Tag Archives: The Rooms

The first Christmas cards arrive in Newfoundland


December 2018

The local St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram in an article on December 25, 1883 suggests that the first Christmas card was not introduced into Newfoundland until after 1868.  The newspaper reported:

“Even in the celebration of Christmas, what vast changes and improvements has Terra Nova seen within these fifteen years!  A  ‘Christmas Card’  was then (1868) utterly unknown, now what millions of them pass from ‘hand to hand’, wafting with pretty colors and gracious sentiments, the very spirit of the grand old season.”

The tradition of sending commercial Christmas cards can be traced to 1843. A gentleman by the name of Sir Henry Cole had several problems that he was trying to resolve.

In the 1840’s Christmas cards were very expensive; they were individually painted and delivered by hand. Henry did not want to have to contend with the expense and he especially disliked the idea of writing a personal greeting to each person. He also wanted the message on his Christmas cards to bring attention to the importance of supporting the destitute during the Christmas season

Then the answer came. It was a marriage of art and technology.

Sir Henry commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley to paint a card showing the feeding and clothing of the poor. It was a triptych with scenes on each of the side panels depicting the charitable essence of Christmas; feeding the poor and clothing the homeless. In the center was the message “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year To You” under a colorful drawing of a family celebrating, their wine glasses raised in a toast.

Sir Henry had good intentions, but his Christmas card design, showing a child enjoying a sip of wine, was described as “fostering the moral corruption of children.”

Eighteen of the original 1000 cards printed  are known to be still in existence, one of which recently changed hands at auction for around $40,000.

Originally the custom  was not to post the Christmas Card but rather cards were passed from “hand to hand.”

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives Division take some time to look at MG 63.356 – MG 63- 358 these files consist 125 Christmas cards produced by the International Grenfell Association.

The Rooms:   The Rooms is dressed for Christmas  – come and see our Christmas trees.

Send me a Christmas Card:   9 Bonaventure Ave. (P.O. Box 1800) St. John’s ,NL . A1C 5P9   –  include some suggestions for Archival Moments.



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)


Killer avalanche hits Tilt Cove


March 11, 1912

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. VA 85-55: Tilt Cove

On March 11, 1912 an avalanche struck the mining community of Tilt Cove on the Baie Verte Peninsula. The avalanche struck two houses 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, JP, the telegrapher and customs officer.

William Cunningham’s daughter, Vera, was interviewed in 1996 – she was 95 at the time but vividly remembered life in Tilt Cove, and in particular the afternoon of March 11 1912. She recalled that the previous night, following a day of freezing rain a snow storm raged and this continued through the day. Her father came in for tea and said, prophetically, “this would be a great night for snow-sliding“.

Next door the Williams family was sitting down to tea, when a large avalanche swept down the slope and struck the Williams and Cunningham houses. The avalanche just glanced Doctor Smith’s house, which escaped with minor damage.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: Smith Family Collection: A 24-98.

The Williams house was  the most severely damaged, with the lower floor collapsing as the rear wall was staved in. The Cunningham house was swept off its foundation and Emily Day the family servant thrown across the kitchen and buried. She had three year-old Edward Cunningham in her arms and protected 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 survived but was badly hurt; she was sent to hospital in St. John’s but died on July 18. A headstone erected in her memory in the Anglican Cemetery on Forest Road, St. John’s reads:

“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 rest of the family survived almost unscathed.

Mr. Williams and his 13-year-old son (James) were killed instantly. The St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported, “the little boy was found dead with bread still in his mouth“. Peter and Francis Sage the two servants in the Williams household were also killed. Mrs. Williams and her two daughters were rescued after three and a half hours of burial, without serious injury.

Recommended Archival Collection:  The Rooms Provincial Archives  is home  to a number of photographs detailing life in the mining community of  Tilt Cove can be found as well as occasional mining reports on the state and prospects for  mining in Tilt Cove.

