History in ruins

Andrew Robinson
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Harbour Grace’s Ridley Hall inches towards demolition

The fate of Ridley Hall in Harbour Grace is uncertain. The stone building was built in 1834 and began life as the home of a fish merchant. —Photo by Terry Roberts/Transcontinental Media

The fate of a historic Harbour Grace building left in ruins since a fire in 2003 may soon be known, following a recent order by the town council asking the owners of Ridley Hall to either repair or destroy it within 30 days.

Meanwhile, the owners hope something can be done to save the heritage property, a large stone structure built in 1834.

In a letter dated June 28, the town asked Brian and Jean Flanagan of Red Deer, Alta., “to undertake repair or removal of this structure within 30 days to avoid further action by council.”

The letter also referenced the “dilapidated condition” of Ridley Hall.

Brian Flanagan responded with a letter of his own, which he also forwarded to the premier’s office, the provincial Tourism Department and other local and regional parties.

In the letter, he expressed shock the order was made prior to contacting the owners of Ridley Hall.

Speaking with The Telegram by phone from Red Deer, Brian Flanagan said he and his wife periodically receive enquiries from interested parties about the property. The Flanagans would require any potential purchaser of the land, located on Water Street near several other historic properties, to fully renovate Ridley Hall rather than replace it with a new building.

Even as a building in ruins, Brian Flanagan said he believes Ridley Hall’s present state is preferable to having it destroyed.

Mayor Don Coombs does not entirely agree, noting there are safety concerns surrounding its current condition.

“Nobody wants to see it gone, but nobody wants to see it like it is now either.”

In forwarding his letter to the province, Brian Flanagan said he hopes government takes an interest in the status of the building.

Coombs said the town was in discussions with both levels of government during the 1990s trying to secure funding to use Ridley Hall as a town hall, but the plan did not come to fruition.

The mayor said restoring the property is beyond the town’s financial means, as is the case for the Flanagans.

They purchased Ridley Hall in 2000 — the same year the couple were married. Their intentions to renovate one room each year were scuttled by a fire in November of 2003 believed to have been caused by vandals.

Past life

Ridley Hall got its start as the home of fish merchant Thomas Ridley.

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Foundation (NLHF), Ridley Hall served as a focal point for social, economic, and political activity during Hall’s time as a local businessman.

It was used as a cable station in the 1930s and ‘40s before reverting to a residential space. It was last inhabited in the 1980s and registered as a heritage structure in 1994.

A companion stone building, the Ridley Offices, was built in 1838 and has been maintained to this day.

Even with a heritage designation, the ruins of Ridley Hall are not protected from demolition orders.

In an interview with The Compass newspaper in March, NLHF executive director George Chalker said the building never made use of restoration grants offered by the foundation. Had owners done so, insurance would give NLHF the legal right to prevent others from destroying the building.

Lacking a roof, Chalker added that Ridley Hall’s exposure to water creates structural problems.

“If water gets in, then you have to freeze-thaw it, and when it freezes, it expands and makes the cracks bigger, and then more water can get in the next time,” he told The Compass. “Eventually, so much water gets in that it pumps out the stone, and things start to crumble.”

The Flanagans will be in the province next month and hope to meet with council during their stay.

“I hope they’ll maintain an open mind,” he said, adding the community as a whole should be consulted on the building’s fate.

Coombs said he will be open to speaking with them.

“We’d just like to see what they’re going to do with it,” he said.



Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Foundation, The Compass

Geographic location: Red Deer, Water Street

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Recent comments

  • rhonda parsons
    November 29, 2011 - 05:45

    It is of vital importance in preserving these important structures. There are many in Harbour Grace alone, that are on the endangered list. These heritage structures are what links past and present; and in shaping the future.The need to increase awareness of the significance of heritage and safeguard endangered buildings such as Ridley Hall which sadly sustained significant damage in recent years due to a fire, can be saved. The need for vigorous action to raise awareness, stimulate initiatives and develop partnerships to carry out these projects is desperately needed.It has been noted that many of these structures generally endangered are due to neglect, adverse physical and climatic conditions, political instability. Communities in which heritage is highly valued are still left lamenting the loss of historic structures and character. The argument goes on about how to reconcile the need to protect and preserve buildings and structures often seen by developers as more speed humps on the road to profits, with the government’s demand for transparency, simplicity and speed. Once these Heritage buildings are lost there will be nothing for future generations to look back to. Without a shift in public thinking to act now. I fear the future of these structures are bleak.When they could be a vast asset for tourism, education, and identity.

