The unique and striking architecture of Newfoundland has served to draw many tourists to the province. The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador has long recognized and been an advocate of architectural heritage as an important factor in the preservation of Newfoundland’s cultural identity. The preservation of individual structures is crucial to the tourist industry, and the economic well being of communities.
Architectural heritage is not only of value to economic growth, it also contributes to social survival. If the value of what our ancestors built and the documentation of the skills used in constructing these buildings are recognized, then Newfoundland heritage in our Canadian society will be further enhanced.
Preserving our Past
Many people are drawn towards our beautiful old buildings and we, as Newfoundlanders, feel a strong pride that goes along with the wood and nails. The preservation of Newfoundland folk architecture in recent years has received deserving attention. In Bonavista, for example, the community college has developed a heritage carpentry course. Students learn how to reconstruct heritage houses, and as a result they are also enriched with the art of making traditional furniture. In Trinity, a number of local carpenters have revived the making of traditional windows and have created a market for these products throughout the province. Also, an inventory of Newfoundland folk homes is being compiled as part of a strategy to preserve Newfoundland’s architectural heritage.
Due to the lifestyles of early Newfoundlanders, many of their houses were built upon hillsides and cliffs by the sea. This would allow for easy access to the water for fishing. This posed a problem for the fishermen since building on a steep incline was risky business. The houses were unstable and in heavy rains, very unpredictable. In 1973, a mud slide caused by heavy rains swept four houses built along a hillside into the harbour. Four children died that night. This is a dark side of Newfoundland folk architecture; our houses are subject to harsh environmental conditions.
A distinguishing feature of the majority of houses in Newfoundland is their wooden construction. The reason for this goes back to the seventeenth century. When settlers first landed on our shores they could not ignore the abundance of lumber around them. The style at the time in Europe was to build with lumber so these New World settlers also built their houses of wood.
Availability of wood was not the only reason why they chose lumber as the best material. Building a stone or brick house required a great deal of time and money, neither of which was available to most settlers. To build a stone or brick house required special skills and many months of dry warm weather which Newfoundland does not always enjoy. As well, bricks had to be shipped from England in order to have them as a building material. Stone was not an acceptable building material either, because the settlers would have to locate and operate an accessible quarry.