Author Archives: Larry Dohey

Opera House in St. John’s


July 26, 1888

Advertisement: The Telegram, St. John’s, July 23, 1888.

There was much excitement in St.  John’s on Thursday, July 26, 1888   with the official opening of a “City Opera House.”

Throughout the week the local newspapers were advertising the highly anticipated opening with bold headlines that proclaimed   “A Grand Artistic Opening.”  The advertisements encouraged residents of St. John’s

“to reserve their tickets during the day, at J.W. Foran’s  Confectionary Store, Atlantic Hotel Building to avoid the crush at the Ticket office.”

The Tickets did not come cheap!!

Admission for Reserved Seats (Dress Circle) 75 cents; Orchestra Chairs, 50 cents; Gallery Chairs, 30 cents; Parquette, 20 Cents  and  the luxury  of a box seat a whopping $6.00.

The proprietor of the Opera House was the St. John’s businessman J.W. Foran who was well established at the J.W. Foran Confectionary Store in the Atlantic Hotel Building.  In his advertisements he stated:

“The proprietor of the city opera house (Mr. J. W. Foran) seeing the great want of a place of musical and dramatic talent, of which the rising generation have not had the advantage of hearing or seeing, has suited the opera house with all modern improvements, suitable for the production of entertainments of the very highest order – thus giving the people o St. John’s an opportunity of hearing some of the best musical talent in America. The establishment of such a space means a very large outlay, and it is to be hoped that the public will give it that substantial support which will warrant its permanency. The season will commence with the famous San Francisco Minstrels”

This talented group from San Francisco was under the management of Charles L. Howard. Engaged for a limited season only, the cost of transportation alone was nearly one thousand dollars. Before each performance, a Grand Balcony Serenade was to be given by the Silver Cornet Band.

Reviews of the performances during the following week stated that the

“minstrel’s are nightly drawing large and respectable audiences. They have advanced considerably in the estimation of our people since their first appearance which did not give the satisfaction anticipated and are steadily increasing in popularity.”

This was the first Opera House in St. John’s, but was not the first opera.

The first opera performed in Newfoundland, Thomas Linley’s The Duenna; or the Double Elopement, was presented in May 20, 1820 as a benefit for the victims of the great fire of 1817.   The Duenna is a three-act comic opera, was considered one of the most successful operas ever staged in England. Lord George Byron called it “the best opera ever written”).

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives take some time to look at MG 343.1  the script for Patience: a new & original aesthetic  an opera  written by W.S. Gilbert, Composed by Arthur Sullivan , 12 Apr. 1883. Item consists of Opera that was “given in aid of the poor by a number of amateur ladies and gentlemen at the Star of the Sea Hall, St. John’s”.

Recommended Virtual Exhibit:  How did a young girl from  an outport community on the  northeast coast of  Newfoundland gain  international recognition on  the stages of the world?




A tiff over fashion, what to wear to church on Sunday?


July 23, 1854

What will I wear to mass?

Edward Morris, the Manager of the Newfoundland Savings Bank in St. John’s, Newfoundland in his diary for July 23, 1854 wrote that he had a wee tiff with his wife  (Katherine Howley) it appears she was not happy with him, she was in fact so displeased with him that she refused to go to church with him.

Edward wrote in his dairy:

“Mrs Morris went to 8 o’clock mass at the Cathedral (now Basilica) giving as a reason for going early that she had no decent dress to appear in at a more fashionable hour.”

The 8 o’clock mass tended to be the mass that the kitchen maids, scullery cooks, chamber maids, house maids, sewing maids  and  the other servants attended.  The staff would all  get up early,  attend the mass, and be home before their employers and their families got up.

There was no compromise, Edward insisted that he was going to the regular 10 o’clock mass, he was not concerned about the latest clothing fashions.

Edward was quite pleased that he did attend this particular mass and no doubt delighted in reminding his wife  that  during the celebration he was  witness to a great deal of history.


He wrote:

 Went to mass myself where the Bishop  (Mullock) consecrated two Bells part of the intended chime one the largest dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The other & smaller to St Patrick the Patron Saint of Ireland …The Bishop having consecrated the Bells ascended the pulpit and explained the ceremony.”


Edward also observed that:

“Today (July 23, 1854) the figures of the four evangelists were all fixed up in their places.”   

