Fam­ily Fire

For more than 100 years, Coadys have fanned forge flames and bent metal to their will. To­day, Ron Coady car­ries on the tra­di­tion.

The Telegram (St. John's) - - Family - BY SU­SAN FLANA­GAN

Sparks fly from a weld­ing torch in the shop at Coady’s Metal Works at 110 Lime St. where Ron Coady has worked for more than three decades. Ron, a fourth-gen­er­a­tion black­smith, started as his fa­ther’s ap­pren­tice in 1972. This morn­ing, Ron is busy work­ing on a sign frame for a store front. Two other em­ploy­ees work full time in the shop while Jo Coady keeps the of­fice run­ning smoothly up­stairs.

Plas­tic milk crates full of cast iron fleur de lys fence top­pers line one wall, while custom iron chairs, fire­place grates and a spi­ral stair­case greet cus­tomers im­me­di­ately as they en­ter. A card­board cut-out of a dove has set­tled atop the may­hem, rem­i­nis­cent of a time when churches were the main­stay of Coady’s busi­ness.

In­deed, in the past, the ma­jor­ity of Coady’s con­tracts were main­te­nance work for churches and the school board, as well as grap­nels, hooks and hakapiks for the fish­ing and seal­ing in­dus­tries. In fact, says Ron, there was a time when the forge was go­ing non-stop. Al­though the forge is not stoked ev­ery day now, Ron still does his fair share of forge work.

“Now we do mainly custom fabri­ca­tion for pri­vate res­i­dences. We work with land­scape ar­chi­tects. Ba­si­cally any­thing in iron, alu­minium or stain­less steel, we’ll tackle,” he says. “ We’re not re­ally in com­pe­ti­tion with the big­ger com­pa­nies do­ing in­dus­trial work. We stay small in our work.”

Ron, whose work can be seen all through the city, from fences and handrails on pri­vate homes to gates on com­mer­cial busi­nesses on Wa­ter Street, says his favourite part of black­smithing is the de­sign work. “Pretty well ev­ery­where I look, I see my work,” says Ron, who has trou­ble think­ing of his all-time favourite piece.

“I take a great deal of pride in all my work,” he says with his con­ta­gious smile. “If I’m not happy with it, I don’t put it out there. I love the re­ac­tion of the cus­tomer when they see the fin­ished prod­uct.”

Flip­ping through the St. John’s Yel­low Pages, Ron re­veals 35 list­ings for welders but only one list­ing for a black­smith, his own. “ There’s fel­las do­ing (black­smith work) on the side, as a hobby,” he says, “ but we’re pretty well the last com­mer­cial forge in the city.”

That wasn’t the case a cen­tury ago when there were about a dozen ac­tive forges in St. John’s. Through­out the era of the horse and buggy, Coady’s went neck and neck with other firms like McGrath’s and Roche’s. Al­though they have changed lo­ca­tion at least four times, the Coadys have had a black­smith busi­ness in down­town St. John’s since 1883. A poster on the of­fice wall il­lus­trates the var­i­ous sites that Coady’s has oc­cu­pied through­out the down­town.

It all started in 1883 when William Coady left McGrath’s forge on the west side of Hill o’ Chips and set up his own black­smith shop across from what is now the Sir Humphrey Gil­bert Build­ing on Duck­worth Street.

William’s son, Thomas, joined the shop in 1901 when he was 11 years old. This was a time when horse-drawn car­riages lined the streets and Guglielmo Mar­coni was a com­mon face on down­town streets. Thomas stuck with his fa­ther for 11 years be­fore branch­ing out on his own in 1912 on the New Gower Street site of the cur­rent City Hall.

His­tory re­peated it­self when Thomas’s son, William (Bill), be­gan work­ing in his fa­ther’s shop in 1931. Thirty years later in 1961, he started Coady ’s Or­na­men­tal Iron Works Lim­ited on the site of Trap­per John’s Pub on Ge­orge Street.

In 1972, Bill changed lo­ca­tion, mov­ing fur­ther west on Ge­orge where the Con­ven­tion Cen­tre now sits. He called the new busi­ness Coady’s Metal Works, the same name it has to­day. Four years later he moved the busi­ness to Lime Street.

A big part of Bill’s work when he started was sharp­en­ing picks for the city. In the 1930s, city work­ers spent a lot of time dig­ging sewer lines and post holes, and thus went through a lot of picks in the run of a day.

The picks were too bulky and heavy for work­ers to carry around re­place­ments. To rem­edy this, the city is­sued their men lit­tle brass coins they could carry in their pock­ets. When they needed a new pick, they could go into any forge in the city and trade in their brass knock­out for a sharp­ened pick. At the end of ev­ery month, Bill would col­lect all the brass coins and bring them to City Hall with an in­voice.

In the ’ 30s and ’ 40s there were far fewer au­to­mo­biles nav­i­gat­ing the streets of St. John’s than there are to­day. Horse­drawn car­riages were the norm, and it was not un­com­mon for Coady’s to shoe 10,000 horses a year. Last year Bill’s son, Ron, shod one horse.

Bill, who passed away last fall at the age of 91, spent 66 years work­ing as a com­mer­cial black­smith. Right up un­til his death, he had a forge on his land in Tor­bay and in­sisted that his son, Ron, keep him abreast of all the work go­ing on in the work­shop on Lime Street.

With his fa­ther gone, Ron is proud to carry on the fam­ily tra­di­tion and has no plans to re­tire.

“I’ll be at it till the day I die,” he says.

— Photo by Joe Gib­bons/The Tele­gram

Ron Coady stands at his forge on Lime Street in St. John’s.

— Sub­mit­ted pho­tos

Thomas Coady’s Forge (top) on the site of what is now St. John’s City Hall. Thomas is the taller man with his hand in the air. His son, Bill, is the shorter. Above, Coady’s Metal Works’ cur­rent lo­ca­tion, on Lime Street, as it was in the 1940s. Note...

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