There are al­ter­na­tives to de­mo­li­tion of Ri­d­ley Hall


Dear edi­tor,

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

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