The statues of the four evangelists, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke andSt. John are located some thirty feet above the floor  of  the Cathedral. These are of Italian workmanship. They are of marble and are slightly larger than life-size. Each evangelist is shown with his appropriate symbol: St. Matthew with a child; St. Mark with a lion; St. Luke with an ox; and St. John with an eagle.


It was not only the evangelists that found their place in the Cathedral on July 23, 1854. Mr. Morris also noted:

“And the nuns (Presentation Sisters)  for the first time occupied the gallery appropriated to them behind the high altar.”

The  gallery is now  situated  behind a grilled window set in the east wall of the apse. From the small room behind this window, the Sisters of the Presentation can participate in the Parish Masses.

Recommenced Reading; Biographical Sketch on Edward Morris:

Recommended Archival Collection:   At the Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese: The Edward Morris Diaries:  Edward Morris was a businessman, politician, and office-holder; born in 1813 in Waterford (Republic of Ireland), son of Simon Morris. In  1852  Edward married Katherine Howley ofSt  John’s.

Recommended Virtual Exhibit: From Cornerstone to Cathedral- History of the Basilica Cathedral, St. John’s.

“Emily, you have not been forgotten …”



July 18, 1912

Emily Day headstone, Forest Road Anglican Cemetery, St. John’s

On the 100th Anniversary of the death of Emily Day (July 18, 2012) a wreath was laid on her grave by a family that remembers the great sacrifice that she made to save the life of a child.

Little is known about Emily Day other than she was a domestic servant working in the community of Tilt Cove on the Baie Verte peninsula for the William Cunningham Family.  William held a number of positions in the community including serving as Justice of the Peace, the telegrapher and customs officer.

On March 11, 1912 an avalanche struck two houses in Tilt Cove built at the head of the cove at the foot of a steep slope, one belonging to Mr. Francis Williams, manager of the Cape Copper Company, and the other belonging to a Mr. William Cunningham.

The Cunningham house was swept off its foundation and Emily Day the family servant was thrown across the kitchen. She had three year-old Edward Cunningham in her arms, protecting him against the weight of the snow. Unfortunately she was buried, jammed against the hot kitchen stove, by the time she was dug out, two hours later, she was very severely burnt. Edward was only slightly injured with minor burns.  Her loving embrace had saved his life.

Emily was sent to the St. John’s General Hospitial  under the care of Dr. Knight where she succumbed to her injuries and died on July 18.  Her act of heroism to save the child garnered her some public attention in the last few months of her life.  The Girl’s Friendly Society (GFS)  an organization of domestic servants in the city were so impressed  that upon her death they commissioned the erection of a  headstone  on her grave in the Anglican Cemetery on Forest Road, St. John’s. It headstone reads:

Erected by the Girl’s Friendly Society and others  to the memory of Emily Day, aged 29 years who died July 18, 1912 from injuries received  while saving the life of a child in the Tilt Cove Avalanche.  Greater Love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends.”

The  descendants of the Cunningham’s knew the story about the servant girl – but they never knew her name until  seeing her name in print in an ‘Archival Moments’  posting. ( See

On the 100th Anniversary of her death Judy Powell of Calgary  (her  maternal grandfather,  Cecil Cunningham was 15 at the time of the avalanche, it was his younger brother Edward who was saved)  arranged for a wreath to be placed at the grave to remember, the woman who gave up her life to embrace the life of a child.

 “I just wanted to make a gesture on behalf of our families to show that she is not forgotten, I’ve just never been able to get her out of my mind. This is a small gesture of remembrance from our families. ” Powell said.

Powell never knew her great-uncle, but has an idea how her grandfather would view the wreath-laying.

A card on the wreath laid one hundred years to the day of Emily’s death read:

 “Emily you have not been forgotten by the family whose child you saved  – Edward Cunningham. Ever remembered by the Cunningham’s, Powell’s, and Goodman’s.

Recommended Archival Collection:  The Rooms is home  to a number of photographs detailing life in the mining community of  Tilt Cove and images of the avalanche.

Recommended Reading:  Killer Snow, Avalanches in Newfoundland by David Liverman., Flanker Press,St. John’s, 2007.


