Tag Archives: architecture

“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.  http://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/PlacesToGo/RyanPremisesNationalHistoricSite

Architectural History: For more information on The House:  http://www.heritage.nf.ca/society/rhs/rs_listing/196.html

Newfoundland architecture: From the Octagon Castle to the Fogo Island Inn

Archival Moment

August 18, 1898

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. E 19 - 31. Octagon Castle, Topsaiil.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. E 19 – 31. Octagon Castle, Topsail.

The world press  has in recent years been  fascinated by the construction and opening of the Fogo Island Inn, a milestone in the work of The Shorefast Foundation and its founder, visionary Zita Cobb. Following a successful career in the high technology industry, Cobb returned to Fogo Island, her birthplace, to invest millions.

In August 1898, the world press was fascinated by the Octagon Castle, Topsail.

Travel writers have throughout history made their way to Newfoundland and Labrador to comment on this place, governments over the years have been actively courting travel writers as part of their tourism strategy.

In 1898 there was much excitement with the news that J.C. Baker, the Art Editor of “The World”, was in travelling in Newfoundland and he was keen to write about this place.  In particular Baker was fascinated by Octagon Castle and its owner Professor Charles Danielle.

Baker wrote to Danielle to ask that he:

“Send me details on how and why you took up your life on the borders of that delightful lake, (Rocky Pond, Topsail) in the solitude of the wilderness; I think it would make an interesting article …”

“The World”  was at the time the most successful of the New York newspapers. In 1898 it was under the direction of Joseph Pulitzer who was in an aggressive era of circulation building. In 1896, the World began using a four-color printing press; it was the first newspaper to launch a color supplement.

Professor Danielle was excited about the possibility, J.C. Baker was requesting:

“Photos of yourself at present, and some of the old ones in costume, together with photos of Octagon castle exterior and interior?”

The local press, the Evening Telegram  was reporting:

“When a journal like the New York World, with a circulation of over 700,000, thinks it’s worthwhile to illustrate and publish the Professor’s enterprise, the latter must surely be a live man, and the Octagon, a most remarkable place…”

It was indeed a remarkable place.

Professor Danielle had previous to the Octagon Castle been best known for another building that he constructed the Oriental Palace, built on the north bank of Quidi Vidi in 1893. Although he named it the Royal Pavilion, in newspaper advertisement he described it as the “Magnificent Oriental Palace.” Its interior was decorated in oriental style.  Its ballroom accommodated 1,500 people; the kitchen had four large ranges and as his advertising said.

“The attendants will be attired in oriental costumes and in harmony with the general surroundings — that none but Danielle’s has ever yet gladdened the eyes of Newfoundland with.”

It appears that Professor Danielle had a difficult relationship with his landlord (Mr. Joe Ross) at Quidi Vidi and in a fit of anger disassembled the Palace, board by board and had it carted to Rocky Pond, now called Octagon Pond.  There, he reassembled the palace in octagon style and named it Octagon Castle. The castle was envisioned as a restaurant and resort. The main building was a true octagon shape, with eight sides. It was four stories in height, covered 3,750 square feet of land and enclosed 10, 880 square feet of floor space.

Octagon Castle soon became a popular resort for the pleasure-loving public of St John’s. Societies and clubs held their picnics there, and on holidays hundreds of excursionists flocked to the castle to enjoy the boating and other amenities. Once a year Danielle provided a day’s outing for orphans from the city. To publicize the place he issued pamphlets describing its attractions and even included a list of “don’ts” to prospective clients.

“Don’t bring flasks in your pockets; the Professor keeps Strang’s, Bennett’s, and Gaden’s best. . . . Don’t bring any growlers with you; they keep me awake nights. . . . I want to implore patrons again not to bring flasks and bottles with them, and break them around the grounds. I have buried broken bottles until I can’t get a whole angle worm to catch a trout, they are all cut up in bits.”

Many stories have grown up around the proprietor of the Octagon Castle. One describes him lamenting the state of his health early in May 1901 and predicting that in a year he would “be no more.” Exactly a year later he died.

Octagon Castle was destroyed by fire in 1915.

New – Old Word: Growler, a container (as a can or pitcher) for beer bought by the measure.

Recommended Archival Collection: Search the online database for descriptions of archival records at the Rooms and  view thousands of digital photographs. Click the image to begin your search.  https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections

Recommended Reading:  Dictionary of Canadian Biography: http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=6657&terms=created

Recommended corner of the World:   Find yourself in one of the four corners of the earth: http://www.fogoislandinn.ca/