Tag Archives: Bannerman Park

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: http://gencat1.eloquent-systems.com/webcat/request/DoMenuRequest?SystemName=The+Rooms+Public&UserName=wa+public&Password=&TemplateProcessID=6000_3355&bCachable=1&MenuName=The+Rooms+Archives



The ruins of St. John’s watered with tears: The Great Fire


June 9, 1846

St. John’s previous to the fire of June 9, 1846

The origin of the fire, which broke out on  June 9, 1846, in St. John’s, has generally been attributed to the carelessness of a cabinet maker who lived on George Street.

By 7:00 p.m., when the fire had finally run its course, over 2,000 buildings had been burned and about 12,000 people, or 57 per cent of the town’s total population, left homeless. The total amount of property loss was estimated at £888,356.   Altogether, there were three casualties: one soldier died as a result of the demolition ordered on Water Street; one citizen collapsed while attempting to carry his possessions to safety; and one prisoner died in his cell when the gaol burnt. A few days after, two labourers clearing away ruins were killed by a falling wall.

Homeless Seek Shelter

On June 10, 1846 many of the 12,000 refugees from the fire could be found in make shift tents in this neighborhood (Fort Townshend) now the site of The Rooms. Others found shelter on the grounds of the new R.C. Cathedral (now Basilica) that was under construction, others in the area now called Bannerman Park on Military Road.

One of the Presentation Sisters  who stood witness as her convent and school (located on Long’s Hill)  burnt wrote:

“the ruins of our convent  (and St. John’s) were well watered with their tears.”

In the days following the fire the traditional resilience of Newfoundlanders  was well displayed. One of those present described the scene:

“The very next morning some of the citizens were at work excavating among the ruins of their dwellings  and preparing to erect temporary sheds, thousands were ruined, but everyone there was hopeful, determined that St. John’s would rise again …”

Recommended Archival Collection: What do we have in the ‘Rooms Archives’ on this subject? Type  Fire   in the search bar here: http://gencat1.eloquent-systems.com/webcat/request/DoMenuRequest?SystemName=The+Rooms+Public&UserName=wa+public&Password=&TemplateProcessID=6000_3355&bCachable=1&MenuName=The+Rooms+Archives

Recommended Reading: The Great St. John’s Fire of 1846 by Melvin Baker (c)1983 Originally published in the Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. LXXIX, no. 1 (Summer 1983) http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~melbaker/1846fire.htm

Recommended Archival Collection at the Provincial Archives in the Rooms:  MG 50.2:  Map of St. John’s, Newfoundland, showing all the buildings erected since the fire of the 9th of June 1846 from actual survey (MG 50.2)


“Open air skating” in Bannerman Park

Archival Moment

January 5, 1885

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: 1.27.015; Racing on Quidi Vidi Lake

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: 1.27.015; Racing on Quidi Vidi Lake

There has since the official opening of  “The Loop” in Bannerman Park on  December 24 , 2013 been much excitement about  “open air skating” in the city.  It is the talk of the town, there has in fact not been so much enthusiasm about ‘open air skating” since January 1885.

In January 1885 “three enterprising young men” recognized that “open air skating” might be an attractive proposition to offer to the citizens of St. John’s. They suggested that the good citizens of St. John’s would much prefer “open air skating to the tame monotonous round of Rink skating.”

The three men arranged to have “a wide avenue down and across Quidi Vidi Lake kept clear” that would be reserved for their skaters.  They also proposed erecting “a shed containing a stove” near the skating surface “where warm tea and coffee will be served.”

On January 5, 1885 the St. John’s newspaper, The Evening Telegram reported:

“We note that three enterprising young men are making arrangements to enclose with boughs and to keep swept clean during the winter a suitably spacious area of Ice in Quidi Vidi Lake, for skating purposes. Undoubtedly, this idea fills a universally felt want. Those who prefer open air skating to the tame monotonous round of Rink skating  are reckoned by the hundreds, and as a wide avenue down  and across the lake will be kept clear, we fully believe that the enterprise will receive large public patronage. A shed containing a stove will be erected near where warm tea and coffee will be served.”