Burials within the city limits, forbidden


July 15, 1849


Photo Credit: City of St. John’s Archives: Sketch of Long’s Hill, St. John’s, 1831 by Major John Oldfield

On July 15, 1849 a Proclamation was issued by Governor, Sir J, Gaspard LeMarchant  of Newfoundland“forbidding any more burials  within  the city limits  of St. John’s. The Governor was responding to the fears of town residents that epidemics such as cholera were resulting from the internment of the dead in the town.  The argument was that as bodies of the newly interred decomposed in the town cemeteries, their diseases were seeping into the wells that were the source of the water supply for the town.

Governor, Sir J.Gaspard LeMarchant  argued:

 “as a very obvious method of improving the sanitary conditions of this town, (St. John’s) I recommend having an act passed prohibiting  any internments in the limits of this town….”

Discontent about the state of cemeteries within the boundaries of the town of St. John’sbegan to surface after the Great Fire of June 1846.  One of the results of the fire of 1846 was that all of the fences in the city were burnt, allowing all animals to roam the town.

The Journal of the House of Assembly on July 14, 1846 stated:

Troops of starving dogs, infesting the town have become dangerous  as well as to the living as to the dead, they have commenced desecrating the tombs  of the cemetery …. And may be seen gnawing the bones of those who have been buried …. Pigs and goats infest in great numbers …. And the gravestones and monuments of the deceased are daily violated.”

Prior to the proclamation of the new law three cemeteries in St. John’s  were in use by the different religious denominations.  They were the Church of England Cemetery in the church yard of the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist which borders on Duckworth Street, Church Hill, Cathedral Street and Gower Street. It is estimated that there are about 6000 people buried there.

The two other cemeteries serving the town were the Roman Catholic Cemetery on Long’s Hill, that served as a cemetery from 1811-1849   and the Wesleyan Cemetery on the corner of Gower and Queen’s Road.

Today, there is little evidence to show  the locations of these sacred grounds where many of our ancestors were interred.

It appears that in 1849 that the churches had some notice that the cemeteries in the town would be closed and that internments would have to take place on “the outskirts of the town.” A few months before the proclamation was signed the Catholic Church purchased a large tract on land, far out on the outskirts of the town on Kennas Hill near Quidi Vidi Lake now known as Mount Carmel Cemetery.

The Catholics also began to use a parcel of land “out in the country” on what is now Newtown Road and Empire Avenue now known as Belvedere Cemetery.

The Church of England or Anglican Church opted for a parcel of land also on the outskirts of the town, on Quidi Vidi Lake,  in the shadow of Her Majesty Penitentiary that was still in the process of construction in 1859.

The Wesleyan  (now United Church)  for their cemetery had property in the country on Waterford Bridge Road.

The city has grown!

Recommended  Archival Collection:  All of the churches have established archives that hold detailed  records that will help you locate the grave site of a loved one buried in the cemeteries in this province.  Unfortunately the archives for the Long’s Hill cemetery  were lost in the fire of 1846.

2017 St. John’s Cemetery  Mass and or Flower Schedule

Mount Pleasant Monday, July 3rd 7:00 pm

Kilbride Tuesday, July 4th 7:00 pm

Mount Carmel Tuesday, July 11th 7:00 pm

Kenmount Road Wednesday, July 12th 7:00 pm

General Protestant Monday, July 17th 7:00 pm

Belvedere Tuesday, July 18th 7:00 pm

Presentation (Goulds) Tuesday, July 18th 7:00 pm

St. Matthew’s (Goulds) Tuesday, July 18th 7:45 pm

St. Joseph’s (Petty Hr) Wednesday, July 19th 7:00 pm

Forest Road Wednesday, July 19th 7:00 pm

Holy Sepulchre Tuesday, July 25th 7:00 pm

St. Kevin’s (Goulds) Thursday, July 27th 7:00 pm

St. George’s (Petty Hr) Sunday, July 30th 2:30 pm

Salvation Army Sunday, August 6th 3:00 pm

Chinese Community Sunday, August 6th 1:00 pm

Holy Trinity (Bay Bulls) Sunday, August 13th 2:00 pm








The Great Fire of 1892: Panel Discussion


July 8, 1892   

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: B4-49; St. John’s East in ruins folloing the Great Fire. (note the Basilica in the background)

Late in the afternoon of 8 July 1892, a small fire broke out in a St. John’s stable on Freshwater Road after a lit pipe or match fell into a bundle of hay. Although containable at first, the flames quickly spread due to dry weather conditions.  Within hours, the fire had destroyed almost all of St. John’s.

