The tale of a house
Before Veterans Memorial Highway was built, I drove hundreds if not thousands of times by Newfoundland House, the residence of former Premier Joseph Smallwood and his wife, Clara, on their daughter’s farm on Roaches Line. I often wished I could go inside the building, if for no other reason than to see Joey’s personal library which, I had heard, was enormous.
One of my closest contacts with Joey was in 1981, when I interviewed him about a boyhood heroine. However, that was in his office in St. John’s, not his home on Roaches Line.
Now, thanks to Robert Mellin’s book, “Newfoundland Modern: Architecture in the Smallwood Years 19491972,” I can vicariously visit Newfoundland House.
Using over 220 drawings and photographs, Mellin presents the development of architecture in the years immediately following Newfoundland’s union with Canada in 1949.
According to the publisher’s advertising, “The province’s wholehearted embrace of modern architecture in this era affected planning as well as the design of cultural facilities, commercial and public buildings, housing,
Recent news has brought us some short clips of information that may not seem related to one another at first glance.
The new Kathy Dunderdale government wants to reorganize the fishery and run it “like a business.” To profit who?
The new Kathy Dunderdale government is continuing full steam ahead with plans to develop the Lower Churchill at Muskrat Falls. According to them, the outcry against the project is happening only because government hasn’t explained it well enough. Yet. They will try harder.
The new Kathy Dunderdale government is putting the finishing touches on their waste management plan that will see the closing of numerous local dumps. Instead garbage will be trucked vast distances to a few megadumps. This is supposed to be more efficient.
Last week another story broke about faulty lab testing in one of the province’s health districts. This time not Eastern, but Central Health. A large regional board created by amalgamating smaller local boards. Here too efficiency was the goal.
The “Occupy” movement that began in Europe and North Africa, then moved to Wall Street, where North Americans first paid it some attention, has begun to annoy powerful people who fear change. With varying levels of force, authorities are shutting down encampments in public places in cities around the world.
What do these short clips of seemingly unrelated information have to do with one another?
Our fishery, Muskrat Falls, mega recreation, educational facilities, and places of worship.” Joey “relied on modern architecture to demonstrate the progress made by his administration.”
Perhaps this is nowhere more evident that in the design and construction of Newfoundland House in 1959. Mellin refers to it as perhaps the “most significant residential project” completed by architects George W. Cummings and Angus J. Campbell.
Smallwood was, according to Mellin, “very proud of his house …
“The Smallwood Residence is very different from other houses constructed in Newfoundland in the late 1950s. There is a bold thrust to this house, which, because of its location, form and orientation, allowed Smallwood to keep watch over his rural domain.” garbage dumps and faulty health testing are all examples of how not to do things. The thinking behind them is described with stunningly accurate foresight in E.F. Schumacher’s 1973 best seller “Small is Beautiful. A Study of Economics As If People Mattered.”
The “Occupy” movement was predicted by Schumacher. According to him, it — or something like it — would be the direct consequence of governments failing to take into account that people do matter.
“The fundamental questioning of conventional values by young people all over the world is a symptom of the widespread unease with which our industrial civilization is increasingly regarded.”
This was in 1973, following closely on the turbulent 60s. According to Schumacher, if there was not a fundamental change in the way governments managed the impact of development on the population, the results would be apocalyptic “the downfall of civilization will not be a matter of science fiction. It will be the experience
Newfoundland House has “freestanding, triangular corner piers with open breezeways behind them, eaves with raked profiles, and sloped roofs with deep eaves.”
Earlier, I said I would have liked to see Joey’s personal library. Mellin continues, “special bookshelves, some with sliding doors for storage below and others angled for display, were custom-made by the carpenters who built the house. Smallwood had so many books he had to stack them two-deep on the shelves. While traveling in England he would visit antique bookstores, and he would ship books by the crate-load back to Newfoundland. Joey Smallwood was the collector, and his wife was the curator. All the books were catalogued and tagged.”
Mellin includes 17 photos and drawings of Newfoundland House and environs. In one photo, which forms the frontispiece to the book, Joey is at his house, his right hand resting on a few of his favourite things — books.