  • Rhonda Parsons
    July 17, 2011 - 23:49

    The current behavior of Town Council in Harbour Grace is dictatorial and demeaning to the property owners of Ridley Hall; they impose their will on this property owner and threaten demolition of a historical structure with a significant wealth of history. They should be more involved in the preservation all aspects of our surviving heritage instead of destroying it. The structure has a provincial designation after all, if it's worth preserving; it's worth saving. Resident Ken Haire of Harbour Grace, initially looked at an alternative to demolition when he was all about setting up a theme park around the ruin of Ridley Hall and had approached the owners on his idea, when the owners did not respond to him; and there was no secondary gain for him. He now would love to see the structure demolished. It appears he does not to want to pull the town together… but rather divide it. There are too many a**kissers who are trying to please the town council and when you put incompetent people in positions of authority only because they kissed their** then you get what you deserve. Bruce Branan made an offer to buy the property so that he could remove the stone for his secondary gain. I suggest Mr. Branan…… you go to Kelly's Island and quarry your stone!! and leave Ridley Hall alone.

  • nobody
    July 12, 2011 - 20:27

    Andrew Day said it best. Danger is around every corner and I think this building is beautiful no mater what state it stands in. I'd almost be sad if it was renovated and turned into a private home. Either way I think this is a case of "Well if we can't have it for cheap, then you can't have it either".

  • Mark
    July 12, 2011 - 19:37

    Well said andrew, I was just in Ireland, on a 2 week tour all over, and we stopped at many site just like this one. And maybe even older, and in worse shape but they are not torn down, they are left as is, its history folks. Sure it would be nice if it was redone, but if not, oh well. Place a sign, private proterty or entry at own risk.

  • Christopher Chafe
    July 12, 2011 - 17:59

    Rolls Eyes.........another "heritage relic" trying to get money out of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

  • DON
    July 12, 2011 - 15:36

    This behavior toward heritage property is typical of Town Councils in Newfoundland. If somebody does not like the look of the property or does not like the owner, watch out! The Town Councils in Newfoundland have far too much power. Giving power to Councils in Newfoundland is like giving a loaded gun to a two year old to play with! As for land titles in Newfoundland, the public attitude toward private land ownership is very peculiar. Remember, private property ownership and title to land is what separates free people from the Crown Monarchy and Government that rules over them. The Semayne's case of 1607 ruled that a man's home and land is his castle and the Crown and everybody else should leave it alone. Not so in Newfoundland, every time I turn on the TV or read the Newspaper I see that some Town Council or Government Department is seizing land for unpaid taxes, expropriating land for roads or for imaginary historic sites and the people sit back and take it! Leave the Ridley property alone, it is no different from the ruins of buildings in Rome, Egypt or Greece! What is the matter with people in Newfoundland anyway? Apparently, the schools don't teach much history or nobody pays any attention.I would not be surprised to find out that somebody with political connections who wants to make a quick buck and a name for himself is right now trying to persuade his buddies in the Town Council or in the Department of Tourism to expropriate the Ridley property, dispossess the lawful owners, boot them off their land because they are come from away types anyway and then transfer management or title of the property to themselves. Why not, that is what the Department of Tourism did in Cupids! Respect for other peoples land title does not exist in Newfoundland, if you want it, get the Government to take it away from the owners and give it to you, no problem! The Government might even fund the upgrade on the land and pay for the renovations of the house for you!

    • Ken Haire
      July 13, 2011 - 12:34

      Leave Ridley Hall alone? Are you kidding... come have a look at the property..better yet, come camp in it for a night and then tell me it's save.. As for the owners... they bought it in 2000 , 11 years ago, and have done zip to restore it.. except have someone cut a bit of grass now and then.. Take a good look at this building and you's $$$ in the millions to restore it.. I live just up the road from the building and was born in this town.. i delivered newspapers to this home when i was a kid.. yes., it was beautiful but now it's and eyesore and dangersous.. and i for one would love to see it demolished.. build a park with and information kiosk.....