Recommended Web Sites: http://www.heritage.nf.ca/environment/avalanches.html


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

“He was my only son. He has played the hero’s part…”


November 11 – Remembrance Day

NA 3106 Opening of the Newfoundland Memorial Park

Eli Abbot, 18, left Grand Falls by train with a group of friends arriving in St. John’s on February 20, 1916.  He went directly to the recruitment center  (CLB Armory) where he signed up to fight for “King and Country.”   Four days later he marched with his battalion to the waterfront in St. John’s where he boarded the S.S. Sicilian, the transport ship that would take him to Europe to fight.

Just one year later the Rev. W.T.D. Dunn, the Methodist Minister in Grand Falls, walked to the Abbott home in Grand Fall’s clutching a telegram to Mr. Charles Abbott. The telegram read:

I regret to inform you that the Records Office London today reports that number 2119 Private Eli Abbott  was killed in action  28 January

In the quiet of her home on March 4, 1917 his mother Annie Abbott wrote:

“He was my only son. He  has played the hero’s part and has put down his life for King and Country … I shall see him no longer on earth but trust to meet him again in the great beyond where there will be no more war where all will be peace and happiness…”

We will remember him and all those that served their country.

On Friday, 11 November 2016 at 10:55 a.m., Their Honours (Honourable Frank F. Fagan and Her Honour Patricia Fagan) will attend the Remembrance Day War Memorial Service at the National War Memorial, St. John’s  where His Honour will lay the first wreath. Her Honour will lay a wreath on behalf of the Women’s Patriotic Association. Following the Service, His Honour will take the Salute in front of the Court House on Water Street. At the conclusion of the parade, Their Honours will host a Reception at Government House for invited guests.

At 2:00 p.m., Their Honours will attend the Annual Service of Remembrance at the Caribou Memorial Veterans’ Pavilion.

At 8:00 p.m., Their Honours will attend the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra’s Masterwork’s #2, Honour, Reflect, Remember, at The Basilica of St. John the Baptist.

Recommended Archival Collection: Search the Archives: https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections

Recommended Exhibit: The First World War had a profound impact on Newfoundland and Labrador. It involved thousands of our people in world-changing events overseas and dramatically altered life at home. Our “Great War” happened in the trenches and on the ocean, in the legislature and in the shops, by firesides and bedsides. This exhibition shares the thoughts, hopes, fears, and sacrifices of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who experienced those tumultuous years – through their treasured mementoes, their writings and their memories. – See more at: https://www.therooms.ca/exhibits/always/beaumont-hamel-and-the-trail-of-the-caribou#sthash.lv9JmCbn.dpuf

Recommended Book: Browne, Gary. Forget-Me-Not: Fallen Boy Soldiers: Royal Newfoundland Regiment World War One, St. John’s, DRC Publishing, 2010.


The foundation for The Rooms Provincial Archives


March 10, 1879

The Rooms – Home to the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labardor

The idea of an archive to house the history of this  province of Newfoundland and Labrador  (then a colony) was first suggested in March 1879.

On March 10, 1879 the editor of the St. John’s newspaper “The Temperance Journal” wrote

“let us have a bureau of history and statistics, where files of all our local newspapers shall be kept throughout the year for reference and then bound in yearly volumes. Where tables of our imports and exports, shipping, agriculture, and mines shall be kept, where meterorological registrations, and registers of births, marriages and deaths shall be kept.”

The Editor had some very definite ideas including suggesting a budget.  He wrote

“Cost not to exceed three hundred per annum, including office rent, and everything.”

He also had some very particular ideas about the salary of the person who would take on the position. The Editor wrote

“Application for any “rise” on the part of the incumbent to be equivalent to instant dismissal.”

It would be some time before the voice of this local newspaper Editor would be heard. The responsibility for the safekeeping of these records was not delegated until 1898 when responsibility was given to the Colonial Secretary.

It was not until 1956 that a grant from the Carnegie Foundation of New York allowed a group of academics at Memorial University of Newfoundland to begin to collect, organize and describe various collections of historic government records.

In 1959 the Provincial Government passed the Historic Objects, Sites and Records Act which established the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador (PANL). At that point the records were transferred to PANL  located in theColonialBuilding onMilitary Road.

In 2005 the Provincial Archives Division was established in The Rooms.

