Tag Archives: Professor Danielle

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?