Mellin leaves no stone unturned in his discussion of Newfoundland House. The photos and drawings are evocative of Joey’s penchant for pas- of our children and grandchildren.”
Schumacher’s view is that growth and development should be realized at a human scale. If your goal is a project of a grand scale, the best way to achieve it is by assembling numerous smaller pieces that are understandable to individuals. A builder can participate in the construction of a huge building by concentrating on the importance of laying each brick correctly, one at a time.
As Schumacher puts it, “There is wisdom in smallness if only on account of the smallness and patchiness of human knowledge, which relies on experiment far more than understanding.” toral landscapes. There are elevation drawings and floor plans. There are photos of the main staircase to the basement, tiles above the living room fireplace, corner window details, even carpenters for the Smallwood Residence.
The author notes the structure “eventually became controversial” for Joey. “Around the time Smallwood left office in 1972, difficulties arose over contributions he had received from contractors and other companies for the construction of some parts of his house.
“One example is the addition of an enclosed swimming pool, which was paid for by Chesley Crosbie’s company NECCO (Newfoundland Engineering and Construction Company). Until the late 1960s, there were no secrets about similar contributions that Crosbie and others made to Smallwood’s premises, since this was just the way things were done at the time.
“To defuse a possible scandal, Smallwood sold the Smallwood Residence to the provincial government for one dollar, but there was a covenant that Smallwood could still live there despite the change of own-
He added: “The greatest danger invariably arises from the ruthless application, on a vast scale, of partial knowledge such as we are currently witnessing in the application of nuclear energy, of the new chemistry in agriculture, of transportation technology, and countless other things.”
There is only one reason Schumacher didn’t include Muskrat Falls in this list. He died in 1977.
In addition to the scale of physical projects, there is the tyranny of institutions that are so huge that ordinary people can’t understand the reasoning behind the decisions they are making. Some of these institutions include fish processing companies, giant energy ership. During Frank Moore’s administration, Smallwood wanted the government to find an alternate use for the house as a museum or similar facility, but to no avail. Later still, during Clyde Wells’s administration, the government gave the house back to Smallwood, but Smallwood had no money for its necessary repairs …
“In the end, this jet of a house outlasted the boundless energies of its owner.”
Incidentally, if you are interested in learning all about the design and construction of Carbonear Regional Hospital, Mellin deals with this in one of his later chapters. The architect “reached beyond consideration of function and cost to address the qualitative and therapeutic aspects of hospital design.”
“Newfoundland Modern: Architecture in the Smallwood Years 19491972” is published by Mcgill-queen’s University Press in the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation Studies in Art History Series. corporations, regional health boards, and waste management organizations. To this could be added political parties, private contractors and the stock market.
Schumacher felt that not only should the elements making up a large project or organization be as small as is possible, but the lines of communication within it should be as short as practical. This would lead to the clearest communication within, and a more ready acceptance by citizens at large.
Schumacher was an optimist. He developed his philosophy of economics to show how things could be improved. He would naturally assume that an organization, let’s take for example a provincial government, truly wants the public to understand what it is doing and why. But what if that is not the case? What if, on the contrary, the provincial government, and I repeat, I am just using it as an example, doesn’t really want the people to know what it is up to? Why bother explaining? The people wouldn’t get it anyway.
How would Schumacher react to that? The name Schumacher is German for shoemaker. He might break into verse.
“There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do;
She gave them some broth, without any bread,
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.”
DEPENDABLE DELANEY — Keith Delaney of the Conception Bay North Ceebee Stars waits for a pass near his team’s bench during a game Nov. 19 against the Mount Pearl Blades at the S. W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace. Delaney picked up one assist in a 4- 3 loss to the Blades, but has been on a torrid pace so far this season. Heading into action t h i s p a s t we e kend, Delaney had wracked up four goals and nine assists ( 13 points) through the first six games of the season, putting him fourth in l e a g u e s c o r i n g. H i s younger brother, Ryan Delaney, was second in team scoring with 10 points.