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City of Tomorrow (Conroy)

“City of Tomorrow: An Attempt at the Prophetic” is a piece of speculative fiction written by James O’Neill Conroy for The Cadet in 1916. His futurist tale is couched in the story of his return to St. John’s 50 years after the end of the Great War. The older Conroy arrives to find a bustling metropolis. A “broad carriage-road” has been blasted from the hills around the harbour for travel by car. The small harbour is thronged with large stone piers, and the basin of the harbour is crowded with stone warehouses. A tramcar climbs the South Side Hill and the Waterford Bridge River has been widened for shipping.

Finding no hotels near the harbour, Conroy learns that the leisure district is now in Freshwater, a bay accessible through a tunnel in the South Side Hill. The Arctic Current has been rerouted to turn the area into a suburban resort. While fishing has suffered, agriculture is booming.

With the harbour a hub for international shipping, commercial and residential districts have developed along the Waterford Bridge River and to the north, beyond modern Military and Freshwater Roads. The homes Conroy finds there are built entirely of fireproof brick and native limestone. Wooden buildings have apparently been outlawed. Parks have flourished around every lake in the city, while Quidi Vidi Lake is a busy seaplane landing-station and home to a huge glass-roofed railway station. Perhaps most significantly, the topography of the city has been artificially flattened; earth and rock was taken from hills to fill valleys. Signal Hill, untouched by these leveling efforts, is a heavily fortified garrison, impervious to attack.

As for getting around, asphalt roads, slate sidewalks, cable-cars, and monorail are the orders of the day. A network crosses the island like a spider’s web, from St. John’s to the city of Humbermouth to the west. Conroy’s future city is a supplier of the world, and a hub for all the world’s trade.

Conroy’s article is incredibly interesting given the context. It was written in the midst of World War I, and his anxieties come through in his writing. He sees Signal Hill as a fortress, preventing war from ever reaching his harbour. It is also one of a very limited number of such speculations for Newfoundland and Labrador, and to come by way of a military periodical is fascinating.