic estuary at the bridge (the history of Riverhead), the parkette with the visitors’ kiosk, the statuette of Amelia Earhart, the Dakota, and of course the majestic SS Kyle.
The setting is terrific, with the natural harbour seascape, the Kyle, the Spirit of Harbour Grace, the boardwalk, the seagulls, ducks and eagles. Wow. Who wouldn’t be impressed?
Water Street meanders past some beautiful new and existing properties on down through the town and the docks, the designated heritage district, St Paul’s, Ridley offices, amazing old stone structures, Ridley Hall (I’ll come back to that), the old merchant houses, the Maples (Simmonds property, private) our Rothesay House bed and breakfast ( the Munn-Godden property), Tapps (private), McRae Manor ( private), the Garrison ( private), the Museum (the Customs House), the Harbour Grace courthouse and jails, the Immaculate Conception and the Rose Manor (the Crons) and on down to Bear’s Cove, all the while with the great Harbour Grace Island, Salvage rock and Long Harry seascape.
From Riverhead to Harbour Grace Island is 500 years of history. From early Basque, French, Portuguese, Spanish fishermen and English, Irish and Scottish settlers. From pirates and merchants, poets, politicians, historians, academics and entrepreneurs, musicians, artists, shipbuilders and athletes. You name it and this town has produced it.
A town that boasted a population way back in 1850 approaching 10,000 people. So that’s not too shabby when you consider there are towns out west who have little to no heritage or historic themes to attract tourists, but have to invent themes such as the largest apple structure or the largest potato structure. Yet, they do attract tourist because they create an atmosphere or festival theme.
Sorry. I just got interrupted as I had to go down the beach there by Clarke’s, because the capelin are rolling!
So what else does Harbour Grace have to offer tourists and visitors?
Well lets see. There’s the fall fair, Kennel Club dog show, beauty pageant, the Blueberry Harvest Run, Peter Easton Day (imagine the notorious Peter Eaton with his fort here circa 1610 and we devote a half-a-day and a small flotilla, while Brigus devotes an entire week to a blueberry!)
There could be a festival of events such as the SS Kyle Days, the Amelia Earhart and Aviators Days, or the Newfoundland Dog Heritage Days.
Just about everybody I know around these parts plays an instrument. Maybe a “Few Tunes Festival” with some venues around the town and the old stage at the Admiral’s Marina. Who wouldn’t go to a “ kitchen party” festival with all the talent on the Baccalieu Trail? Maybe some small theatre performances. Imagine a small play or recital at either of our churches.
Well back to Ridley Hall (Thomas Ridley circa 1826-8), where they had great balls and weddings. Where the ladies and gents played croquet on the lawns. Where the magistrate kept overflow prisoners from the jail in the cellar. It was the “Cable Office.” It was also the listening post for Canadian army intelligence during the First World War.
Tearing it down is easy. Half-a-day and it’s down. Just like that. At least I’ll never have to tell the long-winded stories of its history and heritage anymore.
Ironic though, for such a derelict structure to attract so much fond and inquisitive attention by tourists from all over the world, to be photographed and admired by so many and suddenly being earmarked for demolition by the town. The easy way out!
There are alternatives to eventually save this valued heritage landmark.
George Butler Harbour Grace