    • Rhonda Parsons
      July 17, 2011 - 03:09

      Mayor Coombs and members of council might say they are supporters of local heritage; they have paid little more than lip service to their plans to do something about Ridley Hall or any other structure in the town of Harbour Grace. There has been no revitalization plan for the town, never mind saving heritage .Ridley Hall in spite of it being a ruin, is still welcome today as a contrast to the drab depressing state of decay and dereliction in the town of Harbour Grace. One has to wonder if council really has a heritage committee. Particularly, when one sees more and more of their heritage disappearing. Mayor Coombs talked about starting a Historical committee in Harbour Grace in 2008-2009. To date I have seen nothing of what this committee has done to preserve heritage in the town . Heritage Foundation of NL should strongly object to the demolishion of Ridley Hall ,and do everything they can to ensure that heritage is retained. The foundation should utilize to the exent of their Heritage Act, and more to save this building. On the other hand Council should be ashamed that they are so limited in their thinking and willing to destroy the heritage of the town of Harbour Grace, as they have done so often. Its about time the people stood up for their heritage...... once its gone you can not get it back. Cost should not be allowed to be the dominant factor on this issue. I just wonder if there is a hidden agenda here? and what dreadful replacement will be proposed if any? I also think that plans could be approved because developers and council members have special handshakes, or they mutually benefit financially in some way? Just a thought.....

  • Bruce Branan
    July 12, 2011 - 13:40

    I made an offer on the property about 2 years ago and my offer was was accepted by the owner to buy and remove the stone, the woman (forgot her name) who owns the building agreed to the price. I drew up a contract using William Finn's Law Firm in Carbonear for the sale. Then this woman came back with completely ridiculous demand after demand after demand, she said for example that she needed to be present while we were removing the stone and gave us like a 2-week window when she would be in town.... In the end I had a $5000 attorneys bill for the purchase of the stone but an unsigned contract. I do not feel at all sorry for these people, I understand Hr. Grace has been trying for years to get them to clean up their mess. I would have purchased and restored the structure with my own funds.

    • james bursey
      July 13, 2011 - 11:17

      a comment for bruce branan,,,,if you were going to buy the stone and use it elsewhere how would this work with a restoration project???? Ridley hall just for its military history alone should be preserved,,it was one of north americas links to europe via cable messaging during the last great war. The attitude towards our built heritage in newfoundland is nothing less than vulgar,,,,one wonders what the attitude would be in newfoundland if a piece of history such as the colliseum in rome was standing there,,,,,,knock it down we can use those bricks and stone elsewhere????

  • Andrew
    July 12, 2011 - 12:38

    Where are the vandals that set it on fire in the first place? How is it a safety risk? Only to those who walk inside? I'm not sure how to get money to fix it up, but don't destroy this building, c'mon. @ Andrew Day: Well said.

  • Keith
    July 12, 2011 - 12:08

    If the Flanagan's want this site preserved why did they wait three years from the date of purchase to do anything with the building. I realize the fire in 2003 caused damage but did they have insurance on this property and if so why didn't they repair the building. It seems to me that they want the people of this Province and the surrounding communities to take up their cause and repair the building for them. When they bought this site they must have had an inspection done to see what work was needed to repair the building and site. Good try Mr. Flanagan but I as a taxpayer of this province will not pay for a structure owned by someone who has done nothing with this property since the purchase. If you want to sell the site then sell it to someone with the means and time to restore it.

  • Calvin
    July 12, 2011 - 11:13

    History aside folks, who is going to pick up the cost of keeping this place up? If someone were to enter the grounds tomorrow and injure themselves, who is going to pick up the tab for that? The owners who live in another province and dont care about the building at all? Tearing down this building will not affect tourism in Newfoundland in any way, please. How many tourists drive by this place and say, "Hey, I wish we could go in and look around!!" The history of Newfoundland and Labrador, besides St. John's ( a little sarcasm there), is in the little fishing communities spattered across our scenic coastline. A lot of poeple would be quick to dismiss it, but that is where all of our ancestors settled and built lives for themselves here. You want to see historic Newfoundland, drive to some of the communities around that are still only accessible from dirt roads or even boat, and stop complaining every time a lawsuit in waiting is torn down.

    • Susan
      July 12, 2011 - 12:41

      I think we should try to save Ridley Hall if at all possible!! It is a another beautiful piece of our heritage that will be gone forever if demolished. The Flanagan's care very deeply about this building, it's future and the future of Harbour Grace. Originally they thought they could restore Ridley Hall, room by room, however local vandals saw to it that the plans of restoration would be near to impossible! Shame on them!!! Mrs Flanagan is a native Newfoundlander who resided in Harbour Grace with her family for many years...she is not just someone from away who does not care about our beautiful historic province. If not for the Flanagan's, Ridley Hall may have been demolished years ago...but they continue to try to generate some interest in this building in hopes that another piece of our history is not destroyed. We should be thanking them for that!