One hundred and thirty two years later (132) in St. John’s  skaters have once again forsaken “the tame monotonous round of Rink skating”   and are now heading to Bannerman Park.

The new ice trail, loops through the centre of Bannerman Park and offers a unique skating experience in the heart of the city. It is designed for leisurely skating and is family friendly. Lighting also allows it to be used in the evenings.

Recommended Archival Collection: https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collectionsin the search bar type Bannerman Park

Recommended Site: Loop Schedule:http://www.stjohns.ca/public-advisory/bannerman-park-loop-scheduled-maintenance



Fire destroys Newfoundland landmark

Archival Moment

February 24, 1915

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

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

A celebrated architectural feature on the Newfoundland landscape, known locally as the ‘Octagon Castle’,  was destoyed by fire , on February 24, 1915. The St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported:

“… the Octagon Hotel … was completely destroyed by fire the cause of which is attributed to a defective chimney, … “

Built by the eccentric “Professor” Charles Danielle in 1896 the “castle”   was built in octagon style (eight sides) and named the Octagon Castle. The castle was envisioned as a restaurant and resort. 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.

It reached the height of its popularity in 1898 with the prestigious journal the New York World featuring the Castle in an article. The local St. John’s newspaper reported:

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

Known for his ‘big personality’ Danielle who was born in Baltimore, MD, died at his beloved Octagon Castle in May 1902. The man who laid claim to being a dancing teacher, costume maker, restaurateur, and resort owner was buried as he requested in a glass coffin in a complex and carefully-orchestrated ceremony.

Following his death the fortunes of the Castle diminished. Its success lay on the shoulders of the good Professor; his successor Mr. Poole did not have the same appeal.

Reporting on the fire The Evening Telegram reported:

“Mr. Poole the proprietor of the place visited the hotel which had been unoccupied since last fall and lighted a fire in the kitchen stove. He then went down to the ice house some 200 yards distant to inspect the winter’s cut of ice and upon his return noticed smoke issuing from the roof. He hurried to the scene but the house was filled with smoke and he was obliged to retreat, no water being at hand the flames spread rapidly and in less than an hour the building and most of its contents were consumed. All the bedding linen and other furnishings were destroyed as well as a piano that was in the ballroom the latter was insured for $250 but the other furnishings were not insured and the loss to Mr Poole is estimated at about $500 the building was owned by Mr. Fowlow of Trinity and was we understand insured.”

Archival Collection: The Rooms Provincial Archives is home to a small collection of photographs that show exterior and interior views of the Octagon Castle including a photograph of Professor Danielle’s coffin which was on display at Octagon Castle with “full instructions to be followed immediately after my death”.

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



A skating rink in Bannerman Park ?


July 31, 1882

1800_the-timid-pupilIn July 1882 the talk in St. John’s was all about the erection of a skating rink in Bannerman Park.  The rink under the management of the ‘Victoria Rink Company Limited‘ would replace the first rink that was established in the park (in the late 1860’s) that was destroyed by a fire in the early morning of July 16, 1878.

Some of the leading citizens in St. John’s were determined that the skating rink be built. On July 31, 1882 the St. John’s newspaper, The Telegram ran an advertisement that declared:

“ Victoria Rink Company Limited: Tenders will be received up to noon on 5 August for the erection of a skating rink in Bannerman Park. Plans and specifications to be seen at the Bowring Brothers Office. W. Parnell, Secretary”

Residents of St. John’s, in the day, had some fond memories of the Victoria Skating Rink in Bannerman Park located next to the Colonial Building on Military Road.  The Victoria, and its neighbor, the Avalon, built in 1870, were designed for winter sports such as skating and curling but most people associated the two buildings with the eccentric Professor Charles Henry Danielle.  Under his guidance, the Victoria Rink became the home of elaborate fancy-dress balls and ice carnivals. These balls were huge affairs. For one  ball the local papers reported  that

“near three thousand dollars’ worth of Costumes have been brought to the country (Newfoundland) to give the Ball. It has cost weeks of labour in classifying and fitting these costumes… “

The Professor (as he liked to be called) also created a large array of fancy-dress costumes which he rented and sold. These were stored in an adjacent building (The Avalon) to the Victoria Rink.