The fire burned into the night and did not end until about 5:30 the following morning.  Many people camped out in Bannerman Park or on property surrounding the Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica), which was one of the few buildings the fire did not destroy.

As the sun rose on 9 July, more than two-thirds of St. John’s lay in ruins and 12,000 people were homeless; many had lost everything they owned, except the clothes they were wearing.

One of the accounts written about the fire was penned by W.J. Kent   who wrote:

“All the arteries which led from the water to the higher portions of the town were crowded with the terrorised mob and the screams and cries of the women mingled with the wailing of children, the shouts intensified by the ever-freshening masses of livid fire and the glare of the burning buildings, contributed to make a scene the like of which it is not often given to the lot of many to witness…. Few there were who closed their eyes that night.”

Four persons were burned to death.  The devastation that struck the city was recorded by one of the priests on staff at the R.C. Cathedral (the Basilica) who wrote on Sunday July 10, 1892”

 “There was no publications today in consequence of the great calamity that has happened in our city on Friday evening and night, when the best part of St. John’s east was entirely destroyed by fire which caused such a panic that everyone is excited and frightened and nearly 12, 000 persons are left homeless, over 2000 houses were burned besides stores, wharfs…”

At the Last Mass, Father Scott preached a very touching sermon about the fire and those who were its sufferers from its effects.  Four persons were burned to death, namely:

Mrs. Catherine Stevens    }lived on Meeting House Hill

Her daughter Louisa Stevens

And the servant girl – name not known

Also Miss Catherine Molloy, Bulley’s Lane, and elderly girl not married



The Great Fire of 1892

Rev. Moses Harvey at  St. Andrews Free Presbyterian Church on the day following the fire walked about the city, he presents a similar description of the devastation and plight of the victims of the fire.

“The next morning I took a walk around the awful scene of devastation. It was heart-rending. Nothing visible for a mile from Devon Row but chimneys and fallen and tottering walls. The thick smoke, from the smouldering ruins still filled the air… The wrecks of the fanes of religion stood out, then [sic] broken walls pointing heavenward, as if in mournful protest against the desecration that had been wrought.

And the poor inhabitants, where were they? It made the heart ache to see the groups of men, women and children, with weary, blood-shot eyes and smoke begrimed faces, standing over their scraps of furniture and clothing — some of them asleep on the ground from utter exhaustion — all with despondency depicted on their faces. They filled the park and grounds around the city. Many hundreds escaped with nothing but the clothes they wore… .”

Presentation: The history and consequences of the Great Fire 
Location: The Rooms,Theatre
Date: Sunday, July 9, 2017
Time: 2:00pm – 3:30pm
Cost: Included with the cost of admission

Join panelists Larry Dohey, Emily Campbell, Charles Henley, and moderator Jason Sellars for a lively discussion of the history and consequences of the Great Fire of 1892. Stay after the discussion for an interactive imagination session in partnership with the City of St. John’s and The Rooms.


Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’ on this subject? Type “Great Fire” in the search bar here:



“More money than Dan Ryan”

Archival Moment

July 6, 1934

“The House”
(Rennie’s Mill Road and Monkstown Road, St. John’s)

Daniel Ryan was born in 1851, the son of Michael Ryan and Mary Ellen Fleming   and was at the time of his death on July 6, 1934 considered one of the wealthiest men in Newfoundland.  The other person of considerable financial wealth was his brother James.

Dan and his older brother James established a salt fish firm at King’s Cove in 1875 under the masthead, James Ryan & Company. Dan moved there to manage the operation and eventually became sole proprietor. James also established a separate firm at Trinity in 1906 in partnership with Dan known as Ryan Brothers.  The firm’s chief goal was to profit from supplying Trinity   involved in the Labrador fishery.

In 1895 the two firms known as James Ryan, Bonavista, and James Ryan and Company, King’s Cove, exported nearly 100,000 quintals of codfish, approximately ten percent of Newfoundland’s total exports for the year.

Dan Ryan’s wealth has given rise to the Newfoundland expression “more money than Dan Ryan” or some variation.

Over the years fishing methods changed and ways of preserving the catch improved. As the quick freezing of fish became more popular in the 20th century, the salt fish trade declined. In the years following the Second World War, the Ryan family continued to take fish, but decided to put more emphasis on other aspects of their business, primarily the retail store. The company took its last salt fish in 1952 and eventually closed its doors in 1978, ending an era.