    • resident of Harbour Grace
      July 12, 2011 - 13:09

      It is very easy to lay blame on the Flanagan's for the demise of Ridley Hall. They purchased Ridley Hall in 2000 and prior to the fire in 2003, they did repair the roof and secure this building in hopes of restoring it to its original splendor. Unfortunately, vandals still entered the building and at the end of that night...it was left in the state it is today. I'm sure anyone who has a vacant house can attest that you cannot obtain insurance on a building that is not occupied...so I guess insurance was probably not carried. Instead of attacking the Flanagan's...lets pull together here people and see if we can make a difference!!

  • Abdul Saieed
    July 12, 2011 - 11:02

    Add to Ridley Hall, the wreck of the Kyle. With its wheelhouse falling in and grass seeding in the decaying deck boards, it soon will join other historical landmarks of the past.

  • Robert
    July 12, 2011 - 09:37

    When does any wreck go from being old/histiric to being an antique with value to being just plain junk? With no roof and exposed to Newfoundland's climate it is now junk whether we like it or not. Please don't expect the taxpayers to pick up the tab. Seems the owners had opportunity to actually get public funding and chose otherwise. Perhaps the structure should be sent to Alberta at the owners expense!

  • R wells
    July 12, 2011 - 09:13

    It makes no sense that one dilapidated building draws attention in a province packed full of decaying buildings. The beauty of Newfoundland lies in part to those unspeakably beautiful structures. They remain staggeringly lovely, priceless, and historic regardless of their condition, and because of their condition. What is more lovely that the patina of aged, light gray wood of Newfoundland houses and fences? Tear down this building, and you tear down what makes Newfoundland a treasure. This building is a rare, irreplaceable gem. Shame on Harbour Grace for not doing whatever it takes to save this structure in any condition. With this type of action, Newfoundland takes one more step towards becoming just another ordinary looking province that could be anywhere else in Canada. With this action, Harbour Grace is saying to tourists that it doesn't care about offering them a glimpse into the past, and that tourists seeking genuine old buildings should go elsewhere.

  • Jonathan M
    July 12, 2011 - 09:03

    I really want it to be there. Too many old buildings are being torn down. What's wrong with this building? Yes it lacks a roof but it's historical. A thing of the past in Newfoundland. Why do you want to take it away? I would leave it alone. We are seeing new buildings, which is nice but they are ugly because they dont have history to this province like the house does, perhaps not in a way we want it to be but it is a piece of history. I HATE WHEN PEOPLE THINK OF MONEY INVOLVED BUT NOT THE HISTORY ITSELF... But.. safety is a concern as well.. that can be prevented by building a fence around it.... This article saddens me. This reminds me of the white house on Brookfield road on one of the farms there, next to a blue house with a garage, or the one with CAT/Construction vehicles. I was sad to see it going.

  • Saucy Face
    July 12, 2011 - 06:25

    It's obvious that the Flanagan's intent all along has been to use the historic significance of the property hostage in an attempt to squeeze money from the various levels of government for its repair. After all, they live in Red Deer, no odds to them if it's ever repaired. In other words, If you want it repaired show me the money: The taxpayers’ money that is!

    • Andrew Day
      July 12, 2011 - 09:27

      All around the world there are ruins of once great buildings that are now in a "dilapitated" state. from the castle ruins in scotland to ruins of once great cities in Turkey.. These buildings are no safer in those areas than this one. They are symbols of our past that once gone, despite how little of it is left, will be gone forever. This is in essence erasing stories from our history books. To give 30 days notice before odering the demolition of somthing that stood so long in this community so rich with history is heartbreaking.. Im sure im far from the only one with these sentiments.. I would love the opportunity to assess the site if nothing else before such drastic measures are taken. If the Flanagans are willing to sell perhaps a public notice for sale should be in order. Then people with means may have the opportunity to preserve it. As far as saftey concerns goes, we are surrounded by potentially dangerous things, from the cliffs to the sea just accross the road from this historic site, to the very streets that we travel. Without respect for these things, somone could fall from the land and plummit to the waters below, or cross a street without looking and get struck by a car. These dangers cannot be removed. Just respected. Despite land titles to this property, I believe, as do the Flannagans, that "the community as a whole should be consulted on the buildings fate" as it is a part of our heritage.