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Architecture of Newfoundland

“Architecture of Newfoundland” is a 1975 video produced by NACOM Ltd. for the Department of Tourism, Government of Newfoundland. It gives a brief overview of the history of architecture in Newfoundland and Labrador, from the earliest structures to the homes built following the fire of 1892. It was directed by J. Graham Orwin, narrated by Ted Henley, and based on research by Angus Campbell, Mac Lee, Shane O’Dea, and Bobbie Robertson. At a runtime of 27:11, the film is packed with terminology, anecdotes, and illustrative examples of architectural features and styles.

While the opening sequence depicts a number of modernist structures, the rest of the film expands on earlier history. The first structures are vertical-log tilts, lodging houses built by early fishing crews. Next come stages and flakes, examples, the narrator tells us, of “functional architecture,” and the first permanent structures of Newfoundland. Early Irish settlers, among them skilled stonemasons, built with stone large sit-in hearths (or inglenooks) at first and later homes and government buildings.

Perhaps the most iconic vernacular structure is the saltbox house, “simple, severe, and practical.” These “medieval shelter[s]” are simple forms with pitched roofs, often symmetrical unless appended with a “linney.” The additions, sometimes characterized by a change in roof pitch, were initially added to house animals, helping to heat the house in winter. They are rarely found elsewhere in Canada. Captain’s houses in outport Newfoundland reflected their status in size and detail, and were often named for their owners. The “widow’s walk,” called a “captain’s walk” elsewhere, is a common feature.

The film jumps to post-1892 St. John’s, describing the rebuilding of the downtown in rowhouses which used a minimum of land and wood, but doesn’t expand on the style found in lower-income residents. Next it describes a change in outport style in the 1900s as overland travel became easier. The saltbox style fell out of favour, and flat-roofed, two-storied homes like those found in St. John’s fell in. Back in St. John’s, the film runs through the styles of the city’s merchant houses: Victorian, Queen Anne, Gothic, Southcott, and Scottish (five-sided dormers). The Mansard roof is found in some areas. Southcott homes, characterized by bonnetted dormers, side entrances, hipped roofs, and ground-floor bay windows are described as “second empire” elsewhere.

Some stylistic anomalies include the home of the Rothwell (?) sisters, which was designed as a hybrid of Gothic and Southcott styles, the Barbour house in Newtown, which is an undivided double-home, complete with two adjacent sets of stairs for the two resident families, and the province’s few stone houses, such as one in the Dutch colonial on Kenna’s Hill.

Perhaps the longest segment of the film examines a series of churches and religious buildings of various Christian denominations. The last focus are the Moravian mission buildings of Labrador. Characterized by a sparse and severe style, the oldest buildings in Hopedale date to 1782.

“Architecture of Newfoundland” is an excellent introduction to styles and practices found across the island. It is clearly the result of a in-depth research by its many contributors, and coveys some fairly detailed descriptions and nuances in an accessible way.