Recommended Arccival Collection: From the luxury of your home explore some of the archival collections that are held at The Rooms Provincial Archhives.  Read More:  http://www.therooms.ca/archives/  

(Thank you to the 22,285 visitors that came to www.archivalmoments.ca  in February. I am happy to hear that you read and enjoyed the postings.  The site is now averaging 796 visitors per day.  Encourage your friends and colleagues to take a look.  Let’s celebrate our history and culture. You can follow ‘Archival Moments’ on Twitter @LarryDohey)





A Lonely Grave on an Island far from Home

November 22, 1874

A Lonely Grave on an Island far from Home
On this day November 22, 1874 the brigantine ORIENT, owned by the Joyce Brothers of Carbonear, one of their three sealing ships, was wrecked at Anticosti Island.

A simple marker in a field not far from the beach on the south side of the island of Anticosti in the mouth of the St. Lawrence River (Quebec) reads : In memory of Captain John Edgar Joyce of Carbonear, Newfoundland aged 27 years and crew of Brigantine Orient lost 22nd November 1874 who are buried as follows:
Joseph Taylor (25 years)
Stewart Taylor (17)
Thomas Fitzpatrick (13?)
William Clark (21)
Charles Henry (36)
Ambrose Forward (20)
Richard Taylor (19

The Captain’s brother, Gilbert JOYCE, who was mate on the ship and seaman Charles MOORES of English Hill, Carbonear, were the only survivors.

Anticosti is almost 8,000 sq. km of pristine wilderness: 222 km long and 50 km wide in some spots. Its name derives from the French’s literal assertion that it was impossible to land a boat on its coastline, because of a treacherous limestone reef that extends up to a kilometre into the St. Lawrence all around the island. More than 400 ships found this out the hard way, the last one foundering onto the reef in a storm in 1982.

Recommended Archival Collection: The Maritime History Archive collects and preserves documents relating to the history of maritime activities in Newfoundland and Labrador and throughout the North Atlantic world. http://www.mun.ca/mha/index.php.
At the Rooms Provincial Archives see A 24-8.

Internationally known architects have work in Newfoundland


December 14, 1924 

The New Palace – One of Several Buildings in Newfoundland by Internationally Celebrated Architects.  

The Palace, St. John’s, NL under construction in 1923.

The local St. John’s newspaper The Telegram on December 14, 1924 reported that::

The exterior work (of the New Palace) was constructed of bluestone taken from the quarries of Signal Hill. Freestone used in the construction was imported in the rough from the Wallace quarries in Nova Scotia. The architects of the new Palace were Delano and Aldrich of New York.”

The article was referring to the new home for the Catholic Archbishop of St. John’s, Edward Patrick Roche and the priests on the staff of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (now Basilica). They moved into their new home on December 14, 1924.  The new home referred to locally as “The New Palace”  replaced the “Old Palace’ that burned to the ground in 1921. Palace was the name given to the official residence of a Catholic bishop.

The Palace located at 200 Military Road, on  the corner of Military Road and Bonaventure Avenue, (across the street from The Rooms)  is now the home of the Offices of the Archdiocese of St. John’s and is officially known as the Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre.

Although it was the official residence, Archbishop Roche never did live in the Palace.  He opted to make his home at Beaconsfield located on Topsail Road.  He commuted by car to the Palace every day.

The firm of Delano & Aldrich were no strangers to Newfoundland and occupied a central place in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century, substantially shaping the architectural climate of the period. The grand country estates, striking townhouses and club buildings, churches, schools, and public buildings designed by William Adams Delano (1874–1960) and Chester Holmes Aldrich (1871–1940) are exceptional examples of architectural creativity and originality.

The New York Firm designed the American Embassy in Paris, France in 1929; construction began in 1931 and was completed in 1932. The Chancery of the Embassy is remarkably similar to the  St. John’s, Palace.  It has been suggested that the American Embassy in Parish is a larger scale version of the Palace in St. John’s.

Archbishop Roche became quite good friends with Delano joining him for lunch at the prestigious Knickerbocker Club in New York whenever he visited.  The Club was designed by Delano and Aldrich and was considered one of the bastions of old-world society.

View of front facade and right side, King George V Building, 93 Water Street, St. John’s.

