15 May 1879
On May 15, 1879 the Colonial Government of Newfoundland declared that they had had enough of the businessmen on Water Street obstructing the natural flow of pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks of the historic street. It appears that the businessmen were hindering traffic by placing their wares in “boxes, barrels, and packages” on the sidewalks.
To show that they saw this as a very serious matter, constables dragged before the Police Court in St. John’s “forty two (42) representatives of the business houses on Water Street.” The parade of businessmen to the Police Court included according to the local St. John’s newspaper, The Evening Telegram, “men in the highest social and commercial positions in the country.”
The Telegram continued:
“It was certainly unique to see so many of our leading civilians arraigned at the bar of justice, and we must confess that our feelings were truly indescribable when we entered the court room and glanced around.”
The Evening Telegram reporter seemed to be enjoying the spectacle observing with some embellishment that:
“There they were, men in the highest social and commercial positions in the country, philanthropists, merchant princes and politicians of the first order; constrained by the omnipotent mandate of the presiding genius of the magisterial bureau. In short they were there on a charge of violation of the following the Municipal Regulations Act.”
The particular act that they were dragged before the courts to answer too was the regulation or act that read:
“Any person who shall place or deposit on any sidewalk in any of the said places, except in transit, any boxes, barrels, packages, or any other matter or thing, so as to obstruct free passage on the said side walk, shall for very offence forfeit and pay a sum not exceeding twenty five dollars.”
Water Street, St. John’s was the hub of the cultural, social and economic activity in St. John’s in the 18th – 20th century.
In 1877, just two years before this mass arrest of the business leaders of St. John’s, Rochfort’s Business Directory, the “Business and General Directory Containing Classified Lists of Business Men of St. John’s” gave a detailed listing of all trades on Water Street and reported that there were on the historic street many different kinds of enterprises.
Some of the businesses on the historic street included: 3 Photographic studios, 8 Auctioneering houses, 4 Bakeries, 2 Blacksmiths, 3 Boarding houses, 15 Boot and Shoe Makers, 15 Butcher Shops, 3 China and Glassware Dealers, 4 Confectioners, 2 Coopers, 2 Dentists, 1 Distiller, 28 Drapers, 2 Engineers, 2 Furniture Dealers, 31 Grocers, 3 Hairdressers, 3 Harness Makers, 11 Hardware Dealers, 2 Hotels, 2 Joiners, 3 Leatherware Dealers, 4 Lumber Merchants, 32 General Merchants, 6 Millinery, I Painter, 2 Plumbers, 2 Pump and Lock Makers, 6 Stationers, 1 Stonemason, 19 Tailors, 7 Tin, Sheet and Iron and Copper Workers, 8 Watchmakers, and 50 Wine and Spirit Retail Stores.
With so many businesses being located on Water Street vying for the attention of the same customers it was not surprising that they should position their products on the sidewalks to try and lore customers into their shops!!
Do you have any problems navigating the sidewalks in St. John’s?
Recommended Archival Collection: City and Town Directories held in archives give incredible insights into the business life of Newfoundland communities. A few of the directories that should be consulted when doing research are Hutchinson’s Directory of Newfoundland (1864); Lovell’s Directory for Newfoundland (1871); McAlpine’s Directory for Newfoundland (1871); and Rochfort’s Directory of Newfoundland (1877).
Recommended Museum Exhibit: At the Rooms: Here, We Made a Home The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4.