In St. John’s, the Ryan Brother’s are remembered for the construction of a property known simply as “The House,” built between 1909 -1911.  It was considered to be the most extravagant and modern for its time, theRyan Mansion featured the first telephone switchboard system, a fresh air exchange system, a main floor kitchen, and a carriage house built to house the first motor vehicle inSt. John’s. Oral tradition has it that this motor vehicle contraption arrived 3 months before there was fuel in the city to power it so James and family would sit in the vehicle while neighbours looked on.

Dan Ryan who left a portion of his estate to the Roman Catholic Church has his memory preserved  on a column in the west transept in the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.   A tablet to the memory of the Hon. Daniel A. Ryan.

The inscription reads as follows:

to the memory of
Hon. Daniel A. Ryan
Knight Commander, Order of St. Gregory
A Benefactor of the Cathedral
Died July 6, 1934
Requiescat in Pace

Recommended Archival Collection:  James Ryan Limited (Bonavista) fonds, Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Architectural  History: Ryan Premises National Historic Site of Canada, Bonavista; Lester-Garland Premises Provincial Historic Site,  Trinity, purchased in 1906 by the Ryan Brothers from the Lester-Garlands.

Architectural History: For more information on The House:

Memorial Day at The Rooms.


July 1, 1916

Meet descendants of the men and women who served their country 100 years ago.

Memorial Day at The Rooms.
Date: Saturday, July 1st, 2017
Time: 12:00pm – 5:00pm


NA 3106 Opening of the Newfoundland Memorial Park, Beaumont Hamel, France

July 1st is a time for celebration for the people of Canada, in Newfoundland and Labrador, the day has a more somber meaning.

Memorial Day commemorates the participation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in the Battle of the Somme at Beaumont-Hamel, France.

On July 1, 1916, 801 members of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment fought in that battle and only 68 answered the roll call the next morning.

 “We here in Newfoundland have felt the effects of the war… The  dreadful reality of war has come to too many families throughout the land. And there are very few districts in the Island which are not mourning… sons lost on the field of battle. The war is an all absorbing topic, it is never absent from our thoughts. It is like some dreadful nightmare that we cannot shake off. Our prayers and desires are for a speedy end of the war, for an early peace, but for a peace at the same time, which will render impossible another such world calamity as that which we are suffering now.” (Source:  Edward Patrick Roche, 1918  – 107‑2‑6)

Shortly after the Great War, the Government of Newfoundland purchased the ground over which the 1st Newfoundland Regiment made its heroic advance on July 1. Much of the credit is due to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Nangle. As Director of Graves Registration and Enquiry and Newfoundland’s representative on the Imperial War Graves Commission, he negotiated with some 250 French landowners for the purchase of the site. He had a leading part in planning and supervising the erection, at each of the five Newfoundland Memorials sites in Europe, of a statue of the noble caribou, the emblem of the Regiment, standing facing the former foe with head thrown high in defiance.

Memorial Day at The Rooms.
Date: Saturday, July 1st, 2017
Time: 12:00pm – 5:00pm

Cost:  Free Admission

Spend some time in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery to meet descendants of the men and women who served their country 100 years ago. Hear their stories and share your own. Come speak to Ean Parsons, whose grandmother Margaret Taylor served in the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Or chat with Cheryl Stacey whose grandfather Sergeant Anthony James Stacey was a runner during the battle at Beaumont-Hamel and witnessed it all. Hear many more heart-warming and heart-breaking stories like theirs.

At 1pm, come sing along in our Instant Choir brought to us by Growing Their Voices: Festival 500. Julia Halfyard and Peter Halley will teach us a song from The Great War and we will perform ‘live’ for facebook.

At 3pm, head to our theatre for a free screening of When the Boys Came Home – a documentary retracing the footsteps of the Blue Puttees from the streets of St. John’s to Gallipoli, France, Belgium and home again. When the Boys Came Home reveals the workaday and internal battles that the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s Blue Puttees waged after the First World War.

With free admission for the day, we hope many will join us in Memorial Day commemorations with a visit to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery.

Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’ on this subject? Type  Newfoundland Regiment   in the search bar here:

Lest we Forget!