William Adams Delano was quite familiar with Newfoundland. He was a board member for the International Grenfell Association (IGA) and was responsible for donating a number of designs for several hospitals and orphanages to that organization.  In St. John’s two of his most recognized designs are St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital (1938-1939) LeMarchant Road and  King George V Building,Water Street, erected in 1911.

Recommended Archival Collection: Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese, St. John’s . The Delano and Aldrich archive is held by the Drawings and Archives Department in the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at ColumbiaUniversity.

Recommended Reading:  The Architecture of Delano & Aldrich (Norton) by Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker, 2003. (Eighteen projects are examined in detail, and a catalogue of the firm’s complete oeuvre.)

“Little hope of recovering the body”



Letter Home from the trenches

Herbert Wills

Rank: Corporal

Service: 2185

Community: Grand Falls

Age: 18

Occupation: Papermaker

Date of Death: December 8, 1916

Regiment: NewfoundlandRegiment

Cemetery: Beaumont Hamel (Newfoundland) Memorial

Parents: Frederick William and Mary Wills of 8,Exploits Lane,Grand Falls.

The one comfort that families desperately wanted upon hearing about the death of their son was to know, that their son, had been buried in a marked grave with dignity.

Fred Wills wrote a number of letters to the Minister of the Militia at the Colonial Building, St.  John’s pleading to know where his son (Herbert Wills) was buried in France.  Many bodies were never recovered.  The battlefields of France became their grave yard.

The Minister of the Militia called on Reverend Colonel Thomas Nangle the R.C. Chaplin to the Newfoundland Regiment in France to make inquires about his place of burial. But Nangle could find no information:

“I am writing herewith copy of said letter  and although  Father Nangle gives but little hope of recovering the body. I trust that his next endeavours will be successful, and that we will have the pleasure of forwarding you good news.”

It was letters like the one that was written by Fred Wills that moved the government ofNewfoundland to establish a Memorial at Beaumont Hamel where the sons of Newfoundland would be remembered. A place of peace and dignity.

Recommended Reading: Browne, Gary. Forget-Me-Not: Fallen Boy Soldiers, St. John’s: DRC Publishing, 1911. 145p.

Recommended Archival Collection:    At the Rooms Provincial Archives there is available 6683 individual service files, 2300 have been digitized and are available at: http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp

This searchable database for military service records  includes the attestation papers: name, service number, community and district of origin, next of kin and relationship, religion, occupation, year of enlistment, fatality, and POW status (if applicable).  Take some time to read the stories of these young men.

“The present generation in Newfoundland . . . leaves a mighty inheritance”


March 29, 1869

The Mullock Episcopal Library (now the Basilica Museum) is home to some of the oldest books in the province.

On this day (29 March 1869) the talk in the town was all about the death of the Catholic Bishop of St. John’s, John Thomas Mullock.
John Thomas Mullock was born in 1807 at Limerick, Ireland.  In July, 1850, he became the Catholic Bishop of Newfoundland.

 He is celebrated for much that he did for the local church, he completed the splendid Cathedral (now Basilica) of St. John’s, built the Episcopal Library now the home for the Basilica Museum, founded St. Michael’s Orphanage, and established St. Bonaventure’s College.  All buildings designated in 2010 as part of the Ecclesiastical District of St. John’s by Parks Canada.

He would have likely celebrated the building of The Rooms in the neighborhood of his Basilica Cathedral.  He had hoped that the neighborhood around the Basilica would become the academic and cultural centre of the town.

He was also keen to make Newfoundland a hub of activity in the emerging communications industry.  Long before the first attempts to lay a submarine cable across the Atlantic he was (1857), the first to publicly propose the feasibility of connecting Europe with America by means of submarine telegraph.

In a series of two lectures on Newfoundland given in St John’s in 1860 he revealed his hope in his adopted land:

“The present generation in Newfoundland . . . leaves a mighty inheritance to their children, and we are forming the character of a future nation.”


Recommended Reading: Ecclesiastical History ofNewfoundland, volume II / by Archbishop Michael F. Howley, edited by Brother Joseph B. Darcy, associate editor, John F. O’Mara.