The idea of a new skating rink in Bannerman Park did not catch the imagination of the population another proposal for a ‘Curling and Skating Rink’ on the “Parade Grounds” (now the site of the Rooms and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) Headquarters) won the day. The Parade grounds Curling and Ice Rink opened in December 1882.

Skating in Bannerman Park was forgotten

In July 2013  (131 years  after the first proposal)  funding to establish a skating facility became a reality.

Today in the heart of the park, is a new ice skating trail, The Bannerman Loop aka “The Loop”. Named through a social media callout for suggested names at the request of its sponsor, Patron Donor Elinor Gill Ratcliffe and the Gill Ratcliffe Foundation, this ice trail is unique in both its presence in the city and its design. From October to April, many a day is now being spent skating with friends and family on this one-of-a-kind ice skating surface. In the warmer months, in-line skating and children cycling is the order of the day.

Professor Danielle is certain to be smiling on the Bannerman Foundation.

Recommended Reading: Stories About Bannerman Park: http://www.bannermanpark.ca/stories/

Recommended Action:  Support the Garden of Memories in Bannerman Park:  People who enjoy the park can contribute to the park‘s revitalization through by sponsoring various fixtures, flower gardens, and commemorative granite stones, which will be used for the pathways in the Garden. For more information: http://www.bannermanpark.ca/the-garden-of-memories-open-to-the-public/

Recommended to Listen: Lines On The Death Of Professor Danielle (Johnny Burke) http://www.wtv-zone.com/phyrst/audio/nfld/29/lines.htm

Do you have a story to tell about Bannerman Park?

Did Johnny Burke design Bannerman Park?

Archival Moment

May 9, 1891

Bannerman ParkOn April 11, 1891 the St. John’s Municipal Council posted in the Evening Telegram an advertisement (notice) inviting the people of the town to submit plans and specifications for the design of Bannerman Park.

The notice read:

“The Municipal Council being desirous of laying out the grounds of Bannerman Park in a tasteful and economical manner, invite plans and specifications for that purpose, and for the plan which they select a prize of $50.00 will be rewarded.”

The deadline for the completion was set for April 29, 1891 with all submissions being forwarded to W. KELLY, Secretary, at the Municipal Offices, on Duckworth Street.

The talk about the town was all about Bannerman Park and what it should look like in the future. Some of the questions that had been proposed included: Should there be a public hall in the park? Should some land lots be made available for housing? Should some of the park be allotted for the cricket teams? What type of trees and should the trees line the walkways or surround the perimeter of the park?

Those who entered into the design completion had only a short eighteen days to develop a concept and submit their proposal.

On May 9, 1891 the Municipal Council made known to the local papers the winner of the competition. Under the headline “A Laurel in Another Field”  the Evening Telegram declared that:

“Mr. John Burke, Prescott Street, has been awarded the first prize ($50) for the best design of laying out Bannerman Park.”

John Burke was better known in the town as Johnny Burke (1851–1930). A Newfoundland songwriter and musician from St. John’s nicknamed the ‘Bard of Prescott Street’. Burke earned his living at a variety of service jobs (grocer, salesman) and amateur theatrical positions (talent show producer, opera producer); he was also the proprietor of a cinema, and on two occasions a theatre manager. He is perhaps best known for his songs, such as Cod Liver Oil, The Trinity Cake, and The Kelligrew’s Soiree, they all remain popular to this day.

No one realized that he had design talents, a laurel in another field.

Recommended Reading: Stories About Bannerman Park: http://www.bannermanpark.ca/stories/

Recommended Action: Support the Garden of Memories in Bannerman Park: People who enjoy the park can contribute to the park‘s revitalization through by sponsoring various fixtures, flower gardens, and commemorative granite stones, which will be used for the pathways in the Garden. For more information: http://www.bannermanpark.ca/the-garden-of-memories-open-to-the-public/

What about Bannerman Park?


Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: E 20-25; Crowds in Bannerman Park long before the Annual Folk Festival.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: E 20-25; Crowds in Bannerman Park long before the Annual Folk Festival.

