House full of heritage

Terry Roberts
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Former residence of famed sea captain will be centrepiece of celebrations

Each time Iris Dalton walks inside Hawthorne Cottage, she is moved by the sights, sounds and smells of this former outport household that now welcomes thousands of people through its thick wooden doors each summer.

There's the many layers of paint on the walls, the distinct clanking of the door locks, the squeaks in the floors, the oversized wooden mouldings and old-fashioned furniture, and everyday household items from a bygone era.

No trip to Brigus this Bartlett year would be complete without a visit to Hawthorne Cottage to see the famed captain's home as it was when he lived there. Iris Dalton is acting supervisor at the national historic site. - Photos by Terry Roberts/The Telegr

Brigus -

Each time Iris Dalton walks inside Hawthorne Cottage, she is moved by the sights, sounds and smells of this former outport household that now welcomes thousands of people through its thick wooden doors each summer.

There's the many layers of paint on the walls, the distinct clanking of the door locks, the squeaks in the floors, the oversized wooden mouldings and old-fashioned furniture, and everyday household items from a bygone era.

"It's like stepping back in time," said Dalton, acting supervisor at this national historic site in Brigus, which opens today for the 2009 tourist season.

"It reminds me of walking into my grandmother's house when I was a little girl," she added.

But this is not your typical rural homestead. There are signs of affluence everywhere, including a seven-foot grandfather clock, a polar bear rug, spacious walk-in closets, numerous shelves crammed with books, a maid's room, piano, and opulent chinaware displayed prominently in an ornate cabinet.

Then there's the parlour, which is known today as the Arctic Room. It's where the life and accomplishments of Capt. Bob Bartlett, the former owner of the home, are on full display. There are framed certificates, photographs and other memorabilia from a man known to many as the greatest Arctic sea captain of the 20th century.

Bartlett is probably best-known for his role as the skipper aboard the Roosevelt in a 1909 expedition that saw adventurer Robert Peary reach the North Pole. He dedicated his life to exploring the Arctic and cemented his legacy as someone who helped unmask the mysteries of the north.

His former homestead, located in the centre of this historic community, will be the focal point for a year of activities and events called Celebrating Bartlett 2009.

"It is the place where he grew up, and where you get the most context for the man," said Catherine Dempsey, executive director of the Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, the non-profit group that runs the museum in partnership with Parks Canada.

Built in 1830 by John Leamon, Bartlett's maternal great-grandfather, the house is an example of the Picturesque style of architecture, rare in this province. Later additions to the structure incorporate features of Newfoundland vernacular architecture.

Some distinguishing exterior features include a spacious garden, an ornate verandah and intricate woodwork.

Inside, the contents are original to the house and reflect the wealth and status of the Leamons and Bartletts at a time when those daring and skilled enough to lead men to the ice could prosper greatly from the seal hunt.

"Every artifact in that cottage belongs to the Bartlett family," said Dempsey.

Bartlett was at sea much of his life, and spent very little time in Brigus. Even when he was in port, he usually slept onboard his ship. He died in 1946 and is buried in Brigus. After his death, his sisters Emma and Eleanor continued to live in the house. It was last occupied in the early 1970s, and was opened to the public in June 1995. It now welcomes between 4,500 and 5,500 visitors each year.

The cottage will feature two new displays this summer - scale model replicas of the Roosevelt, and Bartlett's schooner, the Effie M. Morrissey. They are being hand-crafted by Varrick Cox.

"We're really looking forward to this summer and hope that everyone can come out and join us for this great celebration," Dempsey said.

troberts@thetelegram.com

About Brigus

A community of just under 800 residents in Conception Bay, located on Route 60, about 80 kilometres west of St. John's. Because of its history, location and scenic attractions, the community has become a popular destination for those wanting to buy vacation and summer homes.

The community's history dates to around 1612. At one time it was a major port for the annual spring seal hunt. Many notable sea captions list Brigus as their birthplace, including famous Arctic explorer Capt. Bob Bartlett, who accompanied adventurer Robert Peary on his 1909 excursion to the North Pole. Bartlett has been described as the greatest ice captain of the 20th century.

Brigus is located next to Cupids, which is preparing to stage a celebration in 2010 marking the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the first English colony in Canada.

The annual Brigus Blueberry Festival, held in August, is a popular summer event on the Baccalieu Trail.

- Sources: Celebrating Bartlett 2009 website (www.bartlett2009.com); Cupids 400 website (www.cupids400.com); and the Town of Brigus website (www.brigus.net)

Organizations: Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, Parks Canada

Geographic location: Brigus, Arctic, North Pole Newfoundland Conception Bay St. John's Canada

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