Owner worried about Ridley Offices
Ridley Offices owner worried about historic property’s future
The Ridley Offices building in Harbour Grace was built in 1838 and is one of the few structures still standing in the community to have survived the massive fire of 1844. Its owner is worried about the property’s future due to ongoing marine activity in the Point of Beach area.
For almost 180 years, the Ridley Offices building has stood at Point of Beach, even surviving the massive fire of 1844 that wiped out most of Harbour Grace.
But the owner of the Registered Heritage Structure believes ongoing industrial activity that surrounds the brick-andstone property is having an adverse effect on it, and she worries a proposed marine industrial park could make matters worse.
Rhonda Parsons, who purchased the Ridley Offices in 2005, claims vibrations caused by Harbour Grace Ocean Enterprises’ (HGOE) shipbuilding and ship repair activities have damaged her property.
“You really could not put a coffee cup down on the counter,” she told The Compass in a recent interview.
Cracked windows, cracked cabinet glass and compromised mortar are among the issues she links to the industrial activity that surrounds her property. The Compass observed this damage during a recent visit to the property, though it could not independently verify what caused it.
“I’m not opposed to the business,” said Parsons, whose family has roots in Harbour Grace. “I’m opposed to the practices. I had endured two years in a row where they did shipbreaking adjacent to this building, and I had sustained damage.”
Industrial activity is nothing new to that particular area. According to HGOE operations manager Wayne Reid, the local shipyard facility has been in place since the 1970s, with shipbuilding and ship repair activity in the Point of Beach area dating all the way back to the 19th century.
“If you’re gong to tell the story, you’ve got to put the facts in it, and she has no facts,” Reid told The Compass last week. “It was all tested. Everything we did was approved by Environment, Occupational Health and Safety, Service NL, the Town of Harbour Grace. We do everything by the book.”
With respect to shipbreaking, Reid said the company conducts a controlled tip that uses excavators to hold a ship while stands are removed from the sides. Heavy tires are placed on the ground for the ship to land on.
“It’s not a drop — it’s a controlled tip,” he said, estimating there have been four or five instances where this process took place at the shipyard since Reid started working there in 2002.
Parsons has previously spoken with the company’s safety inspector and lodged complaints with multiple govern- ment departments. Reid confirms those same departments have contacted HGOE at various points, but no actual problems with the company’s operations were identified.
“She made many complaints. Every one of them were investigated by whatever department. None of them came up with anything (to match what) she’s saying,” he said.
As for the proposed marine industrial park, which would stretch out east from Point of Beach to the edge of the Conception Bay Museum, Parsons believes the project is at odds with the town’s Registered Heritage District. As designated in 1992, the district starts at Point of Beach and continues along Water Street to the Catholic cathedral.
“We really are at odds with each other when it comes to the type of work that’s being done there presently, and although this (area) has a history of shipbuilding, it’s nothing compared to what it was then as to what they’re doing right now,” she said.
SNC-Lavalin’s feasibility study prepared for the Town of Harbour Grace notes that municipal development regulations in the town stipulate that “any development adjacent or within 30 metres of historical sites or areas are reviewed to ensure there are no negative effects on these properties.”
The Heritage Division of the Department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development is among the provincial and federal government departments and agencies that must sign off on site layout and land use for the proposed project.
Reid, who also serves on the committee for the marine industrial park project, believes there should always remain a place for Ridley Offices in the Point of Beach area.
“It would be a crime for that house to go. It’s been there since the 1800s. In my best opinion, (the owner) should use it as an office or rent it out to a naval architect — someone in the marine industry who fits with this area.”
However, Parsons believes it may be in the property’s best interest to move it elsewhere, noting she has come across a company in Ontario that can handle the job. She also has no interest in selling the property.
“I have been approached by the town on a number of occasions to sell, but once I sign on the dotted line, it will be the demise of this building,” said Parsons, who also worries her property may one day become expropriated.
Reid told The Compass there has been no discussion on the industrial park committee about getting rid of the Ridley Offices.
Fish and seal merchant Thomas Ridley was the original owner of the Ridley Offices and its companion residential property on Water Street, Ridley Hall (a fire destroyed most of the latter property in 2003).
The Ridley Offices building at Point of Beach in Harbour Grace is 177 years old.
Wayne Reid is Harbour Grace Ocean Enterprises’ operations manager.
Rhonda Parsons purchased the Ridley Offices building in 2005.