Engaging Evenings at the Rooms

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 7pm


From a tent city after The Great Fire to the Colonial Building Riot; from courting lovers to a game of curling, Bannerman Park is a cherished landmark immersed in history. Join The Rooms archivist Larry Dohey, for a look at the history of Bannerman Park and hear stories that will sure to make you smile. Perhaps you have a story to share.

Bannerman Park in St. John’s has long been a cherished city landmark, a landmark that has over the years seen a variety of improvements to help modernize the park while staying true to its original Victorian character. The Bannerman Park Foundation are now engaged in the revitalization of the park with calls for residents to support the many projects that the foundation are undertaking.

Wind back the clock.

Just as in 2013 there is a call for the revitalization of Bannerman Park, so it was in 1887.  It was in April 1887 that some residents of the city began to groan that:

“summer is coming again and nothing has been done to lay out or improve the vacant space.”

The residents of St. John’s complained that the enemies of the Park were the wild goats and foxes that have made the Park their refuge and the two legged enemies of the Park the residents of Flavin Street who have been taking  the pickets from the fence  turning it into “handy fuel.”  In short the people of Flavin Street were using the fence that surrounded Bannerman Park for fire wood!!

The residents of the  St John’s were determined. They argued that every other city in the world had a substantial park and that they too should have a Park to revel in.

Critics of putting money into Bannerman Park in 1887 argued:

 “nature has been so kind to us around St. John’s that the whole countryside is one extended Park which spreads out like the sparking tale of a demonstrative peacock when summer comes and the sun shines.”

The supporters of the Bannerman Park countered:

“We believe that art is nature to advantage dressed, and we want so rural retreat, within easy access of the town, where the tired tramp may repose his exhausted limbs when the sun goes down and dream of that happy Elysium where insects bite not, nor mosquitoes sting, but where the wick’ud cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.” Yes, we want a Park! “Other things being equal,” we want the Park, the one and only park, the Bannerman Park.”

As with all revitalization projects, funding such a project, have always been a concern.

In 2013 the Bannerman Foundation are actively courting private and corporate dollars and partnering with the city. In 1887 the suggestion was “that legislators put another cent or two per bushel on potatoes and give us the Park at once.”

In 1887 supporters of the Park said :

“Not much is required. A little seeding and a little draining.”   They dreamt that in time you would find in Bannerman Park  “cool shade trees and babbling brooks, of grottos and labyrinths, (fancy a labyrinth in Bannerman Park!) of groove’s and blarney. Nay, even the strawberries and cream, also, especially cream.”

One hundred and twenty six years later supporters of the Park dream of:

“ a refrigerated skating trail, a new pavilion, a splash pad, an upgraded playground, the Garden of Memories, and a new pool house, upgraded pathways, new trees and flower beds, and new Victorian styled fixtures such as benches and lamps.!!

Located on the north side of Military Road next to Government House and the Colonial Building, Bannerman Park takes its name for Governor Alexander Bannerman, who in 1864, donated Governor’s lands in the vicinity of Government House for a public park for the use and enjoyment of the citizens of St. John’s.

It was shortly after the land was presented as a gift that residents of St. John’s that  “ the ‘learned doctor’  Dr.  John Joseph Dearin, and his friends”  began to plant trees in the park. Many unfortunately “went to moult” the number one enemy of the park from its inception until the 1890’s were the goats that roamed the town.

It was after the appeal for residents for a more formal park in April 1887 that city officials began to seriously consider what to do with the land that had been left by Governor Bannerman.   In 1891, the City of St. John’s funded the design and development of the Park as a formal Victorian Garden.

The rest is history evolving.

Recommended Reading: Stories About Bannerman  Park: http://www.bannermanpark.ca/stories/

Recommended Action:  Support the Garden of Memories in Bannerman Park:  People who enjoy the park can contribute to the park‘s revitalization through by sponsoring various fixtures, flower gardens, and commemorative granite stones, which will be used for the pathways in the Garden. For more information: http://www.bannermanpark.ca/the-garden-of-memories-